Sheep Farms in Philadelphia. _
The overall big picture, ultimate goal is to build a 21st century community centered industry.
To me this means an industry built on old and new, revitalizing a workforce and honing newly developed skills.
A thriving knitted-product industry will be flexible, adaptable, and interconnected. Designers will create ideas for clothes, accessories, home decor, and architecture. Farmers will raise animals and plants for fibers that will be spun into yarn by local manufacturers (some of which have been in business for 70+ years). Yarn will be knitted into fabrics, garments, and products by Andrew Dahlgren and Company. Natural dyes will be grown, harvested and processed to produce an amazing pallet of colors for finishing garments. Retailers will showcase finished products to be purchased, warn, and cherished by people in the community.
A regional textile industry will promote education and growth; will allow the northeast to become a model and leader in sustainable manufacturing; will continue the tradition of making in America.
We Value Work. _
… All my work as a designer maker has been fulfilling, rewarding, and meaningful in a lot of different ways. All the work hasn’t gone as planned, some of it has been frustrating and exhausting at times, and at other times I’ve wanted to throw everything out the window. This just adds to the work, makes it worth doing again.
One of the aspects of my work that motivates me to continue doing it is that I get to contribute to the lives of other people, some friends and family and some complete strangers. And I’ve been able to contribute to my own life.
My work impacts how I see the world and my place in it. As a designer maker you can’t go through the world without seeing opportunities to reshape your surroundings, to see ways of designing new solutions, and proposing new ways to make it.
I want to share that. I want other people to have what I have. I want other people to work as designer makers so that they can contribute and have fun fulfilling work...
> read more Community Centered Industry
Why I Work. _
Having a studio practice means I get to focus on what I want to focus on. I want to focus on trying things that lead to unexpected results. Results that prove there is not just one way of working. Results that allow everyone to participate in shaping and defining the world we live in. Results that bring human values back to the center of design and making.
This way of working means I can continue to focus on learning new skills and abilities to design, make, and communicate. I can focus on using my abilities as a designer maker to create solutions for shared needs within my community.
I want to work with and employee skilled makers. I want to educate the next generations of makers. I want everyone involved in the making of goods to feel a sense of contribution when they see their work in use. I want to explore technologies and materials and create new ways of refining materials into finished products.
I want people to feel empowered to shape their world and be part of the voice that says what and how to make. My studio practice is about making these wants a reality.
There is no exit strategy.
This isn’t a get rich scheme.
I value creative makers and community. I value quality and meaning. I value good work and connection. My work and my intention to sell my work is built on these values. Without these values as a foundation the rest isn’t worth doing.
Community Connections _
Jeffrey Zarnoch, Architect
Joseph Brin, Architect
. TEDx Talks: Rethinking the Future and Being of Philly, philly.com, 3/14.
. Textile Artist Knits Sweater’ for South Philly Synagogue, Newsworks, 6/13.
. South Philly Rowhouse Synagogue Uses Festival to Become Community Hub, Newsworks, 5/13.
. Just You Wait: Pilot Program, whyy.org, 1/13.
. Knit Lab Explores Surprising Future of Ancient Craft, Newsworks, 8/12.
. Knitting Philadelphia Together, metropolismag.com, 11/11.
. 3 x 5 Modular Furniture published in Italian Glamour, 10/07.
. PREFAB 4th of July: Housing Beyond Borders, Inhabitat.org, 7/06.
. Resident Alien Mobile Living Unit exhibited at Skylight Gallery NYC, 5/06.
. Unhome Shelter in a Cart concept shown at Korean Design Fair 10/06.
Community Centered Industry _
Originally presented at TEDxPhiladelphia March 28, 2014 _
I studied industrial design at North Carolina State University’s College of Design. When I finished my undergraduate degree I was not the least bit excited to design the next widget. I didn’t even look for a design job. Instead I got a job working in the custom framing department of an online art retailer. My job was to operate a semi-automated double mitre chop saw to cut long pieces of metal framing into short pieces of metal framing. It sounds more exciting then it was.
