Meet the Maker: 100xbtr

100xbtr-1One of my favorite ways to discover makers is on Instagram. I’ve followed 100xbtr for a while, and I’m constantly hitting that “like” button. Their work is fun and playful, yet still clean and sophisticated that it’s not going to look dated in 5 years. I was psyched when I reached out to the team of 100xbtr for a Meet the Maker interview, I got a response immediately. I feed off the creative energy that American makers bring forth, and 100xbtr kept the positive energy moving. - Meet Brendan Sowersby and Will Rollins; co-makers and co-designers of 100xbtr.  Makers of modern home furnishings, made in Los Angeles, California.

Modestics: Give us a brief overview of your company.

100xbtr: We are a small Los Angeles based design company working on custom residential and commercial projects while also producing a line of furniture, lighting, and tabletop items. Our sensibility aims to balance structure and form with an economy of production.  We like exploring ways to create beautiful and profound objects which can be manufactured in an efficient manner, blending modern fabrication tools like CNC machines and 3-D printers with more classic woodworking techniques.

MO: Where did the name came from?

100xbtr: I believe it came from Will’s step-son.  He was like nine or ten and he just said it one day – “one hundred times better”… and it kinda just stuck. Later on I did the logo with the vowels dropped and I really liked all the letterforms together graphically.

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MO: What year did you start 100xbtr?  

100xbtr: 1997.  We did custom work for many years before focusing on trying to figure out a product line.

MO: When did you feel like you were a “real company”? 

100xbtr: Hah!  I still don’t really feel like a “real company”…  but it’s been fifteen plus years so I guess we are here to stay.  We have a few employees now and a pretty nice fabrication facility which I get to come into everyday. I think when we had to buy a forklift a few years back is when I realized the business was getting bigger. We had stacks of plywood and lumber everywhere and always had to borrow the cranky neighbor’s forklift. I never thought I would own one of those.

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MO: What aspect of your job do you love?

100xbtr: Probably the prototyping phase of developing new objects…  sometimes it’s really quick and other times things gestate for years. It can agonizing but when everything comes together there is no better feeling.

MO: What was the first thing you made?

Brendan Sowersby: The first real functional thing I made was this 20′ wide skateboard ramp in my backyard (thanks again, mom) – it was like 1988 or 89… We had no idea what we were doing but that thing was solid, and so fun.

Will Rollins: I’d have to say “Art” was the first thing I made. I grew up in downtown L.A. in what is now called the “arts district.” My father, an artist, took on the task of renovating a 5 story warehouse into artists lofts by himself. At an early age he taught me woodworking, cabinetry, welding, construction, and the list goes on.

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MO: Do you, yourself make your products or do you have factories that you work with?

100xbtr: Mostly everything is made here in our shop. We have some local vendors to help us with metal stuff, we try to keep it local.

MO: What is your favorite Made in USA product?

100xbtr: There are so many. Even just in L.A. right now there is so much happening, so many interesting people doing great things.

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MO: Do you have a hidden talent that’s not related to your work?

Brendan Sowersby: Not really, I basically just work all the time.

Will Rollins: Treatment free beekeeping and urban farming based on permaculture principles. 

MO: Any memorable on the job work injuries /close calls? 

Brendan Sowersby: I’ve been really lucky over the years, but last summer, the day before a much needed getaway to Palm Springs, I stepped on a plywood scrap and somehow this shard of wood went up my calf like 6 inches… I’m still not sure exactly how it happened? Luckily it just slid between the muscle and the skin but it was gnarly – I remember the doctor in the emergency room saying “no pools” and I was like, “great, I’m going to the 110 degree desert for four days and I can’t swim?” (I ended up getting some waterproof bandages and floating on an air mattress the whole time) 

Thanks Brendan and Will! - To see more of 100xbtr and to see that piece of plywood scrap that was lodged in to Brendan’s calf, follow them on Instagram. To see more of their beautiful furniture and projects check out their products proudly part of the Modestics Collection: www.100xbetter.com.

 

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Meet the Maker – Schmitt Design

Meet the Maker; Schmitt Design - Made in California

If you’re a regular reader of Modestics, you might already recognize the name Schmitt Design. If you’re not familiar with Schmitt Design, then I’m so happy to be the one to introduce you in today’s Meet the Maker! – Brian Schmitt, of Schmitt Design, is one of those guys you just want to know (or know about). He’s been a California maker since 2005, and a friend of Modestics since the beginning.

Although I’ve mentioned Schmitt Design before, I can’t gush enough about Brian. He has been extremely supportive of us, and our venture with Modestics. He’s one of the people we thought of when we started blogging that we thought you should know about. The real people every day making America modern. So without further ado..

Modestics: Tell me in your own words about your company? 

Schmitt Design: Schmitt Design is a small design/build studio based in Sacramento. We produce a collection of modern lighting, clocks, and decor, and also create site-specific installations including large-scale mobiles and sculptural lighting. Our work features a wide range of materials including wood, bamboo, metal, porcelain, and glass.

Meet the Maker; Schmitt Design - Made in California Meet the Maker; Schmitt Design - Made in California

MO: When did you start Schmitt Design?

SD: I started with the initial Adrift Mobiles collection in 2005. David Pierce, of OHIO Design, was generous enough to let me hang a mobile in his booth at ICFF that year. 

MO: When did you feel like you were a “real company”?

SD: It has been a gradual progression, though 2012 was an exciting year as our Aspect Pendants were awarded the Dwell on Design Award for Best Lighting and we completed a couple of large commissions. I wish I could say that it’s been easy since then, though new challenges present themselves all the time. 

Meet the Maker; Schmitt Design - Made in California

MO: What aspect of your job do you love?

SD: I’m struggling to find a succinct answer to this, as there are so many rewarding aspects of this maker life. I really love the beginning of a project or new design when you can be loose and explore concepts. It’s also a thrill at the end, to see that initial concept come to fruition. 

MO: What was the first thing you made?

