Handcrafted Designs from Sustainable Artisans

By Feifei Sun / June 4, 2015

Sustainable designers whose beautiful, thoughtful pieces are all created entirely by hand

From fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara to ready-to-assemble shops like IKEA, it’s easier than ever to find affordable design pieces that are not only mass-produced, but fast-produced. Still, across the country, some brands are advocating for a slower, more thoughtful approach to style and design.

Many are returning to the handcrafted process that defined fashion, architecture and design before the Industrial Revolution. And as a result of their dedication, the handmade industry isn’t just seeing a resurgence, but a renaissance. Here are three companies driving the push for more sustainable, handmade design.

Surname Goods

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Bukowski (left) and Skehan (right) in their NYC studio.

After meeting at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Steven Bukowski and Timothy Skehan found themselves reunited in New York City, with a love for cycling and sustainability. In 2012, they turned their passions into a professional venture, co-founding Surname Goods, a design and fabrication studio.

Bukowski and Skehan hand-create everything from furniture, like stools and side tables, to home goods, including coasters and flasks. “It’s really empowering to make something by hand rather than buy something that was mass-produced,” Bukowski says. “There’s that connection of knowing someone made this specifically for you.”

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Stand Mirror in Blackened Oak and Fleet Candlesticks from Surname Goods

The design duo are committed to only using reclaimed wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, sourcing materials from New York City and the surrounding area. “It’s interesting to work with wood, which was at one point a living thing,” Bukowski says. “It still moves after it’s been cut and processed—it swells, warps—and that adds character to the final product.” surnamegoods.com

Millicent Furniture

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Designer Emily Henry at work.

Raised on a commune in Taos, NM, Emily Henry learned early the value of taking an alternative path. Her father was an architect obsessed with solar energy, and her mother was an artist. Today, Henry remains inspired by both parents in her work as an interior designer.

This year, she launched Millicent Furniture, a collection of pieces that combine New Mexico’s artist history with sustainable design. Henry’s lamps, credenzas and other items are created using southwestern carving techniques and manufactured in the U.S. “The history of the Southwest is dying out, and it was important to me to use artistry to preserve it,” Henry says. “New Mexico is a gold mine of opportunity, and tapping into that is a special gift.” millicentfurniture.com

All Souls Mercantile

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Tova Celine amid her handmade pillows.

After a 30-year career in fashion design, including a very successful run with her Butterfly Dropout line of knits, Tova Celine remerged on the scene last fall with a new vision. She wanted to create something new out of something old—something that had a message and a bit of social consciousness around it. So she launched All Souls Mercantile, a collection of pillows, aprons and other items made from vintage army-surplus materials.

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Peace Pipe Catch All from All Souls Mercantile.

Celine’s friends had owned the downtown Los Angeles surplus warehouse for nearly 10 years, and she had long contemplated what she could create with the repurposed fabrics. “I settled on the idea of turning something from war into a peaceful product,” Celine says. “I loved that these pieces had been worn for someone fighting for his or her country—there is such a history and story to these beautiful fabrics.”

Celine and her assistant make everything by hand in downtown Los Angeles, from washing the recycled fabrics at the laundromat to cutting the pieces and sewing them. The entire process can take from six to eight weeks, but that process is one of the aspects Celine loves most about her work.

“People are so used to producing in mass that when I approached vendors about this idea, many of them thought I was crazy,” she says. “But I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. I wanted to do something special.” allsoulsmercantile.com

Reclaimed from the Rustbelt

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At Rustbelt Reclamation, based in Cleveland, OH, everything is made in the USA, with a premium on craftsmanship, using locally salvaged materials. In fact, provenance is so important that every piece is inlaid with a “source” coin (pictured at left)—a maple disk, 1.5 inches in diameter, which reveals the source of the material used to create the piece, and where is was salvaged from. You can then take that info to the company’s web page (rustbeltreclamation.com/salvages) and look up more detailed information for yourself. —Jose Saavedra

Go Behind the Scenes with Rustbelt Reclamation: ospa.me/rustbelt-design

 

Feifei Sun

Feifei Sun

Feifei Sun is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She began her career at Vanity Fair and later worked as an editor at TIME, where she wrote about fashion and politics and helped edit the magazine's special issues, including the TIME 100 and Person of the Year. Her writing has also appeared in Real Simple, Marie Claire and the Huffington Post.
Feifei Sun

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