Early Attempts

January 17th, 2016

There’s an expanse between a craftsperson making beautiful work and the demands and pace of a global fashion market. Carla and I have walked through that expanse. I think it’s called the valley of the shadow of death.

Sooooo……….
I had been captivated. This idea that I could start partnering and working with these guys, my translators from way up in the highlands. I thought, we could make work together, and I have access to markets they don’t, and hopefully we can create a steady income. So I went and silk screened ten yards of fabric, brought them to my tailor friend, and we went over the pattern of the shirt to be sewn. I was about to learn about garment production, and basically all production the hard way, through day to day experience.

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After reviewing the pattern or the shirt, the quantity of fabric I supplied, and the cost of such work, my tailor/translator friend agreed that I would return in a week, and pick up 5 shirts. The week came and went, I drove up to the village and found my tailor/translator friend. My fabric was still rolled up, not even touched. We chatted, and I asked what happened. Well, there are a lot of responsibilities that this man had; farming, family and duties to his neighbors and community. OK, no worries. I’ll come back in a week. I did. Same result. This went on for four weeks. I finally came to realize, that if I wanted this done, I would need to pre purchase the shirts. My eyes were opened even more. This tailor/farmer lived so close to the edge of poverty that he could not afford to spend time on my shirts with only the promise that I would come back and purchase them. (It made me wonder how many times things like this had happened). I prepaid for the shirts, and hoped to return in a week, and collect the goods. To this day, I still think my fabric might be somewhere in the highlands surrounding Lake Atitlan, rolled up, and waiting.

But I was determined. This was my calling. In the meantime, I had been busy. I fell in love, got engaged, and was talking with a dozen craftspeople throughout Guatemala. My wife, Carla, decided to join me on this adventure. We started designing products together, and run around Guatemala finding individuals or co-ops who could produce the goods. It was during one of these trips that we were walking through an artist market in Antigua, and I spotted a pair of shoes that struck my curiosity.

Shoes!

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Well, it would be a while before we became an exclusive footwear producer. We were still dabbling with a few products. Ceramic pottery, we were calling “Potheads”, scarves and textiles produced with organic cotton and natural dyes, jewelry made from seeds and stones, and shoes. My wife and I moved to NYC to be close to her mother who had just lost her husband(Carla just loosing her father). While in NYC, we brought all our goods to a little market a friend of a friend was starting. The market was called “The Brooklyn Flea”. This market really kick started our business.

At the Brooklyn Flea, we sold and sold products. But what got all the attention were the shoes. This was a unique idea, and attracted the attention of buyers who frequented the market. We were approached by a Japanese company. They asked if I could make fifty pairs of a boot I made. Sure I said, not realizing what that actually meant. I was using vintage and antique huipil in the shoes, and some of these weaving techniques had been forgotten or lost over the past thirty years or so. With that order, we went to Guatemala, and started searching for a weaver who had knowledge about this particular technique. We also got an uncle involved.

I hope with these entries, to be completely honest and transparent, and share the journey of Osborn. We entered the fashion market, and were kinda side swiped. Not knowing the industry, we felt intimidated, despite our accolades and success. It made for uneasy times and a struggle to know ourselves. With these blog entries I hope to share our story, so you the reader and consumer can know exactly who we are and what we do, what we believe in and what we hope to do with our projects. At the heart of our work is love for communities who find themselves struggling socio-economically.

Hurricane Katrina

January 6th, 2016

Hurricane Katrina hit Guatemala hard. I mean hard.
There were whole towns that were covered in a mudslide over night. Whole towns.

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When we first heard the news that Hurricane Katrina was headed our way, we started stocking up on basic supplies, bottled water, beans and rice. Then when Hurricane Katrina came and went, we started getting donations in of bottled water, beans and rice, along with mattresses. My pop and I started to take these provisions and go “up stream” from us, because in the mountains of Guatemala, you are always near a stream or river.

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We would take a day, load up as much water, beans and rice as we could carry in our little pick up truck, and just about literally drive up along the river til we encountered a small town. They usually had been hit hard. The town organized itself immediately, with no central government stepping in. This was a community, and a strong one. There were usually about three people over seeing the whole aide operation, and then one guy who was overseeing the whole thing, kind of like a mayor. We would spend the afternoon, taking stock of needs, helping anyway we could. Then the “mayor” would tell us of another village up the way who also needed help.

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In this manner we bumped our way up into the highlands surrounding Lake Attitlan. Over the course of a week, we also got hooked up with some doctors who were working in a fashion similar to the Doctors Without Borders. As the water supply was all mixed up with the sewage and family’s homes were destroyed, it was necessary to provide health checks to keep and bacteria and infection at bay. As one gets higher into the highlands, and more remote, everyday Spanish is spoken less. Guatemala has over 27 dialects. I soon was appropriated to translate for doctors. And then I needed to get a translator myself. We would work all day, talking with people, hearing their stories, and assessing needs, resources and possible solutions.

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It was during our lunch breaks that I was able to get to know my translator better. Usually a man from the village.And as always, he was a farmer and a weaver/tailor/shoe maker. In talking with these guys, I came to realize something. I seemed to get the sense that they were happy for the aide, but what was really needed was work, a job, access to a market place, a steady little income that could provide so much.

The roots of small shrubs, grasses and trees dig into the soil. They weave and plunge in search of water. This act, so I hear, is a part of the system that helps stabilize the soil and the mountain sides that are prone to mudslide. Part of the problem in Guatemala is that mono culture has established itself throughout the country side, weakening the system of roots, and varied plants that compliment each other and help secure the soil into a stable surface which to build a community on.

