Hopewell Workshop was founded by long time friends Eliza Kenan and Claire Oswalt. Eliza, an art director and quilter, & Claire, an artist, launched a design studio where they planned to brand, package, and create products. That business wasn’t quite right, but that year they decided to make 12 quilts and sell them during the holidays. Though not ready for sale till after Christmas, the 12 quilts that they made became Hopewell Workshop’s first one of a kind collection, released in January 2013. The name (and general mindset) of the studio comes from the Hopewell Exchange System, a Native American trade route through which materials were transformed into handmade goods and then traded.
Claire and Eliza have since expanded into additional quilts and pillows – the Hopewell aesthetic is a brilliant mix of simple, classic, and fun. The bright colors, clean lines and clever prints make the pieces something anyone would be happy to have in their home.
I stopped by the Hopewell Workshop when I was last in LA and had a chance to speak with Claire and Eliza about their work and their passion for local, ethical manufacturing (they had an amazing list of other LA makers I’ve been following ever since!). Read on for more… Thanks, Claire & Eliza!
TELL ME ABOUT WHAT YOU DO:
We are making heirlooms for the future. Handmade but simple. These will last forever.
We love that we make functional (Eliza), beautiful (Claire) things. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Quilts are the epitome of function and beauty – if women hadn’t made them beautiful many years ago, they wouldn’t exist today.
WHAT MAKES YOUR QUILTS SPECIAL?
We hit on something that’s not in the marketplace. But we know why it’s not in the marketplace! It’s difficult to teach others how to make our quilts – it is a twelve step process.
We made it difficult for ourselves – but in some ways that is good because it is also difficult for imitators to create a lower end version. The bit of ignorance that we had going into it was the blessing that has gotten us this far.
WHY DO YOU MANUFACTURE IN THE USA?
When we launched, Bangladesh had just happened. We were nervous about outsourcing. We wanted to keep our ethics in tact. We don’t take the easy route. We had to try it – and make it work. People are starting to care about made in the USA. We can make a difference.
We care about what we buy. We believe in a local economy and less environmental impact. America is young and quilts are a deep part of American history. Our families have quilted for generations. Staying here felt right.
It also allows us to make sure our products meet our standards – quality control would be incredibly difficult overseas. We like to see the people we work with – we get to know them and build relationships with them.
WHAT EXCITES YOU?
Eliza: Not knowing what’s next. Excitement + nervousness + anxiety are often the same thing… you just have to trust the process.
Claire: Color. Feedback from our fans.
I’ve always tried to use natural products whenever possible, while simultaneously valuing efficiency, effectiveness, and design/ease of use. We switched to Method products for our home years ago and I hadn’t given them a second thought until Goop sent out this home detox guide… and I realized that (according to the EWG) most of my favorite Method items weren’t actually that clean. I started to research new cleaners and was instantly overwhelmed… but then in a happy, fortuitous coincidence, I received an email introduction to Common Good that very day!
Common Good is a line of 100 percent biodegradable household cleaners in glass and plastic bottles, candles and gift sets that are made in the US and completely eco-friendly. Prior to founding Common Good, Sacha Dunn and her husband, Edmund Levine, were prop stylists living in Brooklyn, NY with two little ones. They started the line after a trip to Sydney, Australia to visit Sacha’s parents. Their two kids were traveling with them, so they were doing tons of laundry. And in Australia, almost everyone refills their laundry detergent bottles with refill pouches or milk carton refills. They thought it would be a great thing to start in the US since they couldn’t find anyone locally doing it.
We have been using Common Good products in our home and at The COMN for the last few months and I am in love. The products are gorgeous but simple (it’s so nice not to have neon colored soap in every bathroom!) and they really work. I was a little nervous about switching because I’m fairly particular and have a sensitive sense of smell, but everything is amazing… my only suggestion would be that I wish the plastic laundry detergent had a pump, because we put the detergent into the top of our machine, and I’m short (and weak!)… but that’s an incredibly minor issue!
Common Good is available at West Elm, online, and shops across the country… I didn’t realize it before, but we actually have a refill station down the street from The COMN! (which is awesome, because we go through a lot of dish soap around here…)
Sacha took some time to answer a few questions about her experiences building Common Good. It’s such a great story and example… I can’t wait to see what comes next from Common Good!
I LOVE THAT YOU WERE INSPIRED TO START THE BUSINESS AFTER TRAVELING – AND DOING LAUNDRY – IN AUSTRALIA. WE’VE ALL HAD IDEAS FOR BUSINESSES INSPIRED BY OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES – WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO ACTUALLY ACT ON THIS ONE? (I’m so happy that you did!)
