Job & Boss

Designers/Makers, Oakland // January 2013
I am fascinated with art and culture of past decades. Rather than simply re-appropriating past aesthetics, I am interested in honoring authenticity while figuring out how to achieve the same truth within a contemporary context.

Originally we visited Brook Lane and Kirby Mckenzie to talk to them about Job & Boss, their line of singular handmade accessories, for a magazine article we were working on. But after spending a bit of time talking to and observing them in their studios, it struck us that though their work is in the realm of fashion and is driven by the intention to make sellable product, they bring a level of craftsmanship and creativity to their work that speaks to the ethos of IN THE MAKE.

Job & Boss is less than two years old and it has grown quickly, but still it’s just Brook and Kirby working out of their West Oakland home studios— with a dedicated focus on craftsmanship they laboriously create each item by hand while managing all aspects of development. The pair met through mutual friends about a year and a half ago; both are graduates of California College of Art, where Brook majored in film and Kirby studied textiles, fashion, and sculpture. They began experimenting with shibori, an ancient Japanese resist-dyeing technique that includes folding, twisting, and clamping the fabric before immersing it in a dye bath— and Job & Boss was born. The inherently unpredictable process translates beautifully to each one-of-a-kind piece, revealing mutable patterns and rich wavering hues of blue.

We visited Brook and Kirby twice— once in late summer of last year and then again this past November, on a cold rainy day. Though they collaborate on all creative aspects of the brand, they utilize their individual talents and spaces to take on different responsibilities. Brook is mainly in charge of the dying process, which she does out of her massive live/work space (that used to be an ambulance depot!) in the neighborhood of Ghost Town, and in an adjacent section of West Oakland called Dogtown, Kirby has a sewing room in her apartment where she puts together the dyed canvas and leather. Certainly, that first visit left an indelible impression on us— the built-in uncertainty of the shibori process, their respective relationships to art, craft, and the act of making, and the deeply collaborative nature of their work prompted us to want to go back and further explore their story and work. We also thought given the complexity of their process and the ever-presence of that lush indigo blue dye, we ought to make a short video that shows just how beautiful the process itself is and reveals Brook and Kirby’s deeply personal connection to it.

The unpredictability of their process brings an interesting tension into their work— in a way, it’s at odds with the attempt to create sellable items, as the outcome has the potential to be vastly different each and every time, and yet this inconstancy and mutability is exactly what keeps the pieces interesting. Without this element, I think their collections would run the risk of redundancy and potentially become dull and flat. Also, this ‘wild card’ aspect is what keeps Brook and Kirby inspired to continue experimenting with and honing their craft, contending with the challenges while still allowing for shifting nature of their work.

What is your training or experience in art or fashion?
Kirby: We both went to art school at CCA (California College of Art) in Oakland, CA.
Brook: My father went to CCA and studied painting, so art school was a bit of a family legacy for me.
Kirby: We actually did our undergrad work 10 years apart and met after college. I graduated with individualized major, blending studies in textiles, fashion, sculpture and graphic design. I use all of these techniques in my art. Some of my installation work was featured in the YBCA’s Bay Area Now 6 show back in 2011, when I was one half of the creative direction team called Rio Babe International, a conceptual branding project which explored the proliferation of design and new media in cultural connectedness.
Brook: I majored in film/video, which continues to inform my work. I’ve worked professionally for years as a fashion and vintage stylist, photographer, and as a merchandising consultant to several designers. My aesthetic draws upon modern art references and Bay Area cultural artifacts from the 60’s through the 90’s. I’m originally from Marin, and have a strong connection to the unique culture I was raised in. As a child, I felt a sense of whimsical relief surrounded by these really offbeat artists working with materials like rope, bread dough, leather… things that were not considered valid in the high-art world at the time. When I look back as an adult at how they used craft as this intensely committed form of expression to participate in a really unique local culture that they absolutely believed in, the kitsch falls away and I find a lot of inspiration there.

