The Tread is the world’s first wearable multi-tool brought to you by the inventors of the original multi-tool, Leatherman. The Tread houses 25 tools on your wrist in the form of a highly durable stainless steel bracelet that clasped comfortably to accommodate any wrist size and it is fully customisable for any situation. Tools include Allen wrenches, screwdrivers and cutting hooks among a raft of other much-loved original Leatherman tools which can be attached and detached at will. There is also a Tread QM1 version that features a unique Leatherman-designed Swiss made watch with a precision quarts movement. The timepiece features shock and scratch resistant double-domed sapphire crystal with a rotating bezel and it is water resistant up to 200 meters.
We got the opportunity to shoot the breeze with Ben Rivera President of Leatherman, who came up with the idea for the Tread during family trip to Disneyland. Here’s an insight into the ingenuity and thought processes behind the innovations of Leatherman.
Interview – Ben Rivera President of Leatherman
Man of Many: I’m a big fan of Leatherman tools so it’s good to get to chat to someone so close to the company. What’s your background?
Ben Rivera: I’m the President of Leatherman. I’ve been at Leatherman for 24 years, I’m a mechanical engineer, I came straight out of college and joined Leatherman as a manufacturing engineer. Originally I had just one product and my job was to figure out how to make Leatherman tools faster, improve the quality, improve the performance of the product and since that time my career has evolved into designing the product, leading the product design team and then business development and I’ve been the President now for about 18 months.
MM: We all know guys like tools and nifty little gadgets and gizmos, what’s your opinion as to why you know why these kinds of things are so popular with men?
BR: You know, one of the things about Leatherman tools that really appeals to men, is it allows them to be a hero. In an unexpected moment they can do something that helps them save steps, or save the day, or even save a life and sometimes it’s as simple as at a party being the guy who everybody goes to to get their beer opened up, sometimes it’s cutting a seatbelt to get somebody about of a car that’s been in a car accident, sometimes it’s even as serious as giving an emergency tracheotomy on a person who couldn’t breathe. So I think it’s that Leatherman tools allow you know facilitate a man being a hero in a given situation and different levels of heroism.
“Leatherman wearables are more about solving problems in the real world”
MM: Moving onto your the newest product the ‘Tread’, where did the idea of that come from?
BR: The idea of Tread actually came from being in product design for some time, almost most all of my career at Leatherman, and Tread started about two years ago so was actually about six months before I became President of the company, I was still in charge of product design and our innovation department and it was actually a personal project of my own and it’s probably the last one I will do personally.
I was on a family vacation to Disneyland in California and I was carrying my Leatherman tool with me and when I went to the front gate they saw that I had a Leatherman tool and they sent me to the special line with where they have security people instead people in a costume, there were security guards in black t-shirts and they said, “You can’t have a Leatherman tool on the Disneyland property, it’s a weapon”, and I tried to appeal to them saying, “It’s not a weapon, I just need to be able to you know cut my kids straws off and open packages”. They said, “Well no, it’s a weapon so you’re gonna have to take it back to your hotel room”. They kind of badgered me a little bit, followed me all the way to my hotel, they wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to hide that Leatherman tool in a bush or somewhere on the property where I could retrieve it later on. They wanted to make sure I took it all the way back to my hotel room so they followed me all the way back.
I was very frustrated by that. My family went to the park without me and they’re texting me and sending me emails saying, “Hey what’s going on dad? Are you gonna go to jail?” “No I’m just going to the hotel room I’ll be right back, go on the first ride without me.” But anyway I came back, re-joined my family we had a great vacation at Disneyland, but my the wheels started turning. I’m so frustrated with constantly being reminded that I can’t take my Leatherman to my kids school or on an airplane and I was surprised that now I can’t take it to Disneyland either, there’s gotta be something I can do to have my tool with me and of course even during those four days in the park, there was times when I needed my Leatherman tool and so I actually came directly home from that vacation and began working on what became the Tread.
MM: The whole idea and concept of a watch or bracelet that doubles as a tool kit is the kind of the stuff of childhood fantasies and spy films are made of. Were any of those things an influence during the development?
BR: No I wasn’t I don’t think I would say those things were influences, I think that what was an influence to me was really just being in the innovation department for so long just being aware of the trends of the combination of fashion and people not wanting to wear a Leatherman tool on their belt so much, being aware of trends of heightened security everywhere you go, being aware of the trends of wearables being on the uptake. Whether it’s your Google Glasses, or your smartphone watch or what have you, I think just being aware of what’s trending in the world were some of the sources of inspiration that caused me to think about okay how else could somebody carry a Leatherman? What other way on their person can a Leatherman product be worn? It actually started out as just a bracelet it didn’t start as a watch, my very first prototypes were bracelets and the very first people who saw them inevitably said, “well there should be a watch” and so it kind of evolved from a bracelet to a watch band and it’s kinda bounced around back and forth and some people see a bracelet some people look at it and see a watch band.