I guess it’s in our nature! We seem to be risk takers, although I never would have thought that of myself before. We’ve both had long freelance careers, so we’re not afraid of working for ourselves. We’ve done crazy things before, like moving to a new country and starting from scratch. So this was a pretty easy move. Also, we had that lightbulb moment where we just knew we were onto something. The more research we did, the more excited we were to give it a go. (I’m so happy that we did too!)
HOW DOES YOUR BACKGROUND IN STYLING IMPACT COMMON GOOD?
Part of the reason we started Common Good was because we felt there was room for a modern brand of safe, green household cleaners. I wanted the design to be simple and attractive enough to leave out on the counter. It was a very similar process to styling except that in the end, we had a permanent product rather than a photo.
WERE YOU AWARE OF THE LACK OF TRANSPARENCY IN THE NATURAL PRODUCTS INDUSTRY BEFORE YOU STARTED? HOW DID YOU DETERMINE WHAT YOU COULD (AND SHOULD!) USE?
No! I had no idea how unregulated products in the US were until starting Common Good! From the start, we chose to transparent about what’s in our products. We worked with great, green chemists to develop formulations that we were happy with. We put all the ingredient names on our labels even though it’s not required by law. Even now, plenty of brands use euphemisms which is just adding to the confusion about what’s safe. We have a page on our website that goes through each ingredient to explain what it is, and why we use it, in plain English. I look forward to a time when chemical ingredients have to be proven safe before they’re allowed on the market, instead of the EPA having to prove they’re not.
YOUR PRODUCTS NECESSITATE A CHANGE IN HABITS FOR MANY AMERICAN CONSUMERS – HOW DO YOU INSPIRE THIS CHANGE? HOW DO YOU EDUCATE YOUR CUSTOMER?
We started with the idea that there were enough people like us who would be naturally drawn to refilling. Then we designed the bottles we wanted to see in our home. We had a feeling that if we make a bottle that people want, they’ll change their behavior to get it. Design drove the demand, and we made a hippie idea cool.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY IF YOU KNOW THEN WHAT YOU KNOW NOW?
Oh my goodness! Done an MBA?! Most of Common Good came about instinctively, but we’ve had to work out a lot of stuff along the way. I wouldn’t change anything about the brand or our products, but I would have loved to know more about manufacturing and business before we started.
HOW HAS LAUNCHING COMMON GOOD CHANGED YOUR PERSONAL CONSUMPTION HABITS?
Happily, we can refill our bottles! And that was the whole point from the start. I think there has been a lot of change in the country’s consumption habits since we launched Common Good. CSAs are more common, people use reusable shopping bags more than ever, and shoppers are learning more about what’s truly good or bad. I’m definitely more discerning than I used to be, and I think the upside is that whether food or chemicals, consumers are demanding change. The more we all know, the better.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER MAKERS/ENTREPRENEURS?
Don’t listen to the naysayers. If you believe in your idea and think you have what it takes to get it done, go for it! But be prepared because once you launch, your business is your baby – it’s wonderful, but it will take everything you have.
WHAT IS NEXT FOR COMMON GOOD? WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
I’m very excited about our new linen water spray which will be out in the fall. It’s a great way to freshen clothes without dry cleaning or you can a little scent to bedding without using chemical dryer sheets. We’re also about to do a baby range because our friends all have babies and are forcing us!
Photos by Johnny Miller c/o Common Good
Disclosure: Common Good sent me products and we conducted this interview after I’d tried the products in my home and studio. I only feature brands that I will use, recommend, and love.
The walls of the house I grew up in were covered in textiles and wall hangings – each with a story. Some were carefully packed up and brought to America from my parent’s homes in India, the others were made by my mom for our home. I remember laying on our couch, staring at one particular macrame piece in awe as a kid, not understanding how it all worked and hung together. (I appreciated my mom’s skill even more as a teenager when I became obsessed with friendship bracelets and hemp necklaces and realized she could teach me new knots!) Although my tastes are quite different than my parents, I’ve always loved textiles and wall hangings and have been happy to see them come back into fashion over the last few years.
