Custom fit belts made of superior leather at a crazy reasonable price? Seems to good to be true, except it’s not.
Justin Kerzner was 23-years-old when he started Upton, a custom belt company that looks and feels like a high-fashion brand. Similar to companies like The Arrivals, that mix an elevated aesthetic with an extremely reasonable price, Upton achieves this by cutting out the middle man—wholesale. As a result, customers can cop quality leather belts for $110-$130.
The idea hit the Vancouver native after he did a stint at St. John’s Law School in New York. After deciding law wasn’t for him, he got together with his dad, a retail veteran in the chocolate industry, to break into the belt business. The younger Kerzner previously graduated from the University of San Diego with a business degree, so it was time to put it to use.
Offering three styles, the canvas-reinforced Ward, more casual Knox, and minimal Duke, Upton’s low-key looks and great price point should appeal to the type of consumer that wants quality goods with unmistakable style, but doesn’t want to go broke in the process of obtaining them. Borrowing a page from the Warby Parker lookbook, Upton offers a fit kit that it sends to your home so you can measure your belt size—which you may not know, but is different from your pants size. The result is a custom belt that’s made to fit your body.
We got a closer look at Upton’s belts and definitely think the products live up to the hype. Most guys have one or two belts, and there’s no reason this couldn’t be the only one in your closet. The slimmer Duke and wider-but-not-too-wide Knox have a great hand to the materials. It’s very rare that you want to make excuses to wear a belt, but somehow, Upton pulls it off.
Since the belts are custom fit, it might take a while to get delivered, but they arrive in a beautiful black and white square box. Inside is a square booklet with some details about the belt, and a gunmetal gray tool—which is meant to help you punch holes in the belt should you gain or lose a few pounds. The belt comes with subtle instructions on where to punch, too. The underside has silver markings spaced exactly 1-inch from each hole, which serve as guides that are hidden in plain sight. There’s also a handsome black microfiber dust bag to keep the belt in—because of course this isn’t the type of belt you stuff into a shoe when traveling.
Now 25, Kerzner has bigger plans to put his fledgling belt company on the map. We talked with the young founder about the brand, and the future of Upton.
What made you decide to base the business online?
My passion was to do something digital because you’re essentially able to deliver the best possible product and sell it at a much better price. I sell something that should retail for so much more at a reasonable price. It’s not insane for someone to spend hundreds of dollars on a belt—but for what they’re really paying for, I don’t think it’s really fair.
Is there a designer you think is worth dropping serious dough on?
Well, look at Common Projects. I’m not pissed off that I spent $400 on Common Projects because they’re super cool, the quality’s amazing, everyone wants them and they’re true to their character. I appreciate what they’ve done, so I’m okay supporting it. But when you look at these new designers that come out, it’s like, why are they charging $600? They haven’t earned that.
What mistakes do you think guys make when it comes to buying belts?
If you’re not buying something that isn’t made for you—why are you buying it? If you’re buying a shirt, a suit, a pair of shoes—it better fit pretty damn well. The problem with belts is that they’re not made to fit, they’re made to be functional. They always have five, seven, or nine holes because fit isn’t really considered. One of my biggest pet peeves when I see someone wearing a “bad belt” is when the flap on it is 8-inches from the hole they buckled, it looks sloppy. It looks like they stole their dad’s belt, and they’re a kid wearing this thing that looks way too big.
What are signs of a bad belt?
Let’s say you’ve got a belt with five holes, if you’re not in one of the middle three, your belt’s not fitting you very well. Or you’ve lost or gained weight, and it’s time for a new belt. Also if you see something where the edges are flaking or chipping apart, or the buckle. I saw a belt the other day that was easily $600, he bought a belt from us, and handed me his old belt. His matte black buckle had chipped off to reveal the silver underneath, and he’d only had this thing for 10 months.
Something at that price point shouldn’t fall apart on you, and if it does, the company should consider replacing it. We hand-stitch all our buckles on and the threading is done by hand, if anybody ever breaks a stitch, they just send it back to us, we’ll fix it and send it back. That’s what should happen I’ve experienced leather for so many years that I can tell good leather from bad leather just by looking at it, but touching and feeling is a huge help. When you feel a belt, or any leather good of quality, it’s kind of automatic. You feel it and recognize, “Whoa, that’s nice.”
What kind of leather do you use?
We use an American hide that gets tanned in a factory in Italy and gets sent back to us. It’s all a matte finish. We’re very into a minimal aesthetic, so nothing flashy. No big buckles, and no crazy colors, it’s all very muted. What we do with our belts is we use three pieces of leather to construct each one, even if it’s got canvas stitched on top, it’s still a three piece leather. The top and bottom are the American hide, but in the middle we use Italian vegetable-tanned leather for durability—we don’t thin that out so much.
Your lookbook is done really well, love the all-white aesthetic. What was the inspiration behind it?
We wanted the models to look and feel like statues. On the videos on our site, you see the statue, then you see the model who looks like the statue. We wanted it to look and feel like a high-fashion brand. We deliver a product just as high-quality as Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, and a Common Projects shoe. We’re not as recognized, so we’re pricing it at a spot where people can access it, but people who are used to buying $1,000 Hermés belts can buy every single one of ours for less than the price of one.
What plans do you have for the future of Upton?
There are a whole bunch of ideas we’re playing with. About six months prior to launching we wanted to eventually create a section on our website called the “Bespoke” page where you can pick the leather you want, the color you want, the width, the buckle, and really make it your own. We’d limit it a little bit, because we want the end result to feel on-brand. But our main priority is to own the belt industry—we want to be recognized as the belt brand to go to, the ones making the best-fitting, best-quality, best-priced belt out there.
Jian DeLeon for Selectism.com