Thursday, December 3, 2015

In Review: Thirteen50 Leather Belts





Named for the thirteen stripes and fifty stars in the American flag, Thirteen50 Leather is a small California leather goods company originally started years ago by a few friends doing projects for friends and family. In 2015, the company decided to take things to the next level by investing in the machinery and infrastructure to offer a run of locally-made, USA-sourced full grain leather belts on Kickstarter, backed by a 100% satisfaction and lifetime guarantee. Craig Morrison, one of the partners, contacted me to send me two belts (gratis) for review: one brown 1.5" belt and a black 1.25" belt. I've had a few weeks with them now, and wanted to share an in-depth review on what amounts to some pretty solid belts. Let's take a look.

Materials and Construction




Thirteen50 Leather sources its leather from only three tanneries in the USA: Hermann Oak, Wickett and Craig, and Horween - all domestically tanned. By buying only leather from USA tanneries, the cost is more expensive than leather tanned south of the border, and all hides are inspected before being used for product. The belts I received were both made from Wickett and Craig "English" bridle leather, drum dyed and hot stuffed using traditional methods.




The 1.5" belt is made in 12 oz. brown bridle leather with a natural edge (no edge painting), solid brass roller buckle, and four Chicago screws which can be used to change the buckle if desired. As expected, it's tough stuff and feels like a belt Paul Bunyan could wear. The leather itself is supple straight out of the bag, almost surprisingly so, though that shouldn't suggest any weakness on its part - make no mistake this is a beefy strap of leather. It does feel a bit less oiled/greasy than my Don't Mourn! Organize bridle leather, for what that's worth.

Thirteen50 bridle belt and Don't Mourn, Organize! bridle belt (above)

Though my Don't Mourn belt is a touch more finely hand-finished, the Thirteen50 belt easily holds its own in construction quality. Thirteen50 Leather machine-finishes parts of its belts, but that level of finishing is very good throughout. The flesh side of the belt is very smooth - smoother than my Orion belt, and the edge treatment is clean and confident. The Thirteen50 logo is stamped onto the grain side next to the buckle where it's covered during normal wear, and on the reverse side of the buckle you'll find an American flag - a nice kind of little detail that others won't notice, but you will.

The slimmer black belt is made from 10 oz. 1.25" wide bridle leather with a slightly trimmer belt keeper, finished with a more simple rounded square stainless steel roller buckle, and anchored with two Chicago screws. Like the tip of the 1.5" belt, the slimmer belt is finished with an angular cut tip. I think an English point tip may have been more graceful here, especially in a dressier belt, but that's just personal preference. Similarly, the buckle is a bit too tool-like for me for its stated purpose, but in a slightly more casual environment fits in well. *Edit 5/16/16* - Thirteen50 has since started offering English Point tips and different buckle options on their belts.




On the whole, though, the belt is made to the same solid standards as its beefier cousin. Truth be told, I've been wearing this one pretty consistently for the past few weeks (as it filled a gap in my wardrobe) and it looks virtually the same as the day it arrived.

Sizing and Fit


Belts sizes are usually 2-3" larger than corresponding waist size, though I'd strongly recommend measuring yourself for things like this (a tape measure costs basically nothing on Amazon). Similar to my other belts, I took a size 34 in the Thirteen50 belt (my usual pants size is 31 in most mainstream brands - or 33" true waist), and it fits well in the middle hole where it should be.




For casual wear, the 1.5" belt is perfect, and the brown shade easily complements most palettes beautifully. The size and the brass buckle just beg to be worn with fall fabrics and good denim, but seems at home as well with some Harris Tweed.



The smaller black belt is a bit more refined, but works well in anything from casual to dressier environments. As I mentioned above, I've been wearing it a lot lately and it's performed beautifully.

Impressions and Value



Unless you've been specifically looking for a quality belt you could easily have never come across a decent one. The vast majority of belts that are out there are grossly deficient in component quality and construction. I have heard some say that they have leather belts from ten years ago they bought at Gap, Old Navy, or whatever for $15 that have held up, and that's great. But there's a lot of those belts that didn't make it ten years, and the ones that did usually haven't aged gracefully. Belts made from good materials and finished with solid construction will last years easily and look good doing it - a lifetime even. There's no question Thirteen50 Leather makes a great belt, and they back that with a lifetime guarantee. If you've never owned a quality belt before, Thirteen50 will be a revelation.




When I hear about new Kickstarters my eyes reflexively start rolling (for many reasons). However, Thirteen50 seems to be cognizant of the classic Kickstarter pitfalls and has been well prepared to this point. It seems they have set up a good infrastructure and have made sure the right systems are in place for the business to run seamlessly thus far. The original Kickstarter opened for funding in early August and belts shipped out promptly in September. They achieved this by investing their own money up front as well as having a secondary supplier for leather if initial demand was more than they anticipated.

Looking at value, I generally judge the combination of design, materials, and construction quality balanced against the price of the product. Currently, Thirteen50 charges ~$55 for their belts, which puts them squarely in the arena of a lot of competitors. The real question is how they can single themselves out from the competition when there are many leather goods merchants making great belts at similar prices. My DMO belt was about the same price on sale, yet is hand-stitched, hand-burnished and beveled, and has a few design cues I prefer, for example. However, it's also not readily available and much of that preference is subjective.

Part of the answer to that question lies in the name itself - Thirteen50 goes through great pains to emphasize the fact that they make their belts here in America from as many quality American components as they can source. There are many that see value in the MiUSA designation when it is truly earned, and I'm one of them. In line with their lifetime guarantee they also promise first rate customer service - meaning they will get back to you by email within a day - and usually within a few hours. If you don't like your belt for any reason, I've heard multiple times that they don't want your money and won't settle for anything but complete satisfaction. I can't attest to this personally, but from feedback online it does appear to be the case.

Though Thirteen50 Leather is starting out small with belts, they have been product testing wallets, bags, and other accessories with plans to expand their product line soon. And after a successful initial offering, I'm looking forward to seeing what they have coming up in the future. If the above work and core values resonate with you, I'd recommend checking them out at the link below.

**UPDATE 5/16/16** -  Checking back to see what Thirteen50 has been up to today, I was really pleased and excited to see that they now offer English Point tips on all their belts and some more elegant buckle options for their slimmer 1.25" dress belts. Effectively, that takes away all the things I thought might be improved on their end. It looks like the guys running the business have taken feedback really well and I have no reservations in recommending them to anyone looking for a great value in a tough-as-nails bridle belt.

Thirteen50 Leather Online Storefront




 

Pros


Made in USA construction and quality bridle leather
Solid craftsmanship
Buy-it-for-life guarantee

Cons


Not as much hand work as some competitors (though usually at a higher price point)
Dress belt could arguably be improved with a few design choices *See Update Above*







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