Caroline Chamberlain spoke with local designer Edie Pereira about going from designing to making, and tapping into the power of the village.
DnA last spoke to Santa Monica-based designer Edie Kahula Pereira in 2009. It was the depth of the recession and Edie, who has worked in the fashion industry and in architecture, had been laid off from a position with a product design company.
Since then she has tried various money-making endeavors, and finally took up a needle and started fabricating her own designs — bags, pouches and pot-holders, made of leather remnants.
Her products, marketed under the name Specialty Dry Goods, have found an enthusiastic clientele but now she is facing the challenge of being a one-woman manufacturing operation. Caroline Chamberlain spoke with her about going from designing to making, and tapping into the power of the village.
CC: How did you start this new business?
EP: After being laid off I just needed to do something with my hands. My first product ended up being a pot holder. I went to General Store on Lincoln in Venice and they bought a bunch of them from me. General Store is a pretty cool store, they support a lot of the local artists and artisans.
And then a friend took me to a place downtown where you could buy remnant leather and actually a natural hide, and the hide itself and it’s not dyed or anything. I took it in the backyard to tan it. I started making bags out of this leather, and I took them to general store and they sold them again.
CC: How has the economy changed the way you work?
You have to be flexible. Along the way, I have done various art and design curation projects; for example I curated three pop up art exhibitions at shft.com, a media platform that promotes sustainable lifestyles. They show art, they show products, they do original videos, they do profiles on Brooklyn farmers and different types of artisans, so I curated these pop-ups for them.
So what the change in the economy has made me realize is you really have to be flexible, and you have to become an entrepreneur. It’s about putting it out there and seeing what comes back. I’ve done things here and there, and I’ve also connected with groups where you kind of volunteer.
I was asked to join COTE (Committee on the Environment), its a campaign of AIA. I was a part of Project food LA, started by Michael Pinto, so being involved a lot really helps. It helps to get engaged about what’s going on in the community.
CC: What are some of the challenges of running a business on your own?
EP: Because I’m not funded, everything I make has to go back into that and supporting me. I do everything myself, the brand engagement, the PR, the sewing, the manufacturing, the graphic design, it’s part of the world now. It’s also been really interesting because I don’t really have the time to market. I don’t have a website, I just have a blog, and a Facebook page.
CC: Who has sold your work?
EP: ABC carpet in New York found me on a blog and they contacted me and now they sell my potholders. Kinfolk magazine, in Portland, they contacted me because they’d like some of my potholders. So that helps because I don’t have time to market. I’m working on them now for their event hosts.
People contact me about the pot holders all the time. People are drawn to them, it’s funny. There’s an emotional connection; they were included in a Darling magazine article about the idea of home (shown left). But I don’t make money off of them. When I made them for ABC company, I had to make 75, and my hands are tired.
CC: How have you managed running all of this by yourself?
EP: There was an overwhelming amount of orders for me. People understood, and somehow I got everything done. So now I’ve wised up, and now I know I need to give people three weeks before I can get it to them. So this is all new, it’s trial and error. Before when I was in product development, I wasn’t the maker.
EP: I definitely have less of a social life than I had before, and it requires a certain pace. So if it doesn’t pay off financially, I’ll have to rethink. I prefer now not being an employee, but it is trial and error. It’s almost a year, so I’m still very young at this, as far as being a designer-maker.
I don’t have the proper tools, and I need to hire someone to help me, but I’m at a stage where I can’t hire people. I can’t buy the proper sewing machine, and it all requires money. But I’m still building, and I need to take it as far as I can.
In this time of constant change, your network of people, your village, means everything. There’s a lot I can do on my own, but I really need the village. Everything that has come to me has come to me from my network of friends who have recommended me for something. Friends have loaned me cars, they’ve held neighborhood sales of my bags. It all comes from my network, my village, and if I didn’t have them I don’t know where I’d be.
Edie’s “Nomadic Pouch,” in royal blue suede, shown above right, is available as a DnA Design Pick in the KCRW Store.