If Dad gets a Jack Foster watch strap for Christmas, my droll, 84-year-old father would pull out one of his old soldier’s stories. “Alexander the Great invented those, you know. One day in battle, Alexander ripped some cloth from his tunic and tied it to his sundial: Alexander’s Rag Time Band!”
C’mon, that’s funny—Alexander’s Ragtime Band was actually Irving Berlin’s rst blockbuster hit in 1911, coincidentally not long after British soldiers in South Africa started af xing leather straps to their pocket watches, according to a Rolex anecdote.
Ah, timeless practical fashion.
Move the clock up to nearly three ago, when Matt Crowder started Jack Foster, a watch-strap company he named partly for his great aunt, Sally Foster, the Spartanburg gift-wrap maven; “Jack” just sounded like an all- American moniker. (Wouldn’t you know, Jack’s my Dad’s name!)
Watches tell time only to the wearer, while watchbands make a statement: “‘I care about attention to detail. I’m going to stand out,’” the Greer native says. “People like the Made in America concept. People like something that’s handmade.”
Strapped for Time // Matt Crowder is the hand behind Jack Foster, a company that produces leather watch bands in a variety of styles, including ones to t Apple watch faces. To see his bands, turn to page 66, and visit jack-foster.com.
Jack Foster annually sells upwards of 600 bands, priced from $58 to $195. Crowder stitches his creations after using a hydraulic press he built himself to die-cut any of 50-odd types of hides, including crocodile, stingray, ostrich, python, lizard, toad, and, of course, cow. All materials, except the buckles, come from American companies, namely Chicago’s storied Horween Leather Co. and stitching from the Maine Thread Co.
His Standard, Premium, and Military styles feature Dublin leather, whose oil-and-wax blend lets the hide stretch, with color variations that look rustic, and Essex leather, strong, supple, polished, smooth, and creaseless. Seventy-five percent of his customers are men, though women accessorize their smartwatches.
During a break in his mostly solo process, Crowder, 36, leans back in one of only a few chairs in his two-room workplace squeezed into the rear of a long-shuttered drive-through bank in Greenville. No sign outside, and the walls inside are blank. The cluttered space looks less like a growing of ce than a tiny factory, and sales soared 150 percent from last year.
Before clocking in as an entrepreneur, Crowder was a computer- security consultant, though a longtime leather hobbyist. Then he felt the allure of old-fashioned manufacturing. Why watchbands? He made holsters, belts, and wallets until watchbands proved more lucrative.
“There’s more money in lo-tech than in high-tech,” he reveals.
Crowder says he’s attracting high-end watchmakers, which is good, considering he doesn’t sell much locally; he started advertising only this year from his near-invisible location. “Not having a storefront,” he says in the two seconds it takes to survey his cramped mini-plant, “this obviously isn’t a place where people can walk in and shop around.” But he may have to change that—only time will tell.