MM: You mentioned before wearable technologies are really popular at the moment and packing so much technology into something like a smartwatch and you’ve gone ahead and packed packed a whole bunch of traditional tools into a wearable form. Have you ever considered combining the cutting edge technologies with you know physical tools to stay prepared?
BR: Yeah we definitely plan to make versions of a Tread that will allow you to carry your 360, or your Apple watch or maybe your other products you buy. Maybe a GPS, or maybe a hiking computer or maybe a personal locator beacon where you can there’s all different kinds of different things that we’ve thought about creating adaptors for that could attach that could become part of the Tread family. Absolutely will see them in the very very not so distant future very short term.
“each of the little links there’s even kind of like a little app in itself”
MM: Can we expect to see anymore wearable tools coming from the Leatherman design studio?
BR: Yeah absolutely, well starting with Tread in particular we thought about 12 different links that you can that you can that come with your Tread that will be available for purchase, but we have a I have a list of at least 20 additional links varying from regular tools like you see on the images you have today where there’s metal tools, there’s other things whether they might be clocks, or memory devices, or other types of tools that maybe you don’t typically find on a regular Leatherman tool but are still helping people be prepared for the real world. One of the things I called the Tread in the development phase, I actually I originally called the tool for a wearable device by Leatherman that was‘The Real World tool’.
Those portable devices you talked about whether it’s a smartphone or a Fuel Band from Nike that gives you fitness information, or Google glasses that maybe help you stay connected with people, those devices all provide you with information or what have you, but they can’t literally do anything, they can only provide you with information you can use or you can communicate with someone. Whereas the Leatherman wearables are more about solving problems in the real world. It can open a beer or I can cut through a wrist band from a theme park, or from a beer garden, or I can remove the SIM card from my phone because it’s not working properly, or I can change to a different phone number what have you. I mean it does real work it doesn’t do the theoretical work that most wearable devices do.
In each of the little links there’s even kind of like a little app in itself. Where I can by an app for my phone to translate languages or look up the a review of a wine bottle of wine, I think that in the future little links to go into a Tread might be viewed as apps. Maybe there’s a link that allows you to fix your bicycle, or a link that allows you to service your firearm if you’re in law enforcement, or there’s a link that allows you to maybe start a fire or survival or what have you, they’re like little real world apps.
MM: It’s great to hear about the whole design philosophy behind Leatherman and your products.
BR: One other little piece of design philosophy as well is that everything about the product is designed to conform to at least for the USA requirements so we can take it on an airplane. Part of the design philosophy going forward is we’re not gonna you know we’re committed to everything we do there being totally perceived as not only being conforming to the rules but also not even whether it conforms or not being perceived as a weapon-like product in any way, we want to continue we want it to be it has been so far and we want it to be accepted as something that can go with you wherever you go.
The design of the product is it really started out as couple of things; one is started out as it was very difficult to design for it to be manufacturable, in fact the very first couple of rounds of prototypes I tried to design it in ways that I thought I’d be able to make it and then the breakthrough for the product was really just throwing manufacturing out the window and just saying “I’m just going to design the way I want it” and since I’m in charge of product development innovation I have access to a 3D printing machine that can print on stainless steel so I’m gonna go ahead and make one for myself and if nobody else can have one at least I will.
“while it’s aesthetically pleasing, also simultaneously there is a function”
We designed it for really 3D printing, not for manufacturability and that was really the breakthrough that allowed the thing to not only be designed in a way that was aesthetically pleasing but also comfortable to wear so designed that you can split links one on your wrist it doesn’t it’s smooth to the touch whether it’s sliding up and down your wrist, rotating around your wrist or not snagging, poking your own skin or snagging on your clothing. And the pieces are necessarily very complicated shapes in order to accomplish that. It’s even and it’s also all cored out to reduce weight as much as possible to make it comfortable to wear and the result is that something that’s very hard to manufacture and very expensive to manufacture too, because each and every part on this bracelet unlike a normal bracelet or a watch band is a unique part that take special tooling to make each piece, which were the manufacturing hurdles that I was describing.
I think that the design that resulted from it is really cool and really what is probably in large part made people surprised and excited to own it. It’s definitely function first, I think that the honesty of the design and every single aspect of the design while it’s aesthetically pleasing, also simultaneously there is a function. For example the chamfers on the bracelet, they look like design features, but they’re actually designed to make it smooth. The zig zags of the connecting links are designed to shield the head of the screws from being rubbed on by your hand, the slots and the screws are actually designed so you can take it apart, put it together to make it longer or reconfigure the tool or make it shorter using found objects like paperclips and coins and butter knives, anything you might have so you don’t have to have a tool to fix a tool. I just think that when people look at it they appreciate it not only for the design, I think that the design beauty of it but also for the functional.
I’d also like to mention for you Leatherman’s a USA manufacturing company, we have more than 500 employees in our manufacturing facility in Portland Oregon and we’re really proud of the fact that we manufacture products of multi-tools and knives and now the Tread and that we make quality products from USA and and we’re able to compete throughout the world, so we take a lot of pride in that, that’s part of the DNA of our company as well.