SD: I got my start as a kid with Legos and skateboard ramps. My Rift Mobile, made from bent-laminated bamboo, is the first design that I decided to produce and sell. 

MO: Do you, yourself make your products or do you have factories that you work with?

SD: A few of our products are built entirely in our shop, though most are a balance of in-house production and outsourced processes. We have a network of skilled craftspeople in the region with whom to partner for various processes, including CNC routing, laser cutting, powder coating, and slip casting.

Meet the Maker; Schmitt Design - Made in California

MO: What is your favorite Made in USA designer?

SD: It’s exciting to see the wealth of talented individuals and companies who are producing quality work in the US. A few of my favorites are Heath Ceramics, Rich Brilliant Willing, and Brendan Ravenhill.

MO: Do you have any special interests?

SD: In recent years, being a dad to two young boys has absorbed most of my free time. When time allows, I look forward to hitting the skatepark and going to some daytime DJ parties with friends (and kids!).

MO: Any memorable on the job work injuries?

SD: Thankfully, I have steered clear of any major injuries; however, at a previous job, I worked with a friend who severely cut his thumb on a chop saw. It was a traumatic experience and a reminder of how quickly an accident can occur. I now have a heightened sense of caution around such saws.

He might make dreamy mobiles every day, but Brian is the most down to earth maker that we’re proud to know. We’re happy to be able to call him a friend and have Schmitt Design (as well as one of Brian’s favorite makers; Brendan Ravenhill) as part of the Modestics Collection. 

Do you know a modern American maker we should meet? Email me: linda@modestics.com

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Meet the Maker: Decoylab

decoy1Meet Maker Maiko Kuzunishi from fun home accessory company, Decoylab. Made in Missouri.

Modestics: Give me a brief overview of your company?

Maiko Kuzunishi for Decoylab: As of now, Decoylab mainly focuses on offering modern whimsical clock designs for children and young at hearts. I’m the person behind most of the company dealings and my husband Jason just joined this month to help me keep up with productions. Our products are available on our website (shopdecoylab.com) as well as on Etsy. (and now part of the Modestics Collection!) Also we have a distributor in Japan, South Korea and Australia. Our products are available internationally.

MO: When did you start Decoylab?

MK: Clocks started in November 2007 when I came up with a clock kit and posted on Etsy. I had no intention of starting a clock business and only dreamt of making a living by selling products. This very first clock kit was 6″ x 9″ print with an image of a cuckoo clock that I illustrated. I used print gocco to print on a card stock. They somehow became an instant hit and next thing I knew, I was getting wholesale orders and got nominated for Fred Flare’s “Next Big Thing 2008.” I couldn’t explain to you “Why” but I knew in my gut that I had to see this through.

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MO: Where did the name come from?

MK: I’ve always used Decoylab as my pseudonym whenever I showed my own artwork in public since 2000. I’ve worked as a graphic designer, a web designer, a motion graphic designer, an illustrator for various companies. I was always in the state of unrest, discontent with working for someone else. Decoylab has always been me, in search of my creative fulfillment and my unique expression.

MO: When did you feel like you were a “real company”?

MK: I used to call what I do as “a big hobby”. The shift came about 2 years ago when I realized that I have a huge responsibility. Hobby is something you do for your own enjoyment. It’s casual and relatively harmless to everyone else. A real company on the other hand becomes a part of community: a community made up of customers, vendors, distributors, retailers and clients. I became an integrated part of a micro business eco-system. My decisions and actions have significant effect on other people’s businesses. Now, fostering, nurturing and maintaining good relationships within this microsystem became a part of my job.

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MO: The first thing you made?

MK: Sounds a bit cliché but I’ve always been a maker since I was little. I don’t remember the first thing I made but I think the most original was creating a Japanese garden in a sandbox. I collected twigs, moss and rocks and design my own Japanese garden complete with a pond.

Also I had an obsession with floorplan when I was little too. Floorplans were often shown on the advertisement of new real estate development in Japan. I used to snag them while my parents read newspaper, and pretend I lived in that space.

MO: What aspect of your job do you love?

MK: Owning and running my business. Making new designs and seeing customers reactions of finished products. Making up rules to my own game and feeling free when I break them. There are so many things to love about my business. I even enjoy the challenges. It’s great to be able to look at where I am now and realize I’m doing things I never imagined possible.

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MO: Do you, yourself make your products or do you have factories that you work with?

MK: We do not have a laser cutting machine so we are partnering with Ponoko. I would love to own or lease a laser cutter some day but that’s adding a bigger component to the whole system that I don’t know if we can or want to handle just yet.

As far as the rest of the fabrications and productions go, you are pretty much looking at the whole factory right here..(Me!) I am a lean mean clock making machine. As mentioned earlier, my husband Jason just joined on this venture not so long ago, so we are in the middle of figuring out our new system. He’ll be in charge of wholesale orders while I focus more on overall business, design and individual online orders.

MO: What is your favorite Made in USA Designer?

MK: I would like to say Brian at Schmitt Design! I love his new Aspect Pendants and he also makes amazingly beautiful clocks.

MO: Favorite American city?

MK: I think I like Kansas City enough to be here for almost 20 years.

Thank you Maiko for taking the time to talk with Modestics. We love her fun whimsical designs. To learn more about Decoylab be sure to check out her blog. And to see Maiko’s favorite American Made designer, Schmitt Design, check out the Modestics Collection.

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New to the Modestics Collection

July1AmericanMade

Add a new ritual to your Independence Day celebration, buy American Made. We’ve added a lot of new modern domestic made goods to the Modestics Collection. 

Exclusively Made in the USA, the Modestics Collection has new items from made in Chicago – Strand Design, made in California – EO Products, and made in Minnesota – Loll. Show your pride for your hometown with new City Pride Necklaces from Kris Nations Jewelry. We’re also proud to add two new makers to the group, 100xbtr - made in Los Angeles, and DAMM Lighting - handmade in Florida.

One of our favorite makers, Cerno Lighting, is offering a special summer sale from now until July 15th. Save on all their beautiful made in California lighting.

