In this edition of Meet the Maker, I’m excited to introduce a maker who creates objects that are totally unexpected. LauraLe Wunsch’s company Oxgut, helps turn decommissioned fire hoses into beautiful mats and home goods. Talk about upcycling! Between color, stitching, and wear and tear, each piece is not only beautifully designed, but it also has a unique and heroic story.
I love LauraLe’s perspective on making and design. Read her story below, and stay tuned to the end. LauraLe and Oxgut have a special offer just for Brit + Co. readers. You can also catch Oxgut on Kickstarter for the next 10 days or so. Please support them!
Give us a brief intro of yourself
I grew up in a small town called Clintonville, Wisconsin, population 4,587. The primary industry in Clintonville is actually Seagrave fire trucks. (Little did I know how ironic this would become!) My parents instilled a tough work ethic in me at a young age. Saturday mornings were about chores, never cartoons. Maybe that’s why I wanted so badly to work in film and video. After an undergrad at UW-Madison, I left Wisconsin for the sunnier climbs of Orlando, where I spent some time working with Disney Film & Tape, Nickelodeon, and various other production companies. I later went back to Wisconsin and worked at Lands’ End—writing and cross-training within the company as a part of a customer acquisition team—an invaluable experience, and one that, though not clear at the time, plays out daily in my current path. In 1999, I moved to San Francisco, where I’ve worked in advertising as an agency producer for over 14 years. Much like bringing creative teams together to bring an idea to life through video or film, I now collaborate with artisans and makers to give new life to this incredible material with a heroic past—fire hose. They say you’re the sum of your experiences. I think that’s true.
What first gave you the idea to make Fire Hose mats?
I first started working with fire hose by sharing it with a couple makers I’d been working on other projects with. We fell in love with the material instantly, started experimenting with it, and forming loads of ideas. We started making furniture first, actually. But, when it came to sewing, none of us had the specific tools needed. So, we invited a great designer to meet with us—Ringit Gurlich —the brainstorming continued, and one day Ringit said, “How about a mat?” And we took it from there.
What does the making process look like?
I consider myself privileged to collaborate with different makers. What do I see as the common denominator? Addiction. If you wake up thinking about a project, and stop working at the end of the day only because you can no longer keep your eyes open—you’re a maker. The artisans I work with are amazing. We spend some time on sketches, but for us—it’s really about the tangible prototype. From there, we work on production prototypes, then short runs, always refining. Perhaps my greatest learning in the past two years has been just what it takes to take something from a one-off design to actual production. Time, funds, resourcefulness and lots of patience. With regards to the mats, I still enjoy laying out each mat myself, pairing unique colors and stenciling, often with a specific recipient in mind. It’s one of my favorite things to do. And I will do it until I can no longer keep my eyes open.
How do you come up with your designs? Do you design them yourself?
At Oxgut, we are exploring generally unchartered territory with reclaimed fire hose. In a perfectly linear world, (this is the producer side of me talking), our pieces are first designed in response to my vision for a product line that lives together and best introduces this fairly new concept (and new company) into the marketplace. We want to get great design into people’s hands, and get them to fall in love with fire hose the way we have. However, there is another key driver in our specific designs – the fire hose itself. More often than not, we are inspired by fire hose we’ve never seen before, one of our designers comes up with something completely unexpected, and we just have to do it. Our house slippers are one example of that.
What other types of materials are you interested in repurposing?
Some pretty cool discussions are emerging around ways to incorporate other reclaimed items into new pieces. These types of items will likely become available in limited runs on our web site in 2014. But, the fire hose will always be the hero in our work. It keeps us very busy for the moment.
Which project are you proudest of?
Answering this would be like saying which of your children you love most. Each of our pieces really is personal in the work that goes into it, as well as how they resonate with an individual buyer. The mats are the most immediate gratification at the moment. When someone chooses their unique mat, I know the hard work that’s gone into each and every one.
What other creative hobbies do you have?
I like to bake cakes.
How do you think the analog world is changing as the digital world continues to boom?
This is such a great, complex question. One that sparks long conversations not feasible for this space. So, I will say this:
Analog and digital will eventually hold hands. They are already flirting quite heavily. [Editors note: I LOVE THIS QUOTE!]
To me, “Analog” in terms of product design, applies to artisans, industrial designers, filmmakers, real storytellers, and even pie makers. Trained artists that take time to craft in an organic way.
Our digital world today offers ever-improving design tools and room to experiment and fail with less risk and expense. Digital = art + speed in production + more product + consumer access to those products + choice and two-way communication. It’s fantastic. And, interestingly enough – digital sometimes points us back to a nostalgia for analog. Look at the return of turntables, letterpress, slow-cooking and wooden speakers. Even… jazz! The temptation is to run with ideas as fast as we can.
However, for some artisans, this all encompassing “digital” model creates a bit of… stress, because they’re now looking beyond their craft and wondering if they can compete on a larger level. Example: “How can we make a quality product in the U.S. that will last a lifetime… and still compete with the masses of disposable product online that are produced at half the price?” It’s a tough discussion. With Oxgut, I work to create a space in which our designers can do what they do best, with the tools that work best for them, and leave the handholding to me.
Have you fallen in love with Oxgut yet? Then I have great news for you! LauraLe is offering Brit + Co. readers free shipping on all non-furniture items for the next month. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org, and let them know you found them on Brit + Co.