In some ways, Michael Fasbender has had a typical college experience. He studied abroad for a semester. He lived in a 10-person house in the heart of campus. And the 23-year-old University of Minnesota senior’s spring break plans?
“Headed down to Cancun,” Fasbender said. “Can’t wait.”
But one thing separates Fasbender from the normal college kid. He co-owns Barks, a design company that sells wood sunglasses and watches. It began when he met Norwegian entrepreneur Andre Hagen, 24, when they were both studying at University of Sunshine Coast in Australia in 2011.
“I noticed he was wearing these cool sunglasses and figured they were an established brand,” Fasbender said. “When he said they were samples from a company he was trying to set up, I was hooked.”
Hagen and Fasbender teamed up and launched Barks in 2012—selling only the sunglasses—and had some success. (“We’ve done well, but we’re not Mark Cuban,” Fasbender says.) With the capital, they commissioned wood watches from their overseas supplier and launched those on their website in February.
In between classes, Fasbender handles the day-to-day operations of Barks and ships the products from his apartment in Minneapolis. Hagen, who is finishing a master’s degree in Australia, has invested more money and is less hands-on. The next step is to get their products into stores, something Fasbender will head while finishing the final 16 hours of his marketing degree at Minnesota. He plans to graduate in May. After that? He sounds like that typical college kid again.
“Lot of question marks,” Fasbender said. “I’ll stay in Minnesota through the summer and work on Barks. After that, who knows? Ideally, I’d like to move to a warmer climate but I need to find a job first.”
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Barks sent Jeans & Ties a new Kilimanjaro watch to be reviewed and returned. I wore it daily for a week around Long Beach and also took it on a long weekend with my wife in Laguna Beach. Here’s what I learned:
1. It can be dressed up. With a couple child-free nights, Danny and I took full advantage by heading to restaurants without kids menus while in Laguna Beach. I wore jeans and ties both nights and the Barks watch fit in seamlessly. It complemented nicely my brown belt and whiskey brogues, and the wood look was not out of place in the laid-back Laguna locale.
2. It can be dressed down. A typical day for me involves hanging out with my 3-year-old for a few hours in the morning and working from a coffee shop for a few hours in the afternoon. Jeans and a T-shirt get the job done for both, and the Barks watch worked well with that outfit. In particular, the simple face—without the more pretentious gadgets—makes the watch all the more versatile.
3. It feels like a normal watch. When I got the watch, it was too big for my wrist so I took it down to my local watch store to have a couple links taken out. The lady who did it complimented the piece and remarked at its lack of weight and stiffness. “I always thought these would be heavy and awkward,” she said. The Barks watch is neither. And it fit just right after having two links taken out—a process that cost $10 at my shop and varies at others.
4. Everyday watch? Probably not. My day-to-day watch is a Timex Military from J.Crew that I bought four years ago. It has an interchangeable band and I find the endless options—leather, canvas, nylon in any color, etc.—to fit my lifestyle perfectly. Convincing me—and my limited budget—that I need another watch option that can be dressed up or down would be a tall task. However, the $79 price tag for a Barks watch is very reasonable and would allow a buyer the option to own another watch and rotate between the two.
5. It wears more like a dress watch than a casual watch. I found myself taking off the Barks watch when I was at the playground with my son or down on the floor with his blocks and matchbox cars. It’s not that the watch would have been damaged—I don’t know—but it felt more precious and I didn’t want to risk it. Also, because it’s made of wood, you don’t want to get it wet. That meant extra care when washing hands, doing dishes, rinsing off sandy feet, etc. Take that for what it’s worth.
Verdict: I really enjoyed the Barks watch and would recommend it to anyone considering an additional watch for their collection. It is an attention-grabbing piece that draws compliments and questions from others. I don’t recommend it for daily use, but if you have an extra $80 and interest in upping your watch game, pull the trigger.