As always, Free Shipping on all orders over $75.

Because this 4th of the July, the only thing that you should be buying that’s made in China are the fireworks. Support American Makers.

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Be Original with Herman Miller

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Last week marked what would have been Charles Eames’ 107th birthday. Charles along with his wife Ray are probably the most famous design partnership in American history. They also designed what has come to be known as the most knocked off piece of furniture in American history; The Eames Molded Plastic Chair (original designation) commonly referred to as the fiberglass or shell chair, and now produced by Herman Miller in polypropylene (Molded Plastic), in fiberglass (Molded Fiberglass), and in plywood (Molded Wood). Everyone knows the chair, and chances are you’ve even sat on a version of one. Whether its fiberglass, plywood, or plastic, the iconic Eames shell chair has also sparked one of the largest knockoff design debates in history. Although the debate has heated up in the recent past, the knockoffs have been happening since close to the chair’s inception.

I recently sat down and talked about knockoffs with Mark Schurman, Director of Communications for Herman Miller. Understandably, Mark had a lot to say about knockoffs and not just because of the ongoing legal battle with Los Angeles-based furniture company, Modernica.

I don’t want to get in to the legal details too much, but let me give you just a brief run down in case you were unaware of Herman Miller vs Modernica….

In 1950, Charles and Ray Eames pushed the limits of manufacturing with their groundbreaking Molded Fiberglass Chairs. By the 70s environmental risks associated with fiberglass production were becoming more widely understood, leading to the eventual decision in the late 80s  to discontinue fiberglass shell production until a more suitable material could be found. Also around this time, there was explosive growth in Herman Miller’s commercial contract office furniture, leading the company to assign the residential marketplace a back seat. Many items were taken out of production, in addition to the Eames Molded Shell Chair. But Herman Miller never ended the relationships with the designers or their heirs, and never abandoned their own reverence for their own history.

In the early 1990s demands for the Eames Shell Chair in the vintage marketplace picked up, and Modernica (among others) stepped in to fill the void and make reproductions. By the mid-90s Herman Miller decided to get back in to the residential market and identified Modernica as being a potential supplier. Herman Miller wasn’t happy with some of the things that Modernica had been doing up to that point, but left that open for conversation. Negotiations with Modernica bobbled along for a few years, and by 1998 Herman Miller agreed to use them as a supplier if Modernica was willing to make changes in terms of quality and authenticity. Herman Miller didn’t want to put their name on it, unless it met their standards. Modernica gave Herman Miller assurances that they were interested in being a supplier. It was Herman Miller’s understanding they were going to stop doing unauthorized reproductions, and they weren’t going to do private label (sell it under the Modernica name) as well as make the improvements that were asked for.

Herman Miller put in a good faith effort in looking at Modernica as a potential supplier. Mark said, “If, in fact their commitment to the designer and the designs was real, we could have found an opportunity for them to be in the fold of Herman Miller. But that proved impossible.”

“By the fall of 1999, we broke off the relationship with Modernica, for many reasons. There were lots of issues—product quality, authenticity of materials and specifications, failure to honor the understanding that we had (in writing) that they were going to cease and desist the unapproved products. These were never their designs. They were the designs of the designer, and the original authorized collaborator, Herman Miller”

The disagreements with Modernica continues to this day. In addition to breach of contract and false advertising, Herman Miller claims the latest Modernica violation is of trademark — any reference to the word ‘Eames’ in connection with furniture. Herman Miller owns ‘Eames’ as a trademark worldwide. - *Editors side note; Modernica continues to use a promotional movie from 1970 made by the Eames Office for Herman Miller on their website. The movie shows how the Eames Fiberglass Chair was designed and made. It even has the Herman Miller logo prominently in the opening sequence, and gives credit to Herman Miller in the closing. – That’s bold.

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But here’s the big problem with the Eames Molded Shell Chair knockoffs that’s beyond the battle with Modernica…. The design wasn’t in continuous production for Herman Miller. Does that mean that the design is in the public domain and a free for all for anyone to reproduce? Not really, according to Mark, “There is a quilt work of law across the world. What makes it very challenging for designers and manufacturers, is what’s true in this country, is not true in that country. So the range of protections and the degree of what’s enforced is very wide. In the US, you can apply for a design patent, which basically has more to do with the form and the appearance, not so much its functionality. Or a utility patent related to function, but both are limited to less than 20 years. So the issue with these designs from the middle of the twentieth century, is they are all well beyond any design patent or utility patent. You can renew, but you would have to tweak the design in such a way and make your case with the USPTO (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) that this is substantially different design. You can’t just say is ‘hey, I’d like to have another 20 years of protection’. – But what you can do, is apply for Trade Dress.”

“To receive Trade Dress, you would have to first continuously produce it, (one of the problems with the Eames Shell Chair). And you then have to show both qualitatively and quantitatively that any reasonable person on the street, would see that piece and assume its associated with a given brand. We have been successful in doing that with the Aeron Chair, with the Eames Lounge and Ottoman, and the Eames Aluminum Group, which have all been in continuous production.”

It’s an elaborate, expensive and time consuming process to receive Trade Dress, but worth it. Having Trade Dress and continuous production makes your case pretty rock solid against knockoffs. “They don’t just hand that out. If you get through that entire process and are granted Trade Dress, you have the biggest stick in terms of Intellectual Property. ”

But as Mark explains, there will always be someone willing to test you… “We are constantly battling knockoffs. Picture a bunch of rats running around the feet of an elephant, if they feel they can come in and grab one peanut and sell 100 knockoffs, then they’ll do it. The power of protection is only as good as your will to use it. And that means spending more money. A company of our size, with passion and commitment to these issues, we’re prepared to do that. And we’ve continued to win in litigation. But for a smaller manufacturer, it’s a real problem.”

