For the last few years, I’ve been noticing wood sunglasses in all of my favorite shops. There are few accessories I love more than a good pair of sunglasses – but it’s not that easy to find handmade, ethical options. I met with Steven of Capital Eyewear while in San Francisco a few months ago – he makes incredible glasses – often using sustainable materials… And is launching an acetate line soon! Read on to learn more about his work!
WHAT MADE YOU START YOUR LINE?
After college, I found that I didn’t like man of the opportunities that I was presented with. I wanted to build something on my own versus work for someone else. I’d always loved eyeglasses, but had no idea how to work with plastic – the machinery felt foreign to me. Once I realized I could make glasses with wood, I got started. My dad had had a wood shop, so I was familiar with wood work.
I went to local woodworkers and asked questions to learn – I got a lot of funny looks! But through that, I was able to build a rough prototype. I knew that if I wanted to make real glasses, I’d have to make this a business – the start up costs (machinery, equipment, etc.) were high. It took me about ten months to officially launch, and things are still changing every day.
Our products aren’t perfect, but we are improving them all of the time. We prioritized and work to make each pair better than the last rather than try to be perfect from the beginning.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
The feeling of making stuff. In a lot of ways, that is what makes people, people. Everything else has a function. People are able to make things that are not purely functional, but that can look good and work really well. It’s a really good feeling.
They are a really manageable thing – which makes them fun. Anyone can use them, and there is no limit to how many you can fit in your space. They are stylish, but they can stand alone.
WHAT GETS YOU THROUGH THE DAY? THE WEEK?
A lot of coffee. I’m never too frustrated – there are ups and downs but it’s pretty rare that I’m not wanting tod o this. Just doing this job gets me through the week. Find something that you love to do, and you’ll never work again.
I loved this video showing the production process:
I’ve followed Erin Dollar’s collection, Cotton & Flax, for some time now… I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of her modern, geometric prints on natural textiles and have been so impressed by the way she has grown her business (including a collection with CB2!). I was thrilled to connect with Erin and to get a chance to learn more about her brand and her work…
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I studied fine art printmaking at UC Santa Cruz, which hosts an inspiring group of educators, and a surprisingly expansive and well-stocked print studio. There, I became obsessed with printmaking; it combined everything I loved about drawing and painting with the ability to work in multiples, making my artwork less frustratingly precious, and freeing me to experiment. After college, I joined a co-operative printmaking studio, and continued to experiment with printmaking techniques. I became curious about printing on fabric, and creating more utilitarian objects imbued with my designs, which led me to design patterns for pillows and tea towels. Those products led me to found a new company: Cotton & Flax.
WHAT IS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR LINE?
I am inspired by the process. The things that I can reasonably achieve with printmaking are at the forefront of my mind when I design new products. I restrict my palette to only black or white ink on colored fabric, to maintain a bold and straightforward aesthetic. I want to create pieces that are fun and playful, without being overly trendy. That means keeping the designs loose and non-representational — I like the idea that my pieces can blend into a variety of styles of decor.
Lately, I have been finding lots of color inspiration in the desert – rocks, sand, sun-bleached cacti, and the inky nighttime sky you can only see when you’re far away from city lights. Moving to Los Angeles drastically changed the way I see color, and as I travel more, I soak in all that color inspiration.
WHAT MAKES YOUR DAY?
I really love when customers share photos of Cotton & Flax pieces in their homes! I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing my work in the homes of cool, creative people from all over the world, and it’s inspiring to see how each person makes the piece their own.
WHERE DO YOU MAKE YOUR COLLECTION?
In my tiny home studio. My printing room is only 10′ x 6′, so I have to get very creative with my production routines. Nothing like working in a small studio space to motivate you to get organized! Since space is so limited, I am extra vigilant to use up fabric scraps, which means that my production creates very little waste!
WHY DO YOU MANUFACTURE IN AMERICA?
Too many reasons to mention – but mainly because I can guarantee the quality of everything I produce locally. Every product I sell is sewn here in LA, either by me, or by my sewing assistant who works from her sewing studio just a few miles away. If I had to ship samples back and forth between production facilities, or deal with the logistics of overseas manufacturing, my business would be overly bureaucratic, and probably very boring for me to manage. I love that I can design new products and produce them using materials I purchase from trusted local sources. It keeps the process exciting and vibrant!
WHY IS AMERICAN MADE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I worry about the effects of relying exclusively on globalized manufacturing, especially when it comes to human rights, global warming, and the world’s limited natural resources. While it’s certainly possible to create ethically-made goods outside of America, I think it’s important to be conscious consumers, and to strive to support companies who treat their workers fairly, and do their part to protect the environment.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER MAKERS?
Find a group of supportive makers and creatives, and don’t be afraid to ask for help! Other makers in your community have a wealth of knowledge, even if they are working in an entirely different medium than yours. Finding a like-minded group of creative friends can be a life-saver when you run a creative business, and most people are more than happy to lend a hand when they can.
WHAT IS NEXT?!
Collaborating with other American artists and makers! I am very excited to be taking on some design projects that will see my pattern designs on other types of products. It’s inspiring to share ideas and learn new techniques — makes me feel like the possibilities are endless.
I adore Katie Ermilio’s incredible dresses, but they don’t exactly fit into my day-to-day life. Luckily for all of us, Katie has collaborated with Steven Alan on an American made capsule collection. I want every item… but will probably settle for the neoprene sweatshirt.
A little late to the game on this, but I’m in love with the current Shinola campaign, shot by Bruce Weber and starring Carolyn Murphy – who is apparently an American made enthusiast and is now a design director for Shinola! – and local Detroit residents.