It occurred to me, this is what we can do. I can try and work with this gentleman and their families, to try and produce a small steady source of income. I saw it. It would create this network of producers and makers, strengthening the bonds of community and securing a foundation on which to build a safe and stable home.

That was my dream. And still is.
This was the inspiration for Osborn Shoes.

I didn’t know we would be making shoes at that moment.

More to come.

Back to Basics

November 17th, 2015

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It’s been an amazing and incredible project, this Osborn thingy. As Carla and I are in a period of our lives where we are reflecting a lot more, I would like to take time each day, and simply recount our story, as best I can remember. In doing this, I hope to keep alive the spirit of why we started this thing in the first place.

We did not start to be a fashion brand, or a footwear brand. We started as an extension of my non-profit work going on in Guatemala.

I first visited Guatemala in 2000 to see what my father was up to. He had moved there in the late 90’s. I had just graduated from RISD. Our relationship was a fun one, but one that was distant. I felt I wanted to not be so distant. Those first two weeks really took my breath away. I ended up moving to Guatemala in 2002. I moved right into the older boys dorm, and began working in the Orphanage. There was a lot to be done. This was one of Guatemala’s fastest growing Orphanages. I worked construction, design on new buildings, then helped in taking care of the six to eight year olds, and eventually started an arts program in the new school we had just build.

In the art program, I taught the students how to mix color, how to do blind contour drawings, and how to make silk screens and print with them. Once we unleashed the power of silk screening, the students creativity and self confidence exploded. We designed and made T-Shirts for the orphanage. The students could not believe that others would want to wear their designs and shirts they made. At first their doubt and questioning turned into a deep self confidence and realization that they had real value in the world They were amazing, and they had power.

I loved seeing this. I loved seeing the students play with design and drawing; playing with color. For the two hours we had in our class room at the end of a day, my students were able to freely explore, create, and think in a safe and creative environment. I loved seeing students bring in every article of clothing they owned, and silk screening all over it.

We then started to sell the T-Shirts to visitors and volunteers of the orphanage. The shirts became very popular. We were able to pay for our materials for the art class, and to squirrel away some money for the students. See, I was watching the kids grow up in the orphanage. And although they were clothed, fed and educated, there was a gap. They were “graduating” from the orphanage without any money or savings, and some without a real skill that would help them get a job in the very very sparse economy of Guatemala. The idea that we could teach art, create beautiful objects and clothing and help support the kids with creating a savings account for them was amazing. (This idea, is actually what I am currently pursuing besides making shoes!) This art class, and selling the T-Shirts started tumbling in my brain a lot. There was a seed of something here, that I wanted to cultivate.

It was right after Hurricane Katrina hit Guatemala. Running aid with my pops and translating for some doctors up in the highlands, I decided to make take some action.

Stay tuned for my continued ramblings on how we came to start Osborn, and where we are now, an where we are headed.

Moonset Flats

September 29th, 2015

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Right now I’m really in love with our Moonset Flats, as Carla calls them. And so she should. These little puppies are tied into the earth, through craft and care. They are of the earth, but fly high above it, giving us something to marvel at while we walk through this life.

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The moonset flats are handcrafted shoes made from foot-loomed woven cotton. This textile is designed by Carla and myself and produced ethically in Guatemala by artisan weavers. The shoes are lined with leather, and have a natural vegetable tanned sole.

Foot Looms

September 28th, 2015

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Just wanted to share this image again. One of our weaver’s set up.

Besides the steep hills of Guatemalan Highlands, the brisk weather, and more than compassionate and generous people, I am continually inspired by the Guatemalan’s gift for ingenuity and getting a project complete, no matter the obstacle.

Keep it working. Keep it beautiful.

Late Summer Stock

August 24th, 2015

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It’s getting to be late summer, and we are loving these lazy hot humid days. All the grass and plants are over grown, and it’s a beautiful place to be.

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We have worked hard to bring some new styles. Working exclusively with one of Napa Valley’s oldest tanneries, we have selected some beautiful understated suede colors. Perfect for these latter days of summer.

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These styles will help us transition into the early autumn. Our flats are a gracefully rugged. Simple. Our chukka boots are ruggedly graceful. Yep.

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Much Love.
www.shoposborn.com

Cinder Cone Wonder

June 9th, 2015

Some Nice Art

June 1st, 2015

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“Artist Michael Zelehoski finds discarded wood objects, deconstructs them, and puzzles sections back together to create 2-dimensional representations of themselves… that look 3-dimensional. Explaining these anti-sculptures, on view now at Mike Weiss Gallery in New York, feels like debating a paradox, but the works themselves are effortlessly beautiful to view.” – David Behringer of Design Milk.

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I would have to agree. I look forward to viewing the physical work at Mike Weiss Gallery.

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The Last Supper

New Styles In! Summer is coming!

May 15th, 2015

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A new batch of ladies shoes just came in, a few new styles with handwoven and custom textiles and also some “classic collection” stock that we usually always try and carry (like the restocked greyci oxford!)

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Check them all out online HERE

We will be back in touch when another shipment arrives in the next few weeks + MEN’s & VEGAN options.

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Some nice love…

May 8th, 2015

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Marie Claire has named us one of the top 21 Ethical Fashion brands to pay attention to. Thanks for the love Marie Claire!

In doing this little brand of ours, we have experienced a roller coaster of emotions and a series of successes and set backs. Such is the life of an entrepreneur. But we have come to love the struggle. This is our life’s work, and we dedicate ourselves to making beautiful quality small batch high craft footwear. This high five from Marie Claire feels nice.