I did this for an eight hour day from 5pm to 2am. This was probably the best job I could have gotten. Not because it was fulfilling - because it wasn’t. Not because it paid well - because it didn’t. Not because I met my community - because I didn’t. It was the best job because I learned one amazingly important thing that somehow in the four years of school I hadn’t learned. When you design something and have it manufactured it means someone is going to spend some part of their life making it.
Most recently, I’ve knitted scarves that keep my friends and family warm. I’ve installed and opened to a knit lab to knit a scarf for a synagogue. I’ve made a knitted pavilion and instructed others so they to could help make it.
I’ve identified myself as a designer maker only for about two years. Prior to that I considered myself a designer or a craftsperson. When I got introduced to knitting machines this changed. About four years ago I learned that knitting machines existed.
I was instantly obsessed. I started researching what the machines were and who used them. I learned that the technology existed for domestic use and on a commercial scale. Before I learned that these machines existed I was already working on trying to develop local manufacturing. It was through working with these specific machines that I got a deeper understanding of the possibilities.
My obsession grew. I taught myself how to operate the machines. I met others who used them. I found out that domestic knitting machines are predominately used by women over 40 to make items for themselves and for the family. And that the first domestic scale machines came out in the 1950s and that the first knitting machines had been invented around 1865.
I spent time organizing business plans to create a factory, to train a workforce, to purchase industrial knitting machines, and to outfit a space. It was through this planning that I started to understand what makes an industry. And it was during this time that I came to learn what makes an industry. While it is built to turn raw materials - grown, harvested, and or mined - into finished goods it involves much more then that. An industry includes education and knowledge and infrastructure, social support and retail outlets and consumers. It involves all forms of capital. An industry, very much like a child, takes a village.
The business planning led to me think I needed $500,000 to get started. Luckily for me I didn’t have half a million dollars to invest in commercial eqiupment and my factory. And because I was labeled high risk do to no prior business experience or capital of my own no one was lining up to lend me that much either. I say it is lucky because instead of just throwing money at my idea I had to get creative. I went through other iterations exploring the idea of starting a school to build the workforce. I put together plans for a Kickstarter project. I tried to build a partnership with a university. And even tried building a partnership with one of the producers of the commercial machines.
After a few years of this I decided to put all the planning on the shelf and just do the work. I decided to use my abilities as a machine knitter and designer to do something. I focused on connecting to designers to make samples for them. I started developing my own designs. I did projects in public spaces to find new people to work with and share the process of making.
I took stock of what I had and started working by connecting what I had and what I could do with what others had and what they could do.
These experiences working along side others have influenced me to focus on building community centered industry. As a lot of people today, I was searching for community. I wanted to be connected to the people around me. I understood community as interconnected individuals that share some aspect of daily life, work and play. It dawned on me that while I was trying and working really hard to be part of an industry I found myself part of a community.
The more I thought about how working to build an industry led me to be part of a community the more these two became the same thing. Both communities and industries are able to achieve and define something larger then any of the individuals. Both work best when adopting the idea that if you succeed I succeed. And both work best when accepting that those you connect with are trying to build lives to get the same needs met. This was an aha moment. If we wanted to build industry we have to build community.
All my work as a designer maker has been fulfilling, rewarding, and meaningful in a lot of different ways. All the work hasn’t gone as planned, some of it has been frustrating and exhausting at times, and at other times I’ve wanted to throw everything out the window. This just adds to the work, makes it worth doing again.
One of the aspects of my work that motivates me to continue doing it is that I get to contribute to the lives of other people, some friends and family and some complete strangers. And I’ve been able to contribute to my own life, to make my own life more comfortable.
The work impacts how I see the world and my place in it. As a designer maker you can’t go through the world without seeing opportunities to reshape the world, to see ways of designing new solutions, and proposing new ways to make it. Another thing that motivates me is that I have fun. I can actually say I have fun working.
I want to share that, I want other people to have what I have. I want other people to work as designer makers so that they can contribute and have fun fulfilling work. I think it is sad that most of the population of people aren’t actually involved in making the objects and spaces that we have around us. I’ve been trying to think of words more intellectual and sophisticated other then sad and besides adding a lot of expletives in front of sad there really isn’t any other way I can express what I think and feel.