Can you tell us about your creative backgrounds and how you came to start Job & Boss?
Kirby: One of the most important things Brook and I have in common is that our mothers laid the groundwork for our creative pursuance throughout life. I was taught to sew by my own mother at a very young age and reared under the mentality that if you want something, you should make it yourself.
Brook: My mom was a textile artist from Marin who hand made kimonos and soft sculptures out of original textiles. She worked with raw silk and the same dyes that Kirby and I are using to create our line. She was a big influence and certainly a source of inspiration. In a way, I feel like I’m carrying forth a legacy from both of my parents – the training from my father, and the practice from my mother.
Kirby: We came to this project originally though experimenting with shibori dye techniques. We realized we could make something sellable and meaningful and dove right in to starting the business. We realized pretty quickly that we shared similar aesthetic and creative sensibilities, as well as an entrepreneurial drive and interest in branding.
Brook: I think what it comes down to is that Kirby and I compliment each other. We have creative harmony, but we also challenge each other. So there’s no complacency. We are always changing, building upon our last project to create something new for the next endeavor.

What materials do you work with?
Brook: Our first collections are made with indigo dyed canvas and locally sourced leather. Essentially indigo is our main material, and the processes that we incorporate— all the different folding techniques of shibori, maintaining the living dye vat, and the different fabrics all come together in unexpected ways every single time. It’s an incredible experience because though we are generally using the same materials, the outcome isn’t completely predictable. Our process feels volatile, dynamic, alive, and always a bit risky.
Kirby: In thinking ahead with new collections, we are looking forward to working with a variety of other materials including latex and dyeing with cochineal— a bright crimson-colored dye derived from an insect that lives on cacti. We discovered a source for this dye on our recent trip to Oaxaca City in Mexico, and are eager to experiment with it and see how we can possibly bring it into our work. Our next collection, which will debut at Capsule New York in February, will feature hand-woven, organic textiles that were designed in collaboration with a Oaxacan family that have been master weavers for generations.

How would you describe your individual aesthetic and how is it reflected in Job & Boss?
Brook: I am fascinated with art and culture of past decades. Rather than simply re-appropriating past aesthetics, I am interested in honoring authenticity while figuring out how to achieve the same truth within a contemporary context. The idea is to reach as many people as possible, feeling out the collective consciousness and understanding exactly when to drop the bomb.
Kirby: I am really attracted to flash. Colors, patterns, shiny things, I tend to want to go overboard with these. Working with Brook has taught me a lot about restraint; she definitely has a more refined aesthetic. If it were up to me alone, these bags would be made with neon green pony hair bottoms.
Brook: Ha. They almost were, but I think we’ll be dropping that bomb a little later. Neon green pony hair is undeniable.

The items you make seem to be both about creating beautiful objects and revealing a process— how do you hope people will respond to your collections?
Kirby: There are so many exciting textile techniques and processes that are under-utilized because of the amount of time and money that it takes to produce them. The pleasure in making our bags comes from experimenting with these processes and strategizing ways to bring these specialized textile techniques to market at an accessible price point. Aesthetics aside, the production process tells its own story; nowadays, anyone can do anything, we have so many resources at our disposal. The start of a good production story is made up of makeshift solutions, thinly stretched finances, the pooling of local and immediate resources, and help from friends. Eventually you find your groove and your operations become a bit more predictable. When you learn the production story of a brand, you develop an intimacy with it. You discover what’s possible and what seems totally absurd. I think our customers appreciate that our business runs off both.
Brook: We want people to own something that they can describe to others and that has depth and layers in its beauty and function. Our first collection showcases a traditional technique (shibori) that carries innumerable histories and associations. Through our production story, our customer is not only made aware of this traditional process, but they are shown how it can be revived it in a contemporary market. I think that as much as society is plummeting forward, old technologies and techniques hold more and more value everyday.

Do you each have specific responsibilities or is every aspect of the process shared?
Brook: Both. At this point it’s just the two of us, so every aspect of the business is in our hands. We collaborate on all creative aspects of the line, but we each have specific responsibilities. I do the creative direction, dyeing, photography, and marketing/communications, while Kirby does the sewing, patternmaking, financials and graphic design.