The issue of knockoffs is ongoing for Herman Miller. Mark says, “You know, there is this whole argument that it’s ok to knockoff these big companies (like Herman Miller)… ‘They’re just some big company, making lots of money – big industry types… They don’t deserve that protection or loyalty.’  – The real tragedy is all these small companies and small designers who start to break through, suddenly find out that their work has been absconded by some off shore operation, suddenly liquidating their opportunity. It has a very negative impact on the incentive for people to innovate.”

Mark adds that we’ve got to continue to educate ourselves, as well as exposing the source of the knockoffs. “The only incentive for the knockoff industry is their belief that they can sell it. And if we can educate the consumer, as to what is the truth in terms of the sacrifice of quality, originality, the dampening effect on future innovation, the manufacturing conditions of the workers, and the whole moral issue of copying. There’s a whole host of issues; moral, ethical, and economic issues why knockoffs need to be better understood. And hopefully by educating and creating a more fully aware consumer – the market will dry up.”

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The fact is – the knockoff companies are misguided. Human nature allows people to rationalize and justify the practice. Unfortunately the public buying the knockoffs have also rationalized.

But wait, Eames designed for the best for the most for the least. – Wouldn’t that imply Charles and Ray somehow would be comfortable with or even pleased to have seen their designs so widely knocked off? Not so, says Mark. “They did design with that philosophy, but it’s widely misunderstood. One common argument is that these things are grossly overpriced from what the Eames would have intended. – But if you go back and look at the published catalogs from that time, take the price of a particular piece and plug it in to the US Govt. inflation calculator, fast forward to 2014 – you’ll find out most of the time its the same price if not cheaper than the original pricing structure. They never said ‘the best for the most for CHEAP. – It was always premium in terms of its performance, design and quality. People have misinterpreted that quote. Eames never said Cheap. And I think thats one of those examples that people rationalize to cloud the issue.”

The Eames battled knockoffs the best way they could even back in 60s. One solid evidence of proof is this poster designed by the Eames Office that was on the back cover or Arts and Architecture magazine in 1962. ‘Beware of Imitations. Look for this mark, (pointing to the Herman Miller logo). And in smaller print… ‘These are the ORIGINALS, accept no substitutions,’ - When somebody says, ‘oh well, the Eames wouldn’t care’, Mark says, “That’s Balderdash.”

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Need more convincing why should you buy from companies like Herman Miller, or Emeco, or Fritz Hansen, and not from the knockoff? Mark says, “These are companies who are at their heart, really committed to the designs. Because of that commitment, we continue to invest in the design itself. Tools don’t last forever. But we’re so committed to the quality that we replace those tools. We don’t think, ‘Oh we can squeeze another 1000 off this mold.’ A Knockoff maker doesn’t have that kind of commitment to the construction. Because their brand isn’t associated with it! – An example is the Eames Lounge and Ottoman, which today is frankly superior to a Lounge and Ottoman 50 years ago in terms of its durability and performance. And that’s not because it wasn’t genius 50 years ago. But there are new glues, and new material composition in the shock mounts, new construction techniques, etc. It’s an incredibly delicate construction technique, when you look at how the arms, back and seat come together by the hidden shock mounts (frequently a bad knockoff have a screw exposed.) Those connecting points we continue to invest in, putting them under very strenuous testing to get them better and better. We have great confidence that the overall construction is improved. The knockoff company isn’t going to invest to do those things.”

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I asked Mark if he’s noticed any headway?  “We need to create smarter and better law that favors the innovator. There has been some great progress recently internationally. The UK has taken a wonderful position recently which could very well be end to the knockoff industry in the UK. Or at least a real dampening of it.”

And the cause isn’t going unnoticed. “We hear from a lot of people congratulating us on the wins and the effort. And I don’t just mean from other companies. I routinely get emails from fans, not just Herman Miller fans, but fans of modern design. People have very emotional attachments to these designs and want to see them protected.” Mark gives props to fans on social media that acknowledge the fakes. “We think we’re aware of many of them, but it’s helpful and encouraging. If you know that people out there care, then it keeps you motivated.”

So now you’ve read the story, and you’re convinced. You love the design, want to support originality but can’t afford to buy new — what can you do? Mark says shop the secondary market. “You might think that we don’t have any incentive to encourage people to buy used, but one of the messages I always urge people is; you probably can buy that same piece used for close to the same price as the knockoff version, maybe better. And if you’re willing to take a little patina, wouldn’t you rather have an authentic piece than a knockoff?”

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This post was written as part of my ongoing series with Be Original. Be Original Americas is committed to informing, educating and influencing manufacturers, design professionals and individuals on the economic, ethical, and environmental value of authentic design while preserving and investing in its future.

All images are used with permission by Herman Miller. 

By Linda Geiser

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American Made ICFF 2014 Wrap-Up

Every May furniture and design enthusiasts gather in New York to see and be seen. At the hub of all the furniture gawking is ICFF. Also known as International Contemporary Furniture Fair for all my non-furniturey readers. Not to miss out on the fun, I was able to attend the design extravaganza for just a New York minute.

There were lots of other design related festivities coordinated in conjunction with ICFF and New York Design Week. The only off-site show that I got to check out was the temporary pop-up shop “Alexander Girard – An Uncommon Vision.” There, I met Mark Schurman, Director of Communications for Herman Miller. Mark gave me the docent tour of the exhibit, where I learned all about Girard. The exhibit was extraordinary and really honored the man who was Herman Miller’s Director of Design for 21 years. I also had the opportunity to talk with Mark about Herman Miller’s partnership with Be Original…. which I’ll talk more about next week.

ICFF Herman Miller Alexander Girard

Since I was only in New York for less than 48 hours I had to prioritize my time. ICFF is a large show with over 600 exhibitors, all of high caliber design. I made sure to carve out enough time to see all the American Made companies exhibiting and planned to hit every one of them. I especially want to meet ‘in real life‘ all the makers I’ve interviewed for Modestics. (I was a little star struck by a few of them) – Much to my excitement there was a LOT of Modern Made in USA to be seen. It also worried me a little about my time management… But I was up for the challenge!

