The fascinating story of the 33 year old craftsman from Tel Aviv who decided to shut down his famous leather shop in center of town to go 100% vegan.
In the summer of 2011, Asaf opened his first business in the well-known Dizengoff mall in the heart of Tel Aviv. It was a small shop for special belt buckles and leather belts, with the addition of a few local designers to offer unique bags and wallets. The demand for special customized belts brought him to a point where he felt he needed to develop new leather-crafting skills. As the days went by, he added more and more tools/features in the shop and started to master the skills of a real craftsman. “I found my work very satisfying and I was very happy to have the ability of fulfilling my customers’ needs” he said.
The leather shop at Dizengoff Center mall. Tel Aviv 2017
Tel Aviv city is well known around the world as a vegan friendly city, the capital of veganism even. With a strong population of vegans, the awareness for a vegan-based lifestyle can be seen throughout Tel Aviv – from the rich variety of vegan restaurants, to vegan influences fashion designers. “I remember the first time someone stepped into my shop and asked for a vegan belt; I couldn’t offer them anything that was 100% vegan”.
He then realized he must find a good non-leather option for his new vegan customers so he decided to look for a decent product that will be also long lasting, yet 100% vegan. “Everything I found wasn’t good enough. Most of the products I found were low quality and broke apart too fast – and almost all of them contained remnants of leather. It couldn’t pass the vegan standard of my customers and wasn’t in the same line I have, i.e. the high-quality standard for lifetime use and 100% vegan”.
Dizengoff center mall from above. Tel Aviv 2019
The search for the right materials made him expand his horizons and explore other industries. He went from one factory to another looking after materials that will have the same strength and appearance of leather and also be processable with the equipment he had. “I tried a few rubber-based options, and eventually I found it. I made one black belt that looks exactly like leather, and even stronger”.
The first vegan piece he made was given to his childhood friend, as a test, and was considered a ‘prototype’. The test was in the end a great success, and after a few months he put them on display in his shop. Every person passing by the shop was amazed by the look and high quality, and ended up buying them because they couldn’t find it anywhere else! He even asked his friend after 6 years how the belt looks and feels now, and his friend can attest that is has ‘stood the test of time’.
Handmade from non-leather and long-lasting materials
In 2017, Asaf decided to launch his brand online and give vegans around the world the ability to enjoy his products. He named his new brand “The Whistle” and launched an online shop under the address www.the-whistle.com. “Whistle was my nickname among my friends. In Hebrew, we pronounce it “mashrokit”. It was obvious that I would name my company based off a sentimental memory from long ago –and maybe in my next interview, I will tell the story behind the nickname”.
Since the launch of his new vegan belt line, there has been a growing number of interest around the future of humanity, cruelty-free and sustainably-sourced products. “When I started thinking about how I could market to the right communities, especially the vegan community, I started to research relevant content and ideas. I then discovered a lot of information that wasn’t familiar to me before, and going deeper and deeper into it, I realized I could give a two-hour lecture about veganism while cutting cow’s skin every day for living. This dissonance between ideals and reality made me think twice of my profession as a leather craftsmen, as well as a vegan fashion entrepreneur that wants to bring a little change to the world”.
Handcraft belts with a leather like appearance. The Whistle 2019
Eventually, Asaf decided to close his leather business and bring his skills and ideas in a better way of high-quality handmade crafts that are not connected with the suffering of other creatures: humans or animals. He promises to do it all by himself in Tel Aviv with love and care, and to bring back the approach of lifetime use of products with the added benefit of waste reduction.