Our Story

We take everyday wellness tools and redesign them around the movement they were originally made for. All our tools are designed and made by us to order, in London, England. Cast from our own ceramic composite, each is a little unique in its own special way - and hand numbered to show it. We think there’s no better way to understand Altere Studios than to pick up one of our editions for yourself. Shy of that, it’s worth understanding where we came from.

Shop here to get your Altere, or keep reading to learn more.

Toby and I met in September 2017, at a welcome mixer in our student halls in Bloomsbury. I was talking (perhaps a little too loudly) in a small group about our favourite places to eat out in London, and Toby joined in. Within minutes, everyone else had bailed and the two of us spent the next hour or so debating whether steak should be cooked in oil or butter (they say “what grows together, goes together” for a reason), amongst other things. We ended up in a pub and spent the next three years doing a far better job of hopping between eateries and concept stores than sitting with our books.

Toby had already been in business with his brother, Alex, since we was fifteen - and the two of them spent five years travelling between China, Turkey and the US sourcing materials, manufacturing and distributing consumer products. I met Alex, an architect, over a bowl of Korean Fried Chicken at Toby’s place (his recipe is an absolute 10/10, try it for yourself here). It didn’t take long to start talking about design. My parents, and both my grandparents, were architects, so I grew up thinking about the things we have and the spaces we exist in as deliberate and mouldable in some way. From a young age, I’ve had a sense for good and bad design: things that are made for purpose and fulfil that purpose beautifully, versus clutter that takes up more space than its worth (in your life, as well as your living room). As we counted bones to figure out who was owed the last piece of chicken, it was clear Alex and Toby felt the same way.

From then on, we talked more about products and brands than eateries. From glasses to bicycles, and everything in between - we would share what we admired, desired, or found to be tired and overdone. The things we loved would come up again and again. What they had in common was that they were all simple, everyday tools crafted thoughtfully. And that meant: they were best-in-class at whatever they were made for; they were beautiful objects at rest and when in use; and they were made to have a positive impact on the world and the people in it (more on that here). We clearly wanted to make something thoughtful of our own, but it wasn’t obvious what that would be.

Altere is a story of slow, intentional movement, and so it's no surprise that it would take another three years before we’d find the right object to make thoughtfully. Skip to 2021 and Toby and I were catching up in person post lockdown. We’d both been working out from home more during the pandemic, and Toby had been using a set of bells daily for the past year or so. Turns out every time he snatched the bell over his wrist, it dug in and left a bruise. At this point, I’d only really seen kettlebells used by confident lifters in the gym (of which I - a spindly six foot two twenty year old - most certainly was not). He explained how they’d dig in, and showed me the callouses on the inside of his hands from the slippery metal surface. I was amazed he’d stuck with them so long. He said despite all their flaws, they were the only tool he needed for a truly full-body workout at home that could make up for all the cancelled morning classes. To me it said a lot that a product could be that bad, and still keep its user coming back (and talking about it) day after day. We couldn’t help but ask one another “what if there was a more thoughtfully designed bell?”. We’d found our why.

Immediately we got to thinking about why nobody had made a better kettlebell before. It all came down to material. To be heavy and strong enough, bells are normally cast from iron or steel, but since metal casting is hazardous and requires specialised machinery, to avoid complications they’re made in large numbers with simple “ball and handle” shapes. This means they’re not actually designed for movement: they’re designed to be machined. And, since this process is expensive and labour-intensive, manufacturers make cost-savings by manufacturing generic bells in China and shipping to Europe and America where they’re white-labelled for different brands. The end result is that everyone’s selling almost identical weights that take a huge amount of energy to make, and even more fuel to ship. And when all’s said and done, they aren’t even the least bit lovable. So no sooner than they’re in your home, they’re hidden in a cupboard or under a bed, and eventually buried in landfill. Terrazzo (think those lovely speckled stone floors) was in the middle of a big comeback, and it made us wonder whether we could make a kettlebell with none of these problems, in small batches, out of some sort of ceramic.

We immediately started researching different terrazzo mixtures and ordering bags of cement and marble chips. Toby’s kitchen became our workshop on the weekends. We started with kitchen mixing bowls and spatulas, which quickly evolved into large buckets and stirring rods as we tested larger and larger forms. Eventually, we made a mould of a standard eight kilogram kettlebell and cast a replica with our own ceramic mixture. It held together, looked pretty cool and (most importantly) weighed eight kilgrams. This experiment showed us we were onto something real, but we hadn’t even begun to think about what a kettlebell made for movement would look like.

While we knew it would have a handle and a main centre of mass like any other kettlebell, the rest of its form had to come from function. So we made a list of the top fifty or so most common kettlebell exercises and transitions between them, and mapped the associated holds as a heat-map onto a standard competition kettlebell. Then came the fun part: morphing the shape to make the holds more stable and less painful. We also optimised for flow - ensuring that the form would allow hands to glide intuitively from one hold to another with minimal effort. To Alex’ design-eye, this meant introducing a more curved, asymmetric and organic shape with small notches and grooves, inspired by climbing holds. So now we had a form, we had to figure out how to make a mould of our own.

We didn’t have much money, and we definitely didn’t know anyone with a 3D printer, but Alex had a laser cutter at work for making architectural models. So Alex worked with what we had and got on with slicing our design into about twenty layers. We cut them out in 2D and glued them together into a wooden model that we coated with plaster and built a mould around. That became our first prototype. It took us a year, about a thousand hours, and about a thousand pounds to make. Since we’d clearly outgrown the kitchen, which had become a permanent making-bay at this point, we started hunting for studios and landed at Makerversity in Somerset House. All of a sudden we didn’t just have a dedicated making space - we also had all the tools we needed to build better prototypes, faster.

Around this time, we also started sharing every step of our journey on Instagram, which gave us the opportunity to start testing our kettlebells with experienced trainers and fitness studios. Almost on a daily basis, we’d host guests for coffee and a session with our bells at our studio, or visit theirs. Over a matter of weeks, we learnt exactly what worked and what didn’t when it came to everything from the width of the handle to the weight distribution, contouring, surface texture, and so on... And then Alex would modify the design and we’d make another prototype. We’d also constantly test and improve our ceramic mixture to make our tools more durable, more beautiful and more sustainable. At some point, the topic of construction waste came up, so we decided to include recycled building materials into our existing, carbon-neutral formula. Then came endless debates over which array of characterful colours really captured the spirit of Altere (more here).

Since our first prototype Bell, we’ve made five more design iterations, countless ceramic reformulations, and spent about a thousand hours on testing alone. We knew our Bell was ready when we started seeing people pick it up for the first time and start flowing between holds. It meant that we’d made something intuitive that was clearly made for movement, and moved naturally in people’s hands. It was something thoughtfully designed, made by the three of us.

And here we are. It’s been three years since we first imagined a thoughtfully designed, ceramic kettlebell and it’s taken that long to get it right. We hope you’ll agree.

If you’ve enjoyed the read, perhaps you’d like to join our community by subscribing to our newsletter, dive into our Principles of Thoughtful Design, or go and cook yourself a bowl of Toby’s Korean Fried Chicken.