"My dad is a builder and my mother an art teacher — it's fairly easy to see they had a profound influence on me."
Whether it's consciously rolling around in his brain, Jason Gregory of Makr is living by almost all 10 of Dieter Rams' principles of good design, but more than any of them, one seems to notice the tentpole principle of "Weniger, aber besser". Less, but better. That's what we see in all Makr products, be they wallets or work stools for the studio.
It doesn't take long, either, to really appreciate the way Jason and his Makr crew approach what they do. Anyone can buy leather or canvas and sew a bag together, but at it's core does that bag or wallet really solve any real world problems? Does whatever it is you're holding or carrying or sitting on really make your life easier or better? I think that's what really draws people to Makr. There is a thoughtfulness put into each product Makr creates, and at the absolute core of each one is the answer to the question of "would I use this and would it make my life easier and more enjoyable". It is always a resounding "yes".
There is also a hint of, dare I say, arrogance, to be found in the Makr line. Not an arrogance you see in a 43 year old ex-high school football player who still appoints himself all-time quarterback at all of your BBQs. You'll simply find a comfort and confidence that you can only gain from performing well at what it is you do. That kind of arrogance is found in a defined purpose and a clear success in that purpose. It's comforting to see alongside the flurry of fly-by-night craft-makers and producteers looking to just be the next big thing.
Instead, Grain & Gram is proud to present to you not the next big thing, but the next, and lasting, good thing: Jason Gregory of Makr Carry Goods.
I am the designer and founder of Makr, a multidisciplinary design and manufacturing firm. We create various products in many categories, most of which are in the accessories realm. We have also started moving into home goods as our project has grown. Basically, we make things that quietly accompany your every day.
We obviously don't only do leather! The initial stages of Makr as a project was to utilize one specific machine, a laser CAM. We produced small leather wallets because that material was what we found to be best manipulated by the laser-cutting process. Our love of leather grew in reverse, first process and then material. We used to adorn our pieces with etched graphics but the use of really beautiful leather has significantly reduced the amount of marking we are doing. We love all materials that translate our aesthetic into a physical object.
I was working at an Architecture firm and would stay late most days to work in the model shop. I was learning on my own how to turn 2-D materials into 3-D objects. I had been making things my entire life but building with wood and steel is a completely different design process than the manufacture of soft goods. Things folding and joining and turning aren't what makes the object — those are additive processes. The challenge of making something look good with very specific construction constraints was interesting to me. Beyond construction methods, I really gravitated to the idea of working at a smaller scale. I started to see that I was much more interested in designing small items rather than a large space as I was doing at my day job. It wasn't that it was easier; having a high level of control over each detail was liberating.
There is something to be learned from everything you make. There was no single standout project that made me feel a sense of validation. When you're trying to develop something innovative, your failures are as important as your successes.
Having the liberty to create absolutely anything you want is what every designer wants, but it's also quite daunting. To wrap my head around this, I created my own parameters to work within: the locality of production, the feel and texture of materials, the limitations of my factories — all of these things play into the vision of Makr.
At its essence, Makr is about creating beautiful and usable products given those limitations. For example, the idea of the Farm Series is that there are no zipper closures and only three materials: canvas, metal, and natural horse leather. For these pieces to succeed, the form must be well-proportioned and the the closing mechanisms must feel natural and usable, despite making use of a new closure paradigm. In this way, we're playing off our factories' strengths while reducing complexity — no liner, zipper, or custom hardware. The result is simple but structurally interesting bags that can be produced fairly easily.
Another example would be the hand-sewing of our wallets. We try to use only the essential amount of hand sewn stitches to yield the best product. Folds become boundaries where stitches might have been.
One of Rams' principles was that good design is as little design as possible. This is where I feel Jason excels in the highest. Makr products are continually simple: not in detail, thought, or quality; but in their essence, execution, and being. A limited number of folds, stitches, and elements makes them more approachable and useable.
We want to make our products as affordable as possible so by engineering labor costs into an object, we can design to a price point confidently.
Plants and nature, swimming in lakes and oceans. Travel is a huge inspiration, seeing how different people live really lets you step back and realize the little world that you live in is far from the only way to exist. Photographs, great food and drink, friends and family. The simple, beautiful things of life. People doing things that they really love, whatever that may be.
I was born in Miami but moved to Orlando at the age of 2. I have lived in Florida all of my life. My dad is a builder and my mother an Art teacher — it's fairly easy to see they had a profound influence on me. My dad helps us build our large scale projects, even to this day. They allowed me to be creative and gave me the confidence to do something outside of what most parents thought were "normal" jobs.
We have a division we call "Studio Goods", which were originally designed only for use in our studio, but they were so successful we decided to bring them to market. They play well with our production ethos: design something useful and have it made locally by people we know. We have wonderful friends that make things in various mediums. We wanted to design things for these friends to make. Beyond that, it's a design challenge that gets me away from my typical work. It's great to be able to express myself in a different medium.
Can I say a conscious evolution?