I knew I wanted to incorporate some textile pieces into our bedroom but was struggling to find an option that Matt also liked and that made sense in the space … I came across Trilby Nelson‘s wall hangings and fell in love – her use of natural materials and pops of color make her work feel more modern and casual than the pieces I grew up with and I knew they would brighten up our dark bedroom. Luckily, Trilby was open to a custom project, awesome to work with, and created amazing pieces that I could never have even imagined – but that make me happy every time I enter our room. Unfortunately, Trilby and I have yet to meet in person – I’d love the chance to meet her and see her studio! Thankfully, she took the time to answer some questions about her work… read on for an interview with Trilby, and check back next week for more wall hanging (and weaving) goodness!
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND:
I studied Fine Art at Scripps College and Environment Design at Art Center College of Design. After school, I worked in exhibit design and branded environment design. For the past several years I’ve worked for Free People and Anthropologie designing and crafting window and interior displays.
WHY DO YOU MAKE YOUR COLLECTION?
I’ve started to make custom wall hangings as a way to work with some of my favorite materials. I love making compositions of color and texture with very tactile materials like fabric and rope. My boyfriend, Jon, and I make log planters because we enjoy the process – finding and collecting the prefect logs, boring into the wood, and planting a pretty succulent in each one. We feel good about making something simple that doesn’t create any waste in the process.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
The outdoors and nature. The landscape of the Southwest. Colors and textures of different cultures. Movies and fashion of past eras. Hardware stores and all the materials that can be repurposed. Visiting new places and revisiting familiar places.
WHERE ARE YOU MOST INSPIRED?
In the morning. The beach, the mountains, the desert, on the road. Where the sky and landscape are big and vast. Always in California.
WHAT MAKES YOUR DAY?
80 degrees and sunny.
WHERE DO YOU ESCAPE?
On the weekends we like to drive out to the hill country surrounding Austin and find a small town to explore. We find a local diner for an early breakfast and spend the day wandering the town. We call it “small town saturdays.”
WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT?
Growing my work and collaborating with others in Austin. I’m also excited about summer and everything that comes with it – swimming, road trips, vacation.
WHAT IS NEXT?
More projects using fibers. Possibly an online shop. An exciting collaboration with my sister.
I discovered these rad skull loafers from Mara & Mine a few years ago (via instagram, obviously) and was so excited to meet the founders and see the studio when I was in LA. Mara & Mine was started by Jasmine Yarbrough and Tamie Ingham, Australian friends who live in Los Angeles. Jasmine & Tamie both got their start in fashion – Jasmine as a model and Tamie as a stylist – and their hectic studio jobs led them to search for cute, fashionable, and flat shoes they could wear all day.
They sourced leather for their shoes in the US and were planning to produce in Portugal and Spain (high-wage countries known for shoe-making) when they found a factory right in LA that could create the shoes that they were looking for. The collection is now in it’s fourth season, beloved by all of your favorite celebrities, and includes espadrilles, sandals, and bags – with more amazing options to come this fall. (the slip on sneakers in these photos are seriously incredible)
Shoes are hard to buy online… which was part of the reason I hadn’t invested in a pair of Mara & Mine loafers before visiting the studio. But the loafers are amazing – the materials and detailing are incredibly luxe, and the lambskin lining means the shoes will mold to your feet. And if you aren’t sure about which option to buy, Mara & Mine has recently launched a customization option, so you can create your dream shoes!
Thanks, Jasmine and Tamie, for taking the time to speak with me and show me your studio… and for proving to me that you can look extraordinarily chic while still being comfortable!
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Travel. Each season is based on where we travel together or where we would like to go. The architecture, the foods, the color, the materials that we see during our trips.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO TRAVEL? WHERE ARE YOU HEADED NEXT?
Harbor Island in the Bahamas – the people are so incredibly friendly, and we loved the local music. Next we are headed to Paris for trade shows.
WHAT GETS YOU THROUGH THE DAY? THROUGH THE WEEK?
Eachother (answered simultaneously!)
Coffee – Tamie. Green Tea – Jasmine.
WHAT WAS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU WHILE YOU WERE SOURCING YOUR LINE?
Finding a great manufacturer, where we could control quality. We love that he hand makes everything.
WHAT ARE YOUR STYLE ESSENTIALS?
A blazer, Mara & Mines, sunglasses, leather pants, and a good tee.
Custom loafers and our fall collection. We’re working on some collaborations, including baby skull slippers we are really excited about! (adorable!)
WHO IS THE MARA & MINE GIRL?
Confident, well-traveled women. Fashion-forward, can be creative. A bit quirky. Like to have fun with fashion but still take it seriously. Also, very confident men who like to make a statement – we’ve heard that our loafers work as great pick-up lines for men! (even Ludacris wears them!)