7 Apr 2017

Behind The Design | A Conversation with Jason Gregory of Makr




The Makr design studio, Winter Park, Florida

On our trip to Winter Park, Florida, back in June 2016, some really cool things happened; we bumped into a Zac + Azriel, a lovely couple from Nebraska who have been reading Buckets & Spades for as long as they can remember, and secondly, I got to visit the design studio + workshop of a brand I've been following since way before Instagram + Twitter even existed.

Around eight years ago I can remember stuffing my university research folder with grainy print-outs (my fault, not theirs!) of Florida-based design studio Makr's leather goods, for a project I was working on. On a boiling afternoon last Summer I found myself sitting in the passenger seat of Founder Jason Gregory's van, being shown around Winter Park, Fl, the town he calls home.

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Mat - First off, how did you get started with Makr, and has the concept and idea evolved over the years?

Jason Gregory of Mark - Makr started as an art project while I was working at an architecture firm. I was learning how to work with a CNC laser, experimenting with cutting and etching. It was a strange introduction to patterning and product development. I really loved the idea of cutting something flat and turning it into a three dimensional object. The precision of these machines and the ability to replicate a form without having to pay for tooling or dies really started the project. It was mostly small wallets at first and that led into finding factories and developing the soft goods.

I had always wanted a wood shop and was building furniture at my house so that was the next step after I had a sense of what Makr was starting to be. We are constantly evolving but the core of what we are doing has stayed the same.


- Did you always have a passion for craft or was it more of a case of discovering something you had found you were good at?

I’ve always made things and cared about the quality of what I was making. I would never call myself a craftsman, I am a designer first. The craft aspect of my work came after the design, it’s always been about the repetition or editions of objects. CNC (Computer Numerical Control) is crucial to our work, I would say almost every single product that we make is touched by some form of CNC machine. That being said, I don’t like it when something is so obviously made using a laser or milling machine, the goal – the art of it, is to blend the hand with the capabilities of the machine.







- Why did you decide to start up in Winter Park? We've been coming for a few years, after a friend recommend it as an alternative town from the more stereotypically side of Orlando.

I was born in Miami and raised in Orlando. When I came back from college I started working at a think tank/architecture firm. I didn’t intend to stay here but life just sort of happened. Our team is here and the network of fabricators and factories is too good to leave. Winter Park is a beautiful town, I walk to my studio every morning. Definitely just circumstance and not intention.

- In the world before social media, how did people initially discover your product? I came across you by chance, I remember Hollie had your site bookmarked while we're were studying.

Blogs were big at the time and I just happened to get on the good ones. The big push was best of GQ 2009, our Angle Wallet was featured and it kind of grew organically, albeit it rapidly, from there.

- Makr is obviously a very close-knit creative community, did it all just fall into place or has it taken you a while to get to the point where you're happy (Both in creatively and business).

It’s still falling into place. There have been many seasons of this company/project, it’s constantly changing and evolving. The physical space that we are in has changed so much as we’ve grown. I look back at photos and can remember the stage based on the way the space was oriented. I’ve always been happy with it, sometimes it’s more stressful than others. Employees go through things and that changes the work dynamic. It really feels more like a family than a business. One of our employees just adopted a baby so she is in the studio hanging out sometimes. It’s wonderful to see the personal development of everyone in and out of the studio.






- And the team, are they all local? Is there anyone else that helps make Makr tick, Local freelancers or design studios?

Yes, all local. The team is small, only 7 people. I’m the only designer and I handle a majority of the photography for the site as well. I design, pattern and prototype all of our products and then we have select fabricators and factories throughout Florida that help with production runs. Our site was built and maintained by a local firm that we work closely with. It’s a tight group of people working together on a wide array of projects.

- Tell us a little bit more about your products, and the meticulous details which go into each make. There's lots of hidden details that people may miss at first glance.

I feel like most of the work on our products is hidden, not sure if that’s good or bad. I spend a ton of time working out the details and removing stress points or construction issues. I don’t enjoy just designing another bag or wallet, it has to have some type of interesting construction method or accomplish a certain form in an unexpected way. A lot of what I do is design objects within the limitations/capabilities of our factories. The furniture pieces usually come from designing a piece for a particular build out. The Studio Work Stool is just that, a stool designed to be used in our studio. The Factory Stool was designed to be a fairly easy fabrication for a bar that was opening near us. Coming back around to the hidden details, when we built the Wood Factory Stool we intended for the cross members to be bent, the bend and the form made it very easy to make in water jet cut steel but extremely difficult in wood.