You recently traveled to southern Mexico to learn about textile production and processes– how has that experience informed your work and what other avenues of research and inspiration have you explored?
Kirby: We travelled to the state of Oaxaca and went to Oaxaca City, an area of Mexico where craft sales rule the local economy. Families work out of their homes focusing on a particular craft, with each family member engaged in some aspect of production or running of the business. Entire towns will specialize in one craft, whether it be weaving, woodcarving, or a distinct form of pottery. Some cities become giant markets showcasing traditional crafts from the surrounding regions; it can be hard to distinguish one vendor from another as they mostly follow certain cannons within their craft. It’s a system where creative concept is not often prioritized, as producing the craft is hard work that puts food on the table for the family. This is a system so unlike our own here in the U.S. where ideas and innovations are boundless yet the majority of production is either outsourced or performed on a mass scale, and the local hand-made goods that enter our market are often introduced at a high price point. Our goal is to participate in an emerging movement that enables artists to use local production by sharing sources, materials, and skills.
Brook: Even in Oaxaca, where everything has been done the same way for so long, we were able to meet individual craftspeople who were open to a new kind of collaboration with us. Raoul Cabra, a design professor from CCA, began a program several years ago called Oax-i-fornia in which students are invited to live in Oaxaca, collaborating with artisans to create innovative new products. This is how Kirby was first able to visit the region. Alfredo Hernandez Orozco, who wove the custom textiles for our new bag line, was an early participant in this program. As we worked together, he told us his story of how the collaboration process changed the way he viewed his life’s work. Suddenly, his craft was no longer a chore. He was able to think creatively and remove the boundaries that limited change. Similarly, Kirby and I were also transformed by the collaboration. It gave us parameters and a new production process created by expert hands that we never would have had access to in the United States. It was an incredibly positive experience for all of us that we intend to build upon in the future.

What are your biggest challenges and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the business aspect of Job & Boss?
Kirby: The biggest challenge for me so far has been strategizing a production method and schedule that will allow for us to uphold the quality of our product while producing larger quantities.
Brook: It’s definitely tough – we both still have day jobs. Navigating them with all the responsibilities of running a business and creating enough time to make one-of-a-kind, handcrafted items has been challenging and it’s hard to find a balance.
Kirby: Making a specialty product with an affordable price-point isn’t easy either, but that’s important to us, so we strive to find solutions everywhere we can. We are learning so much as we go— about business, partnership, creative risk, craftsmanship, and our own limits and capabilities.

What’s next for Job & Boss? Are there any new and upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Brook: We are currently working on three new lines— one is a subset of our indigo collection, but this time there is more of a focus on leather. The other collection incorporates hand painted patterning we developed in Oaxaca; we collaborated with a family of Ratullos (sign painters). The third is textile-based, specifically with the textiles that we had made in Oaxaca City by Alfredo. We worked so closely with him, collaborating and experimenting to come up with new designs and styles that we are really thrilled to introduce into the Job & Boss aesthetic. It was really a labor of love and we are amazed at the results.
Kirby: We are working on other collaborations as well. A Berkeley weaver named Jess Feury has been creating saori weavings with naturally dyed yarn exclusively for Job & Boss. Also with regards to the business, we are aiming to experiment with video marketing and are trying to expand our in-house production capabilities. We just got our hands on an amazing consew industrial sewing machine that will help us increase our output.

What are you most proud of?
Kirby: We created a viable business in a very short amount of time. We began experimenting together with indigo in September of 2011, and since then our line has grown to include retail accounts across the country. Things have moved surprisingly fast and we worked so hard to get here.
Brook: Going to another country with an idea and making that idea come to fruition. Collaborating everyday.

What advice has influenced you?
Brook: I have to say my good friend Jenny Witt has been a godsend. Among loads of valuable advice, she encouraged us to build an accessories line. Since we were financing this project ourselves, our initial idea of starting a full fashion line was a total pipe dream. She influenced us to try the “slow-build” approach. I can’t thank her enough. Her insight has given us the chance to have fun! Marie and Karen, the talented sisters behind Micaela Greg have given us so much advice and support over the last year. Not to mention hours of comedy. Those girls are the best! I feel really lucky to have met so many wonderful Bay Area designers. It’s incredible to be included in such accomplished company.

To find Job & Boss, go here:
Conifer, SF
Accident & Artifact, SF
Foggy Notion, SF
Gravel & Gold, SF
Esqueleto, Oakland
Band of Gold, Oakland
James Rowland Shop, Berkeley
Mary Meyer Clothing, NY

Online at:
BIG THINGS
JOB & BOSS

Coming Soon:
FREE PEOPLE
Beam and Anchor, Portland