I tried to walk the show in a sensible manner from left to right / up one row, down the other, so I didn’t miss anyone. There was so much eye candy! I found myself ping-ponging across the aisle, darting back and forth, which drove my husband crazy trying to keep up with me. Alas, my excitement and time management got the best of me, and I ended up missing some rows completely! Oh well… Better luck next year!

Before I get in to my round-up; I should mention – I forgot to pack my good camera. So all the images are taken from my phone. (you make do with what you got) I should also mention; I’m a design lover and promoter of American Made. I don’t claim to be a photographer. Oh well… Better luck next year!

Here’s my round-up of the memorable American Made standouts:

ICFF Bernhardt Design

When I first walked on the show floor I was captivated by Bernhardt Design with a museum worthy booth. Bernhardt Design was celebrating 125 years in the industry. I’ll cheers to that!

ICFF Brendan Ravenhill

I got to see all the parts I’ve only seen bits and pieces of on Instagram come together in Brendan Ravenhill’s booth.  He debuted his new “Grain” series of lights that mimic the wood grain that the metal is spun around. It’s really stunning in person.

ICFF 100xbtr

Los Angeles based, 100xbtr was so much better in person than from what I’ve seen in pictures. And I’ve loved what I have seen in pictures! But to feel it…! To feel the weight and touch the pieces was something to behold.

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Cerno’s booth is always composed so perfectly. I would think it would be really hard to display an entire booth of lighting. – Getting everything wired and displayed properly, but the guys at Cerno make it look flawless.

I also was pleased to learn that Cerno joined as an industry supporter to Be Original. Cerno has been making original designs since 2009, and are committed to authentic design and originality. Woot Woot! – By the way, you can join as a member of Be Original too! 

ICFF Gray Pants

Another booth that I stood in awe of; GrayPants. - Their new design; Kerflights (which I didn’t get a good picture of) are so fun.  But it was still their signature Scraplights that gave a power punch to their booth.

ICFF Scout Regalia

Scout Regalia was one of the very first companies I interviewed for Modestics Blog – so it was about time I met them in real life. I only got to meet 1/2 of the design duo, Ben. Ben didn’t disappoint, showing me all of their latest designs. They have been extremely busy! Their take on the modern farm-house chair was a beauty.

ICFF Studio Dunn

I’ve followed Dunn on the world-wide web for a while, so it was exciting to see (and touch!) all of his furniture. Asher Dunn is no stranger to ICFF. He received the Best New Designer Award at the show in 2010, and I can see why! His Coventry Stool (not pictured – bad camera!) is destined to be a classic one day.

ICFF Emeco

Speaking of classic; lets talk about Emeco! Emeco continues to build on their classic Navy Chair with new Seat Pads! Emeco said that one complaint that they get over and over is their chairs are chilly to sit on. I say they’re refreshing! - So to address their customers concerns, they made colorful formed seat pads to insulate tushies. Each pad is made from two layers – an underlying substrate made from rPET felt bonded with topside of colorful wool felt. The materials are bonded together forming one thin pad.

In the picture above on the left, Madson is showing off the Emeco SU Small Stool with a seat made from reclaimed barn oak. No seat pad needed!

ICFF Flavor Paper

One booth that I could spend all day in was Brooklyn based, wall paper company Flavor Paper. Another veteran to ICFF, they know that this is the show to have fun and show the world what you got! They debuted pop-oriented Andy Warhol x Flavor Paper collection, which features notable artwork provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and reimagined by Flavor Paper Founder and Creative Director Jon Sherman.

My favorite was an iridescent ape wall from designer David Weeks. – There was really just so much to look at! It was mesmerizing!

ICFF Loll

If you’re a regular reader to Modestics, you already know I’m a big fan of Minnesota company, Loll.We even sell Loll as part of the Modestics Collection. But here’s a little confession… although I’ve sat in many Loll chairs before, I have never lifted a piece of theirs before. – I was amazed! It is some seriously substantial stuff! They are saving LOTS of milk bottles people! It’s no joke, when they say their furniture isn’t going to blow over in the wind! Solid and strong! I was an admirer of Loll before, but now I’m a believer!

In addition to showing off their whole line of new Lollygagger Collection, they debuted a stool that was a little uncharacteristic of them. Something that isn’t flat packed! The cool roto-molded stool designed by California designer, Eric Pfeiffer still uses milk jugs as the core ingredient. And still has all of the bright colors you would expect from Loll, it just comes already 3-D. Mind = blown.

ICFF HennepinMade

Another Minnesota company I was happy to meet in real life was Hennepin Made. You might remember my Meet the Maker on them a few months back. I was surprised to hear that this was their first time not only showing at ICFF, but their first time showing anywhere! You really wouldn’t know by looking at their booth that they were new to exhibiting, because they’re display and product was superb. I can certainly see why Room and Board are fans of theirs!

ICFF MIO

Brothers Isaac and Jaime Salm are pros when it comes to ICFF. They’ve been exhibiting since they began MIO in 2001. (Which I think is about when I first met them!) And although they are veterans to ICFF, their booth is fresh and stunningly different every time. Constantly evolving and honing in on their trade.

ICFF Fort Standard

I didn’t get the opportunity to meet the fellas from Fort Standard. There was a lot going on in their booth every time I walked by. I guess I wasn’t the only one intrigued by their new lighting designs.

ICFF Phloem Studio

Benjamin Klebba from Phloem Studio was one my early Meet the Maker posts, but surprisingly we’ve never met in person. He was so hospitable at ICFF. Just like we were old friends. – I think I sat in every chair in his booth!  And every one felt as good as it looked!

ICFF Grain

Another booth that I just wanted to dive right in to was Grain. Making the trip all the way from Bainbridge Island, WA, Grain mixes time honored craftmaking techniques with unique modern designs.

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I enjoyed meeting Ryan from newly relocated RAD Furniture. Ryan recently made the move from Texas to Brooklyn. He’s a cool dude that makes some cool stools. It looks like he’ll fit in just fine in Brooklyn.

