Pearls used to be exclusively bastions of grandmotherly heirloom style and…
Edit, 19 September 2014: See our addendum to this interview.
D.so: How did you begin making your products, and what gave you the idea to sell them?
Contrapaul: For years I’ve really enjoyed trying to make things that look professional. Something about checking a mental “I can do this” box has proven a great motivator, and I love swapping out my own creations for products I already had or needed. I bought a sewing machine to alter some clothes, and after getting the hang of it, wanted to try and make some things I could use. My first project was a jacket, and then another, and I had a few people ask about buying some of my early works. I suppose that was the first time I’d thought about making anything to sell. I made a bunch of painted shirts as a tutorial and production test, and sold them all on Reddit, as the first ‘Contrapaul’ products. Their success solidified an idea to try and create a few different things and offer them for sale, more as a personal challenge than any sort of business idea.
Q. T. PIES. (and a rad backpack) via Contrapaul Instagram
D.so: In your ‘about me’ section, you say you’ve always had a project. What have been some past projects? What direction would you like to go in in the future?
Contrapaul: I’m great at taking on too many projects. I can’t really recall a point in the last few years when I actually didn’t have at least something in progress, probably because I’ve already thought of new things to do before the last thing is finished. I’m wrapping up a coffee table right now, and just finished rebuilding my PC. In June I built myself a platform bed, painted some pictures for my apartment, started up a podcast series, and modified some of my existing furniture to serve new roles. In May I built my girlfriend a coffee table and some hardwood wall hook pieces, created marketing materials for a large company event, and made some short movies to learn Adobe Premiere.
I’m loving working with home furnishings, and have casually worked on them for ages. I’d love to create some wooden pieces, possibly things like lamps and decor. I’m also looking to expand my work with leather, and do more with synthetic fabrics.
If you like it, put a ring coffee table on it, via Contrapaul Instagram
D.so: What do you draw inspiration from?
Contrapaul: Brands like Makr, Topo Designs, Killspencer, Archival Clothing, Acronym, Herschel, Everlane, APC, Rogue Territory, Undercover, and Duluth Pack have all inspired something, whether it was a full bag, or just a small component. Several of these are brands that I’d love to have, but keep thinking “if I work at it, I can just make my own version”.
I think that once something is created however, my experience with it, and feedback from others, has proven as big an inspiration. I use my own creations constantly. Other than specially requested one-off pieces, I can’t say that I’ve sold anything that I haven’t worn, or carried, and that experience has been fantastic for knowing what to change or leave the same.
D.so: How do you learn new techniques?
Contrapaul: I feel really lucky to live in a time when I have access to a huge amount of tutorial content online. There are loads of things I’ve gotten quick answers to online, and many many more that I’ve figured out by studying pictures. Early on especially, when I really didn’t know quite what I was doing, I’d open tons of tabs with pictures of bags, or wallets, or anything I wanted to try and make, and work out exactly how they were assembled. The biggest hurdle early on was figuring out the order to assemble parts, and it took a lot of practice and patience to remedy that. With new designs I usually sketch the parts on graph paper, or on a grid on my PC, and have had to work to pare down parts and unnecessary complexity. Some techniques I’ve “learned” while driving on the highway, as a result of being mostly free of the distractions that prohibit lengthy thoughts.
Practice is the most important and powerful tool I’ve used though. Zippers were hard, then I assembled about 40 pack bags in a weekend, and zippers became easy. It’s amazing what repetition does.
D.so: Are there things you’ve tried to make that just haven’t come together well? What about things that are essentially prohibitive in terms of the time involved?
Contrapaul: I believe it’s better to make lots of mistakes and learn quickly than to worry too much about getting everything right every time. I’ve created plenty of things which turned out poorly, if I even finished them. My first bunch of bags were learning tools, and those of course didn’t turn out as well as I hoped. My first batch of dopp kits, half my prototypes, and several of my leather wallets haven’t turned out like I wanted. I finish most of them though, they usually still end up useful, and the practice is good.
Early on everything was time prohibitive. Because I was learning and making at the same time, with lousy tools, some of my first bags took nearly a week to complete. My Spring 2014 daypacks are the most efficient, fully featured bags I’ve sold, but they’re still not a time effective product. The issues with them come down to finishing them- stitching the front and back to the sides, and binding the edges. Up until that point everything goes pretty quick, but all of a sudden lots of pins are required, mistakes become easy to make, and stitching the seams can be annoying.
