Emerging Design: Derek Keller’s unique line plays up classic, manly style

08/27/2014 1:39 PM

08/27/2014 10:38 PM

On a shelf alongside Derek Keller’s workbench is a weathered volume of “The Art Of Manliness” – fitting since Keller makes “manful goods created for the modern man in search of bold, classic style” for his Raleigh line, 440 Gentleman Supply.

The idea for the line came when Keller was looking for a pair of leather suspenders and couldn’t find what he wanted, so he made them himself.

The suspenders were popular, so in 2013, Keller added belts and named his company (440 refers to Raleigh’s beltline). His collection quickly expanded to include wallets, Dopp kits and book covers for “field notes,” which are all made in Keller’s home garage in Raleigh.

But this isn’t Keller’s only job. By day, he is an assistant director of two master’s programs at N.C. State University – one in entrepreneurship and one in marketing. Still, he identifies strongly with his early childhood interest as a maker, sewing clothes with his mom and making leather belts alongside his dad.

Keller’s quality handmade leather goods are a nod to the resurgence of bold statement pieces in men’s fashion, such as a classic pair of leather suspenders.

“My aesthetic is inspired by midcentury modern architecture,” he said. “I like very simple, clean lines and angles.”

Keller focuses on quality and carefully selects all his leather from the esteemed Horween Leathers in Chicago. He cuts, punches and stitches every piece in his line.

“I pride myself on doing things without electricity, so I think it’s kind of fun to think that if we lose power, I can still continue making every one of my products,” he said.

His creative passion shows as he discusses making new items and experimenting with other material. Some of these new items are what he calls “one-offs” – items he creates in small batches. All the while, he regularly stocks distinguished favorites, such as a mustache comb tucked inside a leather sheath or his minimalist “work wrap.”

“I hate to say that this is like my yoga, but it is,” Keller said. “I can really lose myself in each piece. You forget about everything else and you are focused on just that one piece.”

But his real pride comes from seeing a finished piece that he hopes will endure beyond his lifetime.

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