ICFF John Ford

As we’re running out the door on the second day of the show, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a chair from John Ford. I didn’t get to chat with anyone from John Ford or even grab any information, but they are definitely someone I plan to follow-up with.

I plan to follow-up with everyone on this list, for that matter. I give major props to all the companies exhibiting. I know it’s no minor task to take on. Making and packing everything you show, prepping catalogs, waiting for crates, dealing with show management, painting walls, the list goes on… For all you do; I salute you. Well done. You got my attention.

By Linda Geiser

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Be Original Americas™ Grows Public Membership

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Since the launch of its public membership campaign on March 14th, Be Original Americas has added a host of world-renowned names to its roster of advocates for original design. Firms including USM, Design Within Reach, FontanaArte, Chilewich, MOOOI, Maya Romanoff and many of their peers and supporters in the design world, have joined the cause against knockoffs.

Membership is open to all—as more companies, individuals, and arts and educational institutions join the movement, the power of Be Original to inform, educate, and influence the public on the value of original design becomes even stronger. Supporters may submit information via the www.beoriginalamericas.com to join at the member, affiliate, or individual level.

Manufacturers are also taking up the cause with unique ways to signal that their products are the genuine article. Recently, Italian design company Alessi launched Super & Popular packaging with the goal of giving its recipient an education the product’s design value: One side shows information the designer; another the designer’s inspiration; another an image of the product backlit to show its iconic form; and another Alessi’s story of product development. Inside the lid, consumers find a list of awards given to the design, and a QR code taking them to a website for more information. Applied to only 70 iconic products, the design illustrates more clearly than ever the people, the quality, and the value behind Alessi’s original and timeless designs.

The fight against counterfeiting has been gaining momentum for a decade. No area of product design is immune. And no one can fight this battle alone. That’s why in 2004 the International Chamber of Commerce launched the Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) to combat product counterfeiting and copyright piracy worldwide. Even with the tools at our disposal today, the magnitude of the economic impact of counterfeiting is difficult to quantify, but recent analysis suggests that hundreds of billions of internationally traded products are counterfeited each year—that’s larger than the GDPs of more than 150 economies. And these figures don’t include digital goods, or those produced and consumed domestically.

Rather than dwell on these daunting numbers, Be Original Americas has issued a positive call to action to the design community, and reinforces its championing of original design with dynamic programs across the country:

Sunday, May 18, 2014, 2:00 – 3:00 pm.: WantedDesign 11th Avenue at 27th Street, New York 

Design for Our Times: Authentic or Bust! Moderated by DWELL Editor-in-Chief, Amanda Dameron with panelists Giulio Cappellini, Creative Director, Cappellini, Paolo Cravedi, Managing Director, ALESSI N.A., Bonnie Mackay, Retail expert and influencer, Nasir Kassamali, CEO, Luminaire, and Felix Burrichter, Creative Director and Founder PIN UP Magazine. In the advent of our Internet age, good design is available to the consumer through myriad channels. So how can the design industry continue to educate the public about making informed choices, honoring authentic design and eschewing the convenience of knockoffs? Click here to register.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 6:00-8:00 pm: Ligne Roset Atlanta, 805 Peachtree St., NE, Atlanta, GA 

Why Should I care about Original Design? Ligne Roset invites you to join in the celebration of Modern Atlanta with a panel moderated by Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis Magazine, with panelists Antoine Roset, EVP, Roset USA Corporation; Paolo Cravedi, Managing Director, Alessi North America, and Thom Williams, CEO, ASD. At a time when substitutes often show up important interiors, we must ask ourselves “why is original design so important?” Is it to protect the incomes of famous designers’ descendants? Is it to support foundations? Is it snob appeal? The panel will dig into the subject of original design by examining the investment it needs, the creativity it fosters, and the products that remain endearing through time and fashion. The discussion will also explore ethical issues: Copying is lazy; it’s dishonest. Can we live with being dishonest? The manufacturers on the panel will talk about originality from the business point of view; the designers will explore aesthetics, material and formal invention, and design legacy. Contact beth@bdeonline.biz to attend.

#BeOriginal #NoKnockoffs

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The Shaming of Target

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I wanted to write an update about Target ripping off American made ModFire, but I’ve been stalled. I’ve had a bit of a hard time digesting it all. Before I get into the details of the outcome, I should start with saying this story has a happy ending. Yet, there were lots of highs and lows along the way.

My #ShameOnTarget post was read and shared more times than I could have imagined. I had more readers that one day, then my last 3 months combined. The story snowballed and I lost count how many times the hashtag ”#ShameOnTarget” was used on social media. People everywhere were telling Target how shameful it was. I was thrilled. People were actually doing what I asked them to do! It was becoming a grassroots movement. It was extremely empowering for me, but it was at the expense of a fellow designer. I was conflicted.

Designers everywhere came together and supported Brandon Williams of ModFire. They sent him encouraging messages and posted the story on their own Facebook pages. It was the utopia I envisioned when I started Modestics. A community of designers sharing and supporting, rather than stealing and competing.

It was more than I could imagine. Shoppers boycotted Target. Customers wrote bad reviews on their website, and commented on Target’s Facebook page. I had a glimmer of hope the day after my article posted; the Target Chiminea was “Unavailable Online.” Were we making progress? Was Target feeling the heat?

My glory moment was short-lived. Target censored the negative online reviews. They deleted Facebook posts that linked back to Modestics. It was back to being available for sale online and still up on their shelves in stores. They were exhibiting their strength and were waiting for the storm to pass. Hush the little guy. – Which I took great offense to. No one puts Linda in a corner!

I should mention all this was going on while Brandon was on a preplanned vacation with his wife. He was out of the country on a romantic excursion, trying not to think about Target and possible legal battles that awaited him on his return. There was nothing I wanted more than to have this settled by the time he got back. I took it on as my personal mission to not drop it, and keep pushing Target to pull it from their shelves. I became consumed.

