Interview with Oberon Design
Colleen Connell: What drives your family's passion to create such beautiful things?
Becca Smith: My brother Brendan began making leather sandals when he was a teenager in the late 1960's. We come from a family of musicians, writers and craftsman, my grandfather was a stonemason and most of the Smith family siblings are excellent at making things with our hands. These gifts were also fueled by the counter culture of our youth where art, music, gardening, and craftsmanship were honored as ethical and fulfilling pursuits. It is a wonderful gift to be able to go to work each day doing something that we can be proud of. Not only pride in what we make and sell and but how we go about the making and selling. I have a favorite Rumi quote by my desk, "Let the beauty you love be what you do". Aside from our work at Oberon, Brendan is an accomplished guitar player and songwriter and I'm a writer and artist. Business per se is not in our nature but being able to create beautiful things is a passionate way of life.
Colleen: What goes into making fine leather & pewter products?
Becca: Our leather work is a profoundly organic process. By that I mean that each element and each step is affected by what comes before and can go wrong in any part of the process. To make a leather journal at Oberon we first grade each hide of leather we receive from the tannery. Cutting is the most important step because the success of the embossing work we do is entirely dependant on the quality of the cut leather piece, therefore each cut piece is also examined and graded for quality. If the leather has a thin or hairy spot on the backside, if there is too much pigment in the color, if the leather is too dry or too oily....all of these things and more affect the outcome of burning the image into the journal cover. Twelve or more steps from gluing, dying, sewing, buffing, finishing, etc. go into each journal. It takes skill and concentration over each piece for a successful outcome. This is why we can say with confidence that an Oberon leather journal will last a lifetime if it isn't lost or chewed on by the puppy!
Pewter casting doesn't share the same pitfalls. We are able to insure quality consistency by structuring our casting processes. We cast our pewter products in very small batches of 4-10 pieces at a time. We use an unusually high grade of Britannia pewter whose purity allows it to be labeled as 'food grade'. Obviously it's lead free and has a beautiful patina not found in cheaper metal blends. Doing everything ourselves - from design to casting - allows us to keep the costs down on our pewter products. We are proud of the fact that we can compete in the arena of affordable jewelry when the majority of what consumers buy in the U.S. is made off-shore.
Colleen: What motivates you to come to work each day?
Becca: Aside from the price of groceries and gas I'd say that the family feeling at Oberon is such that we miss each other during our annual vacation. Almost everyone at Oberon has worked together for at least ten years. We work as a team and although we are certainly not immune from the universal stress of running a small business, we like to come to work each day, mix it up and support one another to do what it takes to run Oberon. We are known for innovation and the creation of an impressive number of new products every year, over 30 in 2008. The most important motivation, getting to design and make things, does have a dark side. Our biggest problem over the years is that everybody wants in on the creativity and nobody is very interested in selling what we make!
Colleen: Does your location help to inspire creativity? If not, how do the creative processes work at Oberon?
Becca: The one reason that Brendan and I might be tempted to riches would be the desire to build a beautiful, Green building full of filtered light with a big garden outside and physical fitness area. No, I'm afraid our shop is a classic workshop, somewhat dark and full of tools & sewing machines. Humble. But we do all eat lunch together every day in a cozy space. Actually, one of my favorite aspects of each day is that there are a number of singers at Oberon and most days the shop floor is alive with singing and laughter. We are famous around here for our parties & pot luck fiestas. Big fun!
Most of the raw creative energy comes from Brendan and me but there is always innovation cropping up on the shop floor. Although a big part of my job is management, we are constantly either birthing ideas for products, working out the details or bringing products to market. I work on the design and image ideas and Brendan figures out how to make it happen. It takes energy and commitment to wear so many hats but working together as siblings is a great comfort and often a joy.
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