There was always a desire to have my own financially sustaining project, since a very young age. I'm talking middle school young. I never wanted to work for someone else and no one was doing the exact mix of what I wanted to do. I'm not particularly good at doing what people tell me to do and I really love figuring things out on my own. This all attributed to me starting up Makr. When I started I had absolutely no idea what I was doing so an evolution had to happen for the project to sustain.
(PART II continued below)
I don't love "it". I love the people I know here and think there is room for growth — a blank canvas to create whatever we want — as cliche as that phrase is. It's already happening: there are projects that are popping-up that are not only "Orlando good" but good in the global sense. All of our friends are doing wonderful things and we wouldn't feel good about abandoning them. There has to be a foundation to encourage other people to create something, a backbone to create a market for those projects. You can do things from anywhere, I wanted to prove that.
There are no real advantages other than cost of living and spaces. Our studio would be unattainable if it were in a large city. We have an incredible workspace in a really beautiful part of town.
A disadvantage (which I happen to still think of as an advantage) is that we aren't part of any scene. A magazine can't just pop by to see new work, we aren't making connections left and right like you would in a fashion haven. I feel like this creates stronger relationships with who we work with. We love all of the stores that carry our product and this is due to a sought out relationship.
The ability to turn a perceived disadvantage into an advantage is a quality that turns the mediocre and stale into something real and fantastic. The Makr line is a testament to that. The humbleness attained from knowing you're at a disadvantaged — perceived or real — will drive you to accomplish more than what is expected or thought attainable. Good design is honest and innovative. Challenges bring honest and innovative solutions to the forefront.
I love Spain, maybe I would live there.
I guess I do, I just want people to know that I really cared about design and the act of making. I care about my friends and want everyone to be happy and healthy doing things they love, so I hope people will one day remember that about me. It doesn't matter where you live or who you know but what you do and how hard you try. You can make and do anywhere in the world, people need to stop "scening-up" and just make things. Good design is so much more than fashion.
All of them.
Product ideas usually exist in my head for a long while before I put pen-to-paper. Once the sketches start, I repeatedly draw them and slowly start to see the construction. The sketching is more of a remembering than an actual rendering, just moving lines to solidify where things start and end. Once the general proportion and structure has been identified, I do a scale drawing in CAD followed by patterning in 3-D. Then I'll cut a proto, build, and repeat. The architecture of an object is the most important part followed by the selection of an appropriate material.
Get up, make some coffee, have a small breakfast, then walk over to the studio. Have a meeting on the chalkboard to see what we are doing for the day, a few emails, start designing or finalizing in some way. Deal with whatever questions are coming in, developing new things, add a post to our blog. Have some lunch, then keep-on with design and organization.
Just recently we have really fallen into "proper" roles — it really frees me up to do exactly what I want, which is design. We have a ton of new products coming out because of this.
Greater demand! We were in a few publications and the demand just kept growing. I would have people over to the garage to help around the holidays. Because we were so lean, we were able to save some money and get a space. After that, we just kept growing, adding friends to the team. Later we took over an additional space next door to our original studio. Now we're building up, adding lofts and storage in the areas above us. We are really lucky to have such a beautiful space to work in every day.
Sadly, way less. I've been trying to get back outside now that the weather is letting up. It seems as though in the last few weeks the fever of summer has broken. This makes me happy.
I think the core sensibilities have always been there but we are constantly evolving. As our skills and the skills of our manufacturing partners increase, we can get closer to what I have in my mind. Production quality and speed goes up, allowing us to try new and more difficult things. You can design all you want but if complicated ideas make an insanely expensive product, no one will buy it. Finding the balance is what's important to us.
I really love what I do, and because there are so many facets to the project, I very rarely get bored. I honestly enjoy getting up and working every single day so escape isn't a necessity. Recharging is easy; having a drink with friends, good food, travel, swimming, all of these things help to bring balance to my life.
I think the main factor was growing up in a place that felt cheap and thrown together. All of the spaces that I remember as a kid were just shitty. Strip malls, tract housing, chain stores, all of this made me wonder how we as a people arrived at this as a design solution. I wanted to do something that felt real, solid, and considered. You can make a really beautiful space that will last and still make a profit — all that's necessary is that you bother to actually think about how to make it possible. I can't stand "fake" in any capacity, and this distaste has driven me to make something real.
iPhone, Zip Wallet, keys with Key Fob. When I'm traveling I use the Flap Ruck or the Natural Fold Weekender. For studio to home carriage (I live walking distance from the studio) I use the Natural Farm Tote.
Anything that makes people happy with use is a success. We have some very lucrative items: the Farm Ruck, Angle Wallet and Bottle Key. Those really stand out in terms of quantity and all the press those pieces have gotten. Overall, I really like all of our products and wouldn't put them in to the world if I felt differently.
Absolutely! We have plans to start many different projects in the Food and Beverage industry. We want to design and build bars, cafes and restaurants for our friends to co-own and help maintain. We will be starting a small furniture collection as well, with the possibility of brick-and-mortar stores for our various goods.
Keep making things and treating people well.
444 West New England Avenue No. 102
Winter Park, FL 32789
Photographs & Video: JonPaul Douglass
Interview & Introduction by Aaron Martin and Danny Jones
Music by Tyson Bodiford & Hank Mays
Design by Danny Jones