It made me wonder; Why do I care so much? Why did everyone care so much? Because it happened to a nice guy like Brandon? Because it was another case of cheap imported knockoff of an American made independent designer? Because it’s Target? It’s like the commercial says; we really do expect more from Target.

Needless to say, Brandon returned from vacation having to deal with Target and legal battles. He contacted a lawyer. He contacted Target. He got a response from Target’s legal team and it hung in limbo for days. And then one day he gets this email…

Dear Mr Williams,

My name is Jay Catalina the founder and owner of Asia Direct Inc. Our company has been supplying The large retail stores various firebowls and firepits since the year 2000. Our focus has been a little different than yours in that we have strived to supply retailers with a look or image that is In and hopefully new. We do this knowing full well that every penny counts and that these units will be sold for an extremely low price affording the guest of the retailer a great buy. I was a little surprised to see your letter. When this unit was suggested by the design team as a possibility I said OK but research any patents and make sure that the production unit is different enough from the original that it is clearly different.

I can sense from your letter that you have great feelings for your designs and product offerings. As well you should. All of your work has a fabulous design element and the materials are 1st rate throughout. Your price points are such that only a small slice of America will be able to afford one. I would say more like buying a painting that buying a heater to burn wood in. I apologize for any inconvenience that you may have been caused.

This production run was a small run to see if the chiminea’s were a market to get into. This unit is up for review in the next several weeks. About the only concession I can see here is to not go forward with this unit in the future as a concession to the artist. Please let me know if that is agreeable to you.

Once again, I apologize for any ill feelings and hope that maybe in the future we might even become business partners on a project. You never know when you have designed a product and decide that it would be best served in mass production which is what I do. Please feel free to call me at any time on my cell phone.

Best Regards
Jay Catalina I CEO I Asia Direct Inc

Brandon was over the moon thrilled and posted on ModFire’s Facebook page, ”this usually only happen in movies.”

Here’s the deal, although Brandon is pleased, it’s not entirely resolved in my book. Call me a cynic if you want (I’ve been called worse), but I think Target could have stepped up more. The Chiminea is still currently available until they sell out. Target didn’t pay ModFire for the design. Target actually tried to pawn off the problem to Asia Direct. It was only because Jay Catalina actually had a conscious that he contacted Brandon and acknowledged the infraction.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many wins in this case. The whole ordeal lasted less than a month. The Chiminea will be discontinued and had poor sales because Brandon spoke up immediately and called attention to it. His courage to stand up against knock-offs empowered us as a community. We showed our power in numbers. We were vocal and demonstrated we aren’t going to be pushed around by the big guys. Social media was used for the power of good and no one had to take anyone to court. An added bonus; ModFire and Modestics both got many new followers and fans.

After the dust has settled, I’ve taken a breather. I’ll still fight for American designers and fight against knockoffs. I’ve learned through all of this, that for any action to happen it takes an army of supporters. We need to continue to look out for each other. Because sadly, we all know this isn’t going to be the last time an independent designer gets knocked off.

I still haven’t stepped foot in Target since this broke. The only way the big boxes take notice, is their bottom line. I’ve shopped at smaller independent stores. Not only show support for independent designers and makers, but also show your support for independent retailers. FYI, ModFire is available online as part of the Modestics Collection. You can also find it at JustModern in Palm Springs. (in addition to many other independent retailers)

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By Linda Geiser

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Meet the Maker: Damm Lighting

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Husband and wife team, Robert and Brenda Zurn of DAMM Lighting have an appreciation for original handmade objects. So much so, that all of the lighting they make is designed and made to order in their St Petersburg, FL studio. Robert and Brenda founded DAMM to explore their love of sculpture and design. Trained in furniture design, art, and education, they are now bringing their take on design to the world. Married for 18 years, the duo is engaged in a deep love affair with craft, material, history, nature, family, exploration, hard work, and of course, each other.

I asked the busy mom of 5 a few questions about why she and Robert are makers.

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Modestics: Tell us where the name came from.  

DAMM Lighting: We were having our daily branding session, knowing that we would have to name this ‘soon to be business’ at some point.  We had words that meant something to us all over a piece of paper that floated around the table during our sessions.  It was a frustrating moment, I’m not going to lie.  I looked at the paper and said “DAMM!” Four of our words became clear at the same time.  Design.  Art.  Means.  Motive.  We still deliberated over the course of several days.  We wanted to pick something and stand behind it. Shortly after, I remember someone asking me for the first time what the name of our company was, and saying “DAMM”  for the first time.  It was that moment that I believed it.

MO: What prompted you to want to start your own business?  

DL: After raising a large family, and figuring out that we actually work pretty well together, we were ready to try something different for a career path.  We wanted something for ourselves, and a legacy or opportunity for our children.  It took courage, and trust in each other.  We were already making custom furniture, but we needed to start fresh with something that was really “us”.  We chose lighting.

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MO: When did you feel like you were a “real company”? 

DL: Every time we sell something I feel happy that someone else sees value in our product.  We were real the day we sold our first light.  I’ve been thankful for every sale since then, large or small.

MO: What aspect of your job do you love? 

DL: I love that I get to spend time with my husband and my children, and we all get to be creative.  I love that there are opportunities in our business for us all to use our strengths.  I love that my children get to see good examples of how to work really hard for something that you want.

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MO: Do you, yourself make your products or do you have factories that you work with?  

DL: We make and build our products in our studio on our property.  My two oldest sons do the majority of the lathing work.  I enjoy waxing the wood and blackening the brass, so I always volunteer for that part.  Robert does the majority of the work. Some parts we have manufactured by small scale artisans. We also partner with local craftsmen who blow glass, paint metal, and pour concrete.

MO: Do you have a hidden talent or special interest? 

DL: Robert loves to cook.  The family prefers his cooking for sure!  He’s more experimental.  We love it when he makes Pho.  It’s excellent!  I’m a good sous chef, but I’d prefer reading ancient literature anyday.  I have a library of the classics that I have read.  I love Homer and Shakespeare, on up to Hawthorne and Melville.

