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Meet Tone Customs

July 26, 2022

We’re birders, yes! But does that mean we have to sacrifice style for comfort? Hell no! We love our gear, and we love to look good while schlepping it around in the field. That’s why we teamed up with Tone Customs to create a series of binocular straps that combine utility and style. And along the way, we got to know Tone, the man behind the magic who hand crafted each strap. 

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Most of my life I was a poser. My earliest childhood memories are of being afraid and of feeling like I don’t fit in. I dropped out of high school, got in trouble with the law, did too many drugs, sabotaged my successes, etc. Over the years, I crafted various identities for myself that I thought would get me accepted into the cathedral of the cool kids. It never worked, the cool kids always saw through my disguises, and eventually booted me from the pews. As I've gotten older, I'm now 52, I've become very aware of my mortality and that's had a big impact on me. These days, I am more interested in finding and being the real me. And, the funny thing is that in this process, I’ve re-discovered the kid I was before I turned 14. I always liked to make little toys and objects with whatever materials I could find laying around, and I did this alone in my room. So, Tone-Customs is an extension of my personal journey to be a better me. It is how I battle with the dark mental shit swirling around in my head that's held me back my whole life. I am grateful to be living by my own rules, creating things that I like, working with some awesomepeople and I am hopeful that I can continue doing this thing successfully, one day at a time. 

What was the genesis of Tone Customs–why did you start it? How has it evolved?

A few years ago the old leather belt I had for like 20 years broke. As a child of the 90's I still wear my pants baggy (although not as baggy as back then!) so without a belt, my pants fall off. In the 90's, like so many other dudes I know, I used a shoelace to keep my pants on. I looked for some rope in my shop and I found a bundle of Home Depot 5/8" nautical rope. I wrapped it around my waist, tied it into a knot, cut off some of the ends but let them dangle a bit for style. It made me wonder if maybe I could make it look a bit cooler. I had no money to invest in some cool machined buckle and I didn't want to learn to sew but I was intrigued. I spent the next couple months casually researching ornamental knots and random materials on the Internet. I found all kinds of cool samurai, ninja and military ornamental knots, uniforms and ropes. I sketched a version, built it and then wore it for a few months. I liked it but I wasn't sure if folks would like that it requires a knot but I decided that if I like this kimono-like ritual of tying the knot, then maybe other people like me (my tribe) would like it too. So with like $400, I started making rope belts and key-chains with materials I would buy at Home Depot–hoping one day to afford really good climbing rope and hardware. That happened and I am fortunate and grateful that so many people supported and promoted me.

What inspires you to make things?

I am inspired whenever I accomplish something. I’m also inspired by Mexico, nature, myfriends’ achievements, music, cinema and the art direction in many video games.

Tell us a bit about your process. How do you design and develop your products? 

I can't say I have fully developed a process. It seems to change all the time. Maybe that is my process? Anyway, when I get the urge to make something new, I need to make it in real time with real materials. I don't like to draw an idea. It's gotta be analog–like sculpting or wood carving. Once that starts, I just play around with it until I have landed on something I like or throw it away and wait for the next urge to hit.  

How did you choose to work with the materials you use? What is your favorite material or piece of hardware?

When I was first researching ropes and hardware to use, I was immediately attracted to climbing and mil-spec grade ropes and hardware. It's very technical, usually lightweight and highly functional. My favorite piece of hardware is probably the Kong Frog but all kinds of carabiners make me happy.

How do you like to enjoy the outdoors? Do your products play a role in your own outdoor recreation?

I like camping with my girlfriend, my dog and our 96 Coleman Taos Pop-Up Camper. I have a few wooden walking sticks that I've made from fat branches and wrapped with 550 paracord. I wear my rope belts (I have about 15 of them now), I use my utility-cords, and my tote bag goes with me everywhere.