We took it as a challenge to figure out how to make this within the boundaries of our wood shop. We found that a flat cut finger joint worked well and made the compound curved joint quite strong. The dimension of the fingers and voids are the kerf of the bit we were using and the contouring is done by hand after it’s glued. There are so many examples across all of our products that rarely get noticed.

- What a lot of people might not realise is the design work you do away from the leather goods and accessories. Like the impressive shop-fit you did for the Black Bean Deli, in Orlando. Could you talk us though a bit about the process and some of your favourite projects?

I love design in general and find that the tools that I use in our product work very easily translate into other areas. Black Bean was really fun, the owner is one of my best friends and working with him was a great experience. My father is a contractor and this was the first job we worked on together. Our shop built out all of the interior fixtures as well as the exterior wooden walls and integrated planter/tables. The process is all the same for me. I treat interiors and architecture like large products and have been lucky that people want a lot of custom things. I don’t spec furniture or choose decorative things, it’s entirely about making new objects for a space. A lot of times the lessons learnt from fabricating a space get adopted into our product line.





- So what's your background? Was the plan always to start up your own company?

I’m a designer, always have been but maybe didn’t realise it very early. I was accepted into art school for photography. I thought I wanted to be a skateboard photographer but ended up shifting into design. I wanted to do something on my own for as long as I can remember. In high school I used to make up ridiculous skateboard companies and make shirts for them. Everything that I grew up loving has somehow made its way into Makr. As much as it is a company now, it’s still an extremely personal project.

- Do you ever get to travel much for work? I know food is a big deal to you, so with that in mind where would you like to go next?

I do travel a bit. Food and “collecting” restaurants is certainly a hobby. I often travel specifically to eat at a certain place. I’m really interested in Portuguese food right now and very simple seafood restaurants. Also, tinned fish bars. I’d say hopefully Portugal as a next major trip. I love Japanese food and have visited 3 times, would totally go back.

There is a restaurant in Peru called Central that I would really like to try. Definitely go back to Copenhagen. Vietnam is high on my list as well.

My favourite meal of last year was at a place called Estela in NYC. Ignacio Mattos is doing absolutely beautiful, confident and unique food. His use of citrus is unexpectedly masterful.

Top three meals, not that you asked for them, but here you go: Geranium, Copenhagen. La Guerrerense, Ensenada, Mexico. Estela, NYC.

- What's next for Makr, any exciting projects or products you can share with us?

I have been focusing on the architecture of canvas bags lately. Developing some interesting ways of constructing with heavy cotton duck. With an all canvas bag, you have to be creative with where things start and stop, material can build up quickly and when that happens all sorts of problems start to occur for the sewing machine operators. I’d like to have a show of the bags and display artwork based on the patterns. I really feel that if a pattern isn’t attractive itself, the built bag won’t be either, the elegance has to be present in both.

We are finishing up a store near us called “New General”. We designed the space and fabricated 80 percent of the fixtures. It will be the first outlet for our products in our town. They will have a cafĂ©, coffee window and retail space. I’m really pleased with how it’s turning out.

We are moving studios at the end of the year. I’m excited to get into a new space, I feel like it will be inspiring and will make me want to photograph the space more. We’ve been in here (our current studio) for so long that I can’t make myself take another photo of it. A lot of new stuff in the works.

- And finally, could you leave us with some advice or words you stick to?

Be as original as possible and truly care about what you do. Pay close attention to why you do things and figure out what is most important to you. I’m not really an advice guy, but I guess that would be it. 

To find out more about Makr + see their products visit here.

Thank you for reading,
Mat.

2 comments:

  1. Great post as usual mate, right up my street! I've been a fan of Makr for a good few years now so really cool to see inside their workshop.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is such a cool post! I really enjoyed reading about this designer, and I'm loving the workshop photos!

    http://roadesque.com
    http://ourruins.com

    ReplyDelete

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