It is sad that I get to experience this meaningful work and others don’t. I’m not special. I don’t think I qualify as an outlier. I was fortunate enough in high school to take classes in technical drawing and learn CAD software. What these classes did more then any other class is it taught me a skill. It taught me how to try and fail and try again. And that through try and try again you become skilled.
It was through this process of learning skills that I was able to become a designer and maker. And I know for a fact that everyone can try and fail and try again. I know everyone and I really mean everyone can learn to be a highly skilled maker and participate in a community centered industry. The truth of the matter is that for the majority of time that humans have existed the knowledge of how to make goods - goods whether for survival, work, or play - was passed down from generation to generation across all those within a population.
Making was a community act. In a relatively short time span this has changed. We’ve created a system of manufacturing and design that has taken something that is actually part of being human - making with our hands -and segregated it to a very small percentage of the world’s population. Not only have we segregated it to this small percentage of the population but we have turned the work of making into drudgery into something that is at times physically painful and at other times mentally painful. This segregation of work has created a lot of social ills and has a huge negative impact on the day to day life of people around the world.
To be transparent I fully admit that my world view is completely filtered by the act of making and I’m okay with that. And I’m not the only one who has the same interpretation. There are a lot of people out there having this same conversation. And who also think it is really sad and depressing and fucked up that the systems of manufacturing we use today operate the way they do.
I think this system results in wasted opportunities to enjoy life and work, wasted opportunities to be human. Recently while thinking about robots a new question came up for me. Robots are now part of the world of manufacturing. I started to think what does the robot get out of it. What does the robot get out of being part of a manufacturing system?
Because as a maker I can tell you a lot of things I get out of making:
. I get to expand my understanding of materials and the built environment.
. I get to learn how to solve problems.
. I get to contribute to my friends, family, and community.
. I get to be fulfilled and have meaning in my work.
. I get to acknowledge that I am part of this world.
. I get to make money.
. I get to have fun.
. I get to experience a sense of accomplishment.
. I get to shape the world around me.
And that robot doesn’t get any of that.
We understand that someone who owns the robot is getting a return on their investment by saving labor costs because robots are cheaper then humans. But what about all the other benefits that could come from employing humans in a community centered industry. Within a new system of manufacturing that I and others are working on everyone involved would be able to get the same benefits I just described.
I’m not a technophobe. And I’m not advocating simply putting humans back in place of the robots And it isn’t that I don’t think we shouldn’t use digital equipment. And I don’t think everyone owning their own making equipment is the solution. It isn’t about finding a magic silver bullet that solves everything.
With community centered industry we need to have a different conversation about evaluating how we make and what we make. I think we can learn to evaluate what is appropriate and what isn’t based on a new set of criteria.
Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to find other designer makers, manufacturers, craftspeople - in philly and other cities - that have been involved in reshaping industry and manufacturing much longer then I have. I’ve been able to hear first hand what motivates them to work the way they do.
When you listen to the stories behind each companies - old and new - you find interesting common elements. Each company has identified the importance of placing value on quality, durability, and the worker. They acknowledge how important it is to get the best materials, find the best suppliers, and employee dependable people.
A new batch of production companies are building their own industries because they believe in the importance of working in a way they believe in. They believe that in order to do their best job and create the most value they need to build connections, build industry, work in ways that supports themselves and others. And they are building industry by actively participating in it. The people creating and running these companies have decided they are going to be part of it by dedicating their time and energy to the work of making.
And rather then seeing their values as a barrier to what they can’t do they are using their values to define new ways of working, new models of production, and both intentionally and unintentionally building new communities through industry. Unfortunately these new companies make up a tiny fraction of the worlds production systems.
I want to pose the question what if community centered industry became the norm. What if as the knitting industry grew so did cut and sew industry, and so did the wood working and metal working industries, and the ceramics and glass industries, and the machine industry and so on.
What if these industries start to intertwine and new possibilities emerge? What if the community centered industries start to take on characteristics that reflect the people in them? What if Philadelphia was made of communities where people loved to work? What if the objects and buildings you surround yourself with are made to the highest level of craft and care? What if you knew the people who made your surroundings? What if you helped make them? What if community centered industry became the standard? What if community center industry provided all of us a place to work?