What started out as a small crowdfunding campaign has grown into a passion for helping photographers feel comfortable. Clever Supply Company, founded by former wedding photographer Todd Balsley, produces straps that he hopes allows photographers to actually enjoy carrying a camera.
Balsley spent six years as a professional wedding photographer starting in 2010 and as a result, has what he describes as a “deep affection” for the photography industry and those who rely on it.
“I get excited about seeing photographers succeed at what they do,” he tells PetaPixel.
Looking back on his early days in wedding photography, Balsley says he went through the same process all shooters like him generally do: he needed a strap.
“I’d spend loads of time hunting for gear that helped me do my job better. In my search for the best equipment I naturally explored different camera straps, I found a lot of good (and not so good) options that seemed to work for most people, but not for me,” he says. “You see there were some camera straps that were innovative but were made of strange materials, while other options had a more refined style but were uncomfortable to wear while casually shooting.”
In the end, his search was fruitless: “I searched, found some things I didn’t like, and then ultimately I gave up.”
When he decided it was time to hang up his professional wedding shooter’s camera in 2017 to focus on his growing family, Balsley wanted to stay involved with the industry he had grown to love. His thoughts went back to straps, and how he wanted to help address that problem that plagued him years before. Coincidently, he had started to pick up leatherworking as a hobby.
“Initially, all I wanted to do was make a cool wallet, but it didn’t take long for me to become obsessed with my newfound hobby,” he says. “I don’t know if it was the intoxicating smell of new leather hides or the process of making something useful with my hands that could one day be passed down to my kids, but I knew I was in love with the process.”
Balsley decided to try and use his love of leatherworking to address the problem he thought needed solving: people love taking pictures, but hate bringing a camera with them. He wanted to fill the hole he encountered when nothing on the market fit what he was looking for.
“How many times have you looked at your camera as you are walking out the door and thought ‘nah, I don’t feel like lugging that around’?” Balsley asked. “We want to fix that! Just like a comfortable pair of shoes can make you want to go out for a walk, we want our straps to make you want to go shoot. To deliver on the comfort factor, we choose leather that is a medium temper and is naturally broken in, so you are left with a strap that feels great right out of the box.
But Balsley believes that as much as comfort is king, functionality is queen and the two must coexist in order to produce a good, meaningful product.
“On the other side of this coin is function. I feel like camera straps haven’t exactly changed a whole lot since they were invented, but one thing that has changed is how fast-paced the role of a photographer can be. For an accessory, like a camera strap, to bring value, I think it needs to get out of the way so the artist can do their work. Being able to easily remove the strap when you need to use a tripod, or to swap it between bodies helps us provide photographers with a tool that adapts to their needs,” he says.
Balsley worked with different designs until he found one he was proud of, and in 2019 launched a humble Kickstarter that was successfully backed.
“I couldn’t believe it, the camera strap I wanted for myself just so happened to be the camera strap a bunch of other people wanted too,” he says.
What was born from that Kickstarter is Clever Supply Company, Balsley’s leather brand that he and his wife operate that specializes in straps for photographers.
“With Clever Supply Co, our mission is to help photographers ‘enjoy the carry.’ That concept drives what we like to focus on, which are products that blend function and form and hopefully elevate your shooting experience,” Balsley says. “I think our best effort so far is our Anchor line of straps, where we’ve integrated Peak Design’s hardware with a handmade leather camera strap.”
One of Peak Design’s most successful products is its camera strap that uses the company’s quick-release hardware. Leveraging that, Balsley made what he thinks is an alternative that has all the convenience of the original but is, for many, subjectively superior to Peak’s.
“First, I admire the heck out of Peak Design and the innovation they’ve brought to the photography space. As a B-corp, they also exist for a higher purpose than just profit which is really inspiring,” Balsley says. “As for how we differentiate from their offerings, I think it comes down to the materials I use and its relationship with fashion. Fashion sounds vain and maybe some people would disagree with me, but I think it’s an important part of a person’s experience with the things we use.”
From the Anchor line’s inception, Balsley has been in contact with Peak Design who he says has been nothing but supportive of Clever Supply’s efforts.
“Peak doesn’t use leather at all in their products, but I’ve found there is a serious base of photographers that really like including leather into their setup from that fashion perspective. Going back to the example of wedding photographers, their outfits often mirror the formal context they operate in, and their gear is part of their outfit.”
Clever Supply company makes every strap to order for the specified length a photographer chooses on their website, but Balsley wants to introduce an adjustable strap in the near future.
“Additionally I have a harness design I want to explore,” he tells PetaPixel. “It’s a bit of a different take than what is out there on the market currently and it blends some of the comfort and function principles I mentioned earlier. I also want to introduce a canvas accessory for photographers.”
Part of what makes the Clevery Supply story compelling is Balsley’s desire to stay rooted to what originally pushed him to design his first strap: make products that photographers want to use and will make the process of photography more comfortable and enjoyable.
“We would love to explore how we can serve photographers in other ways,” Balsley says. “We’re just like the people we’re creating for, and when people look at our brand we hope they see us as a brand that is for makers, by makers. We haven’t quite figured this out yet, but I envision it involving commissioning and sponsoring artists.”
For now, the husband-and-wife operation is still lean, mostly due to the custom nature of their product. Though they have a few small reseller partnerships, they are mostly direct-to-consumer and don’t currently work with the larger distributors the industry is most known for. Though of course, the idea of producing larger batches for those big partners is a dream, arguably part of what makes the two’s process so appealing is the small-scale nature of what they are doing. Photography itself is not something that generally scales well, and the happiest photo clients tend to be those who get to work with their local photographer one-on-one and form that custom, tailored experience.
In that same vein, the Balsleys’ operation may be scrappy and small, but it’s relatable. Just like the hand-cut and stitched nature of their leather straps, photographers like working with folks on a case-by-case basis. In that sense, there is harmony here.
You can peruse Clever Supply’s line of camera straps, including the Anchor Straps that take advantage of the Peak Design quick release system, here, and follow them on Instagram here. Whatever strap you do end up choosing to bear the load of your favorite camera, for the Balsleys, all that matters is that you enjoy the carry. If they and their leather goods can be a part of that endeavor, he and his wife have succeeded in their goal.
Image credits: Photos by Todd Balsley and Samual Marz and used with permission.