D.so: You say that each product you sell fuels the creation of the next product. Are you making profit? What motivates you?
Contrapaul: Yes, and no. I am making profit, but it’s taken time to get to this point. My materials cost more than I’d like, but I’ve been able to buy bigger amounts, and better quality pieces with revenue from sales. For example, the leather I’ve been using for tote handles comes from a $108 double shoulder. I wouldn’t have been able to put that kind of money into a component on a hobby level, or without sales. I also mean that the sales motivate me to do more and better things, with the products that sell, but also on future pieces.
I get satisfaction out of finishing new and challenging projects, learning new things, and making other people happy with my work. Honestly, when I’m making things, I hit points all the time where I can’t help but think “this looks awesome”, which in turn feels awesome.
D.so: Tell us more about your recent collaboration. What brands are your dream collaboration?
Contrapaul: I’ve known the owner of Billionaire’s Apparel since before he created the brand, and had given him some marketing advice after getting things running. He reached out to me at the start of the year, and we worked up some designs for a 9 bag run. Billionaire’s is an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) culture centered brand, with shirts being their primary offering. The collaboration with Drew was a cool chance to work with colors I hadn’t, and get some exposure from a very different audience.
I’d love to do other limited collaborations with other small-scale producers, and have been kicking around ideas with Jesse of Guarded Goods for too long. The idea of working with Farmtown Denim, W.H. Earl, or another small operation is just very appealing. I’m not sure who I’d want to do a large collaboration with, if anyone. I mostly like the idea of combining two related but different mediums, and creating a cool hybrid product, as opposed to merely a special colorway of an existing product.
D.so: What made you decide to release spring 2014 offerings instead of posting things as they finished or taking custom order?
Contrapaul: After releasing my final 2013 backpack revision, all of my offerings were customizable. I love making special pieces for people, but it can be time consuming. The 2013 backpack was still pretty inefficient to create, and I got pretty bogged down with orders. After working to make my Spring stuff much more efficient to create, I wanted to see how things would fair if I pre-made products. It’s also much faster to create multiple products together, while one custom piece at a time was a slow venture.
Prototypes & Custom Orders via Contrapaul Instagram
D.so: What can we expect for Fall 2014?
Contrapaul: I’m faster now than I was last Fall, and have streamlined much of the assembly process, and customization options will be back. I’m wrapping up the details on a hybrid tote-backpack, a messenger, and a weekender. I’m aiming to offer some lunchbags, laptop or tablet cases, and other small bags as well. I’m also working with suede and leather for new and existing items. Finally, I do plan to release some wood and decor items. When I launched the site one of my ideas was to be able to offer anything I make, not just one type of thing.
D.so: If you could pick dressed.so users to ‘advertise’ your products in their fits, who would you pick?
Contrapaul: Without going back to the beginning of D.so, an incomplete list would feature flowen, veroz, mushroomstew, _beacon, bhoka, thomaspaine, AlGoreVidalSassoon, dynamite, sister-wendigo, umbreyonce, Seth83292, Julianos94, dog_shelter, fuiste, and chillj. While the colors and designs I’ve used work towards specific aesthetics, I get bored doing the same thing too long, and several of these people make me want to create some different things.
Now featured on Bhoka’s wishlist.. via Contrapaul Shop
Left: Beeswax – used for waxing canvas to make them waterproof
Center: Waxed Nylon Thread – waxed threads are used for hand-sewing leather goods. The wax coating makes the thread glide through the leather easier.
Right: Natural Leather Hides – real leather cow hides sold per square foot.
Left: Rotating Leather Hole Punch – easily punch holes through leather.
Different hole sizes in one tool.
Center: Singer Heavy Duty Sewing Machine – fancy/expensive but will take abuse.
Right: Brother Sewing Machine – affordable, basic machines for newbies.
Left: Rotary cutter – cuts fabrics and thin leathers.
Center: Cutting mat – protect your work surface with a cutting mat.
‘Self-Healing’ means no gouges from the rotary cutter.
Right: Leather stitching needles – large and heavy duty needles for
hand stitched leather craft.