Tokens & Icons Carves Out Historic Niche in Men's Accessories
Photos from www.tokens-icons.com.
Tokens & Icons founder Ward Wallau may not be trying to make menswear history, but he certainly has found a unique way to capture it in men’s fashion. One of Epic Mens’ most interesting brands, Tokens & Icons, has carved out a sizable niche in men’s fashion accessories by transforming historic artifacts into specialty items used or worn by men every day. What began as a one-man mission to preserve a small piece of New York City’s rich transit history has evolved into a premiere source of wearable sports and iconic artifacts. You can definitely see this in Epic Mens’ Tokens & Icons Cufflinks, Tokens & Icons Wallets, and Tokens & Icons Bottle Openers.
Epic Mens recently had an opportunity to talk with Wallau about Tokens & Icons’ unusual beginnings and subsequent growth in the lifestyle and men’s fashion accessories market. In 1980, Wallau was a new hotel-management grad in need of extra income to cover the high cost of urban life. The solution to his money woes materialized when the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) decided to reduce costs by eliminating the Y shaped cutouts on the city’s subway tokens, a move Wallau describes as “penny wise, pound foolish.”
“The ‘Y’ was the story,” Wallau explains, adding that by filling in the storied letter, the transit authority was dispensing with something truly unique and beloved by the city’s commuters. Relying on his entrepreneurial know-how, Wallau collected a hundred of the obsolete tokens and fashioned them into fifty pairs of authentic Tokens & Icons New York Subway Cufflinks. Receiving positive feedback, he then embarked on a decade-plus endeavor to secure a licensing agreement with the NYCTA to manufacture a full line of iconic Tokens & Icons men’s fashion accessories. During the ensuing eleven years, friends and colleagues suggested he simply replicate the “Y” design on his own, but that could not have been further from his vision for Tokens & Icons. Wallau was determined to repurpose authentic collectibles into usable men’s lifestyle and fashion accessories that would celebrate the city’s rich transit history and evoke warm, personal memories for its residents. Wallau finally secured the needed license in 1991, and after leaving his day job at an airfare company, launched Tokens & Icons. More licensing agreements followed, and Wallau’s Transit Token Collection soon grew to include authentic transit tokens from Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Tokens & Icons experienced yet another growth spurt when it partnered with toy maker Hasbro to commemorate one of our nation’s favorite pastimes by releasing a collection of Scrabble Tokens & Icons cufflinks, pendants and key rings and later with Pan Am to celebrate its iconic 707 jet service by transforming actual fuselage into Tokens & Icons sterling silver cufflinks. Today, the Tokens & Icons brand is also a mainstay among sports enthusiasts who are looking for ways to express their allegiance to specific teams through men’s fashion accessories. Currently, Tokens & Icons has agreements with Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL), the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) and a dozen championship collegiate football and basketball teams to produce not only Tokens & Icons cufflinks, but also Tokens & Icons pens, jewelry, wallets and bottle openers made from vintage stadium seating or actual game-played bats, baseballs, jerseys, and hockey pucks. Sports collectors and aficionados can even acquire keepsakes made from the actual court and flooring that was in place at Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden during championship seasons.
When asked how his creative team comes up with product ideas, Wallau explained “It’s the artifacts that dictate the design. ” Encouraged to elaborate, he continued, saying “When we found ourselves with golf shafts on hand, we needed a style that relates to golf, but really shows [off] the shafts…Thus was born the vintage golf umbrella.”
Photos from www.tokens-icons.com.
The Tokens & Icons brand is recognized as an authority within the authentic game-used gift realm not only because every item has a story to tell, but also because the men’s lifestyle and fashion accessory company has pushed its artisans “to go beyond their current limits, finding ways to be very clean and very different.” In Wallau’s informed estimation, “staying special” is what it’s all about.