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Meet the Maker: AT-95

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What first caught my attention with AT-95 was their love for their home state of Ohio and  love of bourbon. Any furniture maker that uses Bourbon White Oak Barrels as their inspiration for materials has got my attention. – But what is truly admirable is love of American Made. On their about us page, husband and wife duo Dennis and Denise Blankemeyer, founders and co-owners of AT-95 wrote; “This is Middle America; where generations before us lived, sweat and bled. Our grandfathers were a mechanic, a farmer, a truck driver and a well driller.”  Although Dennis and Denise don’t make the product themselves, they’ve enlisted a team of skilled craftsmen who carry on their vision. I asked AT-95′s Brand Manager, Dani Turkovich, more about what makes them a standout in Middle America.

Meet the makers of the New American Industrial Revolution; AT-95. Making tables, barstools, and chairs from Killbuck, Ohio.

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Modestics: Tell me a little bit more about AT-95?

AT-95: AT-95 is a brand that designs and manufactures premium made-to-order seating, tables and bases. Our products always evoke a distinct sense of place and a greater sense of meaning. We strive to carry on a legacy of American ingenuity and craftsmanship. We are heirs responsible for keeping the Middle American dream alive.

MO: Where did the name come from?

AT-95: The ‘AT’ in our name is short for American Tribute and 95 is short for the year the company was founded; 1995.  

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MO: What aspect of your job do you love?

AT-95: AT-95 is a collective team, all working toward the same goal (which we love!): helping our clients and customers create spaces that evoke a sense of place and meaning. It’s always a win when a customer sends a photo of our products in their space. It’s beautiful! 

MO: Who makes your products?

AT-95: We are a team comprised of many kinds of experts. Each team member brings a specific and very valuable expertise to the table. We also partner with local shops to help us source specific materials and services.  

MO: What is your favorite Made in USA product? 

AT-95: Bourbon! Specifically, Jefferson Presidential Select – 21 Years Old. Check out more about why we love Bourbon here: http://at-95.com/about/#bourbon

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Canadians Make Great Stuff Too

CAN+USA3 By Ben Biancini Principal of The Reliable Series

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If you haven’t already heard, we are in an era of resurging American made. This is a movement and economic battle to dominate manufacturing as we Americans once did. In any struggle regardless of context, allies are needed. Our story today focuses on Canada and why we should collaborate together in ramping up exportation.

Canada isn’t too far away, just look up. Our neighbor’s culture is similar in many ways, we are the progeny of European colonists, we’ve fought together in world wars and we’re both pretty good at hockey. Canada has grown with us through industrialization, shedding monarchical rule and contemporary battles against drug trafficking and corruption. Currently both of us are facing the loss of manufacturing gusto to Asia and we both want it back. As we speak there is a movement in Canada very similar to our made at home patriotism. In times of economical war we need allies, Canada is that ally that we should not turn our back to.

Some of Canada’s most renowned manufacturers have lost production ground to Asia in the past decades, let’s take a look at some of those that have fallen from glory:

Back in 2007 Hershey closed it’s chocolate factory in Smiths Falls ON, cutting 600 jobs. In 2008 only a year later the Cadbury-Schweppes factory shut down a plant that processed grape juice, eliminating 130 jobs.

Campbell Soup announced their doors would be shut in Listowel, ON in 2008, that decision ‘canned’ 500 jobs.

In 2014 Kellogg brand will shut down their London, Ontario location at cost of 550 jobs. Similar cuts in the United States are imminent.

In 2014 Novartis AG, a maker of contact lens solution will shut it’s doors at their location in Mississauga ON, cutting 300 jobs.

Some might find the following statistic shocking: In 2011 Canada closed 79 plants that cost 14,000 jobs, compared to the US closing 430 plants at a job cost of 63,000 also in 2011. What’s alarming is that Canada is a much smaller economy, this means they are losing manufacturing ground at a much higher rate.

“When the Heinz owners, for example, see a plant operating at 30 per cent of capacity, it’s an easy decision to absorb that production elsewhere, shutter a plant and save millions of dollars,” said Andreas Boecker as associate professor at the University of Guelph. “There’s a great deal of global competition in every marketplace and anytime there are dollars to be saved, those are relatively easy decisions.”

We must face the facts, if it can be made cheaper elsewhere the invisible hand of economics will surely guide it there. In order to protect and sustain our manufacturing economy we must focus on real reasons to make goods here. We are notoriously better at quality and durability. In fact Asian markets are beginning to recognize the durability goods here back at home. Carhartt sales in Japan have skyrocketed, strangely enough it’s considered a luxury brand and not the working man’s wear that it is used for here. Here are a few Canadian brands that have noticed this trend and decided to keep their manufacturing at home:

Raber Gloves – They’ve been making gloves for the RCMP, U.S. highway patrol, and various militaries since 1934.

Tilley Endurables – Headwear and clothing proudly made in Ontario.

Baffin – Shoes and footwear favored by outdoor laborers.

Canada Goose – Last but not least, this sub-zero clothing and gear giant has grown in markets as far as Tokyo. Strangely enough it never goes below zero there. Still made in Canada.

How do we leverage the fledgling appetite for sturdy, North American made? The following steps for success should be taken: manufacturers raise awareness of American & Canadian made products the same as any other brand would promote itself. Ad campaigns, niche retail stores, consumer engagement to name a few methods. We begin exporting our superior products and we do this to all continents. As reputation grows worldwide our factory output increases at home, we have more jobs and a larger export to import ratio. Maybe someday we can become the industrially strong continent that we once were in the 20th century. Regardless, this is how we can bring manufacturing back home, to Canada or the United States.

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>> About the author: Benjamin is an entrepreneur from St. Paul, Minnesota. His belief in durable products grew from excursions throughout the wilderness of Northwest Ontario. This, in combination with pride in local manufacturing led to the founding of The Reliable Series. He is proud to offer stylish, hand-made, superior products from both the United States and Canada.

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