It’s hard to argue against the appeal of NATO straps. Their utility has made them a staple with most watch-enthusiasts, and if you’re anything like me, then you have at least a dozen of them tucked away somewhere.
But let’s face it: NATO straps have gotten a little stale in recent years, especially the nylon variety. With countless companies peddling what appear to be the same straps in a handful of tried-and-true colors and patterns, the market is flooded with a lack of originality. And while leather NATOS offer an interesting alternative, they aren’t as practical as the nylon kind and usually come with a surcharge that, quite frankly, counters the utilitarian nature of NATO straps ($150 for a cordovan NATO is a tough pill to swallow in my book). Few brands offer something in-between.
Enter Suigeneric, a NYC-based label launched in 2013 that aims to fill that void. Founded by Wonjin Lee and Michael Park–two friends with backgrounds in fashion and a shared love for watches–Suigeneric offers a collection of unique waxed cotton NATO straps in a range of colors and patterns that are crazier than the usual fare. Designed in New York and made in Korea, the straps are hand-waxed and finished to a standard that, in my opinion, is higher than one would normally get with the reasonable $45 asking price.
From an interesting take on Brit Camo to the Josef Albers-inspired Blanket patterns, the Suigeneric portfolio boasts a lighthearted aesthetic that feels casual and sporty. The Inaugural Collection, for example, features patterns that range from the bold (check out this leopard print) to the subdued, both of which are tempered by the slightly washed-out color tones. They key to wearing these straps is to think of them as accent pieces. Like a pair of colorful socks or a bold-patterned tie, they add a pop of color to your look without overshadowing the rest of your outfit.
The 2014 spring/summer collection is especially playful, bringing into the fold lighter hues and patterns reminiscent of warmer weather. The Urban Horticulture line makes use of colorful floral prints, and the nautically inspired Nouvelle Vague series is peppered with anchors, waves, and a simplified color palette. There are also two other upcoming collections, one featuring paisley bandana prints, and another featuring stripes and speckled dots.
Aesthetics aside, waxed cotton is an interesting choice for a watchstrap. Waxed cotton generally serves a very specific purpose, the primary of which is to keep moisture out. As such, waxed items are not known for their breathability, so wearing a strap coated in the stuff can be uncomfortable (especially in the summer months). Fortunately, Suigeneric avoids this potential pitfall by lightly waxing their straps, thereby avoiding the greasy, heavy feel one associates with waxed fabrics, all the while retaining the unique look of waxed cotton. That is to say, you’ll still get that desirable patina associated with waxed goods.
The straps feel a bit stiff at first, partially due to the thickness of the cotton and partially due to the wax. They do, however, break in quite nicely and conform to the shape of the wrist after only a short period of time. I should note that the current batch of straps is made using a thinner fabric than previous runs. This was done not to cut corners, but simply to make the band more pliable and to make them easier to thread through narrower lug spaces. In my opinion, thinning the straps was the right call, as it also allows the watch to sit closer to the wrist and results in a slimmer profile.
The construction is topnotch. The stitching is incredibly precise, and all ends are finished and neatly tucked away. The fabric itself feels great against the skin and, unlike cheaper nylon NATOS, does not warp over time. The hardware is offered in an attractive brushed stainless steel finish, and each keeper is secured in its own stitched compartment (no glue here, folks). The straps are currently available in three widths: 18mm, 20mm, and 22mm.
One of my favorite things about the Suigeneric straps is that they’re a bit shorter (around 10.5 inches) than your typical NATO strap, so I don’t have to tuck the extra fabric back into one of the keepers. This, however, might pose a problem for those of us with heartier wrists (mine is 6.75 inches) or for those who prefer the tucked look. I spoke to Michael Park about this potential issue, and while he informed me that there are no immediate plans to adjust the length, it is something they can consider if there is a considerable demand for longer straps.
The packaging comes with a set of care instructions for maintaining waxed cotton. Suigeneric recommends spot cleaning, but my recommendation would be to lightly hand-wash the straps with some cold water and gentle soap if they start to get funky. If you miss the waxy feel, you can always reapply a small coat yourself (it’s really not that hard).
What’s next on the horizon? Suigeneric is getting ready a line of key fobs featuring their signature patterns and black hardware, as well as a series of graphic tees. They also currently have two collaborations going: one with French surf brand Cuisse De Grenouille, and the other with watchmaker Speake-Marin for their Spirit MKII watches.
To purchase, head over to Suigeneric.
By Ilya Ryvin follow him on Instagram: RYVINI