Designer Kyle Mosholder: Full Circle

Kyle Mosholder is an artist.  An artist who expresses his artistic inclinations through the design and/or manufacturing of American-made goods.  He adheres to a regimented set of standards resulting in a high quality, durable product and is dedicated to sourcing his materials from within the United States.

Other than the occasional collaboration, Kyle is a one man operation.

His interest in crafts can be traced back to an age most of us may even have a hard time remembering.

After getting the opportunity to spend some time with Kyle at his studio in Greenpoint, his position today makes a little more sense.  Kyle’s curiosity in the arts led him to explore many different media and naturally, overtime, his focus narrowed and his skills sharpened. This notion of curiosity and exploration has guided him to one of his most fascinating creations yet: d’emploi.

Right now he is focusing on making bags and caps that are as highly functional as they are original.

Explore photos from a visit to Kyle Mosholder’s studio through photos by Nicholas Pattakos:

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Nicholas Pattakos:  Have you always been inclined to create?

Kyle Mosholder: Making things has always been paramount to who I am. I was comfortable with the sewing machine at a early age.  My first memories of sewing are,  I’d say, when I was six.  My nextdoor neighbor was my babysitter. She had a sewing machine in her basement.  I had some stuffed animals with big-ass holes in them that needed repairing.  Sometimes I’d sneak into her house through the backdoor so I could  sew. Sometimes, I got caught.

NP:  Do you feel there’s a correlation between your art background (drawing/sculpture) and the products you create?

KM: I went into college thinking I was going to become a painter.  That ended quickly. I stuck with drawing which eventually led to sculpture.  Making objects has to do with imitating things that already exist in the world. I started questioning how things were put together, wondering “How is this made?” or “What are the qualities of these welds?”  I  taught myself how to use a lot of different types of tools for different jobs.  It was a learning process – staring at the world and paying attention to how things were made so I could learn to make them myself with my own connotative statement.

As it turns out, building a box out of wood is really not all that different from building a bag out of fabric – you just figure out how the pieces fit together. It’s all part of the same creative process.

On the other hand, making a product is much different than making a piece of art.  Making a product involves ideas about longevity – not just making one but making a lot of them. How are you going to do it?  How much is it going to cost?  A product is so much more involved even in comparison to making an installation.  In making an installation there are details upon details that might take, say, eight months to complete, but you don’t have to think about how to make it again, and while you’re making it, you’re not thinking about making it a certain way so the next time it’s easier.

NP: How did you make the transition into fashion?

KM:  I don’t see what I do as “fashion.”  Fashion follows a predictable schedule, designing things ahead of schedule so you can coordinate the manufacturing. But by the time it hits the general public, it’s often over and old.  I am much more interested in function as an element. Function is timeless.

A few years ago I had a residency in upstate New York. My project was to finish a sculpture. I took all the materials for the sculpture with me,  but I also brought my sewing machine. At some point, I hit up some thrift shops in town and got some cool fabrics. I started making hip bags that go on your belt, which I traded for other artists’ paintings or other work.  Many said “Oh yeah, when I’m in the studio, I can use this,” or “When I’m in the shop I can use this; I always need something I can throw small things in while I’m working.”

Once I had a couple products I asked myself if I should I turn this into something.  I did.   I was making hip bags for more than two years and marketing it to the bike crowd in New York.

I continued  to make things that followed a utility- and function-based ethos as much as possible. For a while I was making bike-oriented stuff – the hip bag, top tube pads, a rucksack – things that bike shops were asking me to make. I was getting enough positive feedback that it made me think, Maybe I can make something out of this. Gradually I realized I wanted to focus on bags and that kind of gear.

I started d’emploi just by making tags with the name on the them. If I did sell a piece to someone or if I gave it to a friend or thrift shop, all the pieces would be connected by the label and not just out in the world as singular garment.

NP:  Primarily you’re focusing on making bags and hats.  Is there a different creative process involved with each?

KM: With the bags there’s more concept involved. There are some variations with hats, like shorter viser, longer viser, fitted or snap, variations of materials, but generally the function of the hat stays the same. I try to push the function further for both hats and bags by utilizing the wax canvas. It tends to be a heavier material than most makers would choose to use, but it makes them original with greater functionality. They have water repellency and durability. The bags are very solid, which has prompted me to get a heavier sewing machine. I was sewing with my old Singer which is a beautiful machine from the late 30’s, and now I’m sewing with a Juki which is 60’s-70’s era. All the bags are hand-made by me.

When I first arrived in New York, I worked as an apprentice at an architectural interior fabrication studio which mostly involved welding. After that, I worked in the arts which took me in a lot of different directions. My most recent job was working for a friend of mine who I used to work with at Jeff Koons’ studio. I worked for Jeff for three years as a welder. Jeff’s art is essentially manufactured. I learned that I didn’t want that distance from my work. I want to stay really close to what I design. I have a real problem giving that up. And even though it holds me back, I am reluctant to send things to be manufactured. I could’ve easily grown this business much larger then it is right now if I were willing to do that. Someone else would coordinate with a factory in China. I think that’s generally how businesses are dreamt up.  What I’m doing – it’s sort of secondary that it’s a business at all.

NP:  What then is your relationship to money? Does the fulfillment you get from the process of creating outweigh your monetary ambitions?

KM: I have something of a plan for growing the business that doesn’t necessarily relate to how much money I take in but more where I’d like to be in terms of my personal goals and capabilities. You can’t ignore money. You can’t run a business and not care about making money. I think the main way for me to do that is to develop my design, prototyping and consultation skills. For instance, I’m currently in production for another company called Hammarhead.  It’s a motorcycle company. They came to me wanting a bag that fit a couple criteria, but for the most part they came to me because of a lot of the materials I use already, that being wax canvas and leather. I designed a pattern for a bag, and they adapted the concept to the needs of their market. It came out, and the press blew up in a really nice way. It’s gratifying to be a part of a project that has really taken off.

NP:  You place a lot of emphasis on the idea that what you make is American made.

KM: For me it’s more about supporting an overall mindset than it is about supporting local economy.  To give an example, Ralph Lauren has been doing the Olympic costumes for a while now. This year people made a stink about whether or not those items were made domestically. Something like the Olympics is an extreme case of not representing your own country in an event that’s all about representing your own country. That right there shows you’re putting profits above these ideals. Personally, I and increasingly many others will support someone who is doing something like I’m doing before I will support someone who is outsourcing to make an equivalent product at a cheaper price. American made/domestically produced products seem to have become more popular which could possibly be a fad or trend. Emphasizing that my products are American made is a way to frame it so people understand what you’re doing – creating products that are not based on cost but on quality.

That’s what American made is coming to mean.

NP:  Who influences your work?

KM:  I definitely have people who inspire me, but not someone specific like a mentor or an individual I strive to be like.  I pay attention to what everyone else is doing,  but the majority of stuff I’m responding to has to do with what I don’t want to do. I’m like, OK… take a picture… don’t do that.

NP: What projects are you working on now?

KM:  A collaboration I’m working on with a friend.  It’s super-exciting because it allows me to step outside of what I usual do. His brand is called Dertbag.  We tie dye the fabrics together which is his design brand, but the bag design is something that I’ve been developing for the past few months. It switches up my usual materials. It’s canvas because only raw fabric will absorb the dye. But it will also have my signature – a wax canvas bottom panel that’ll be water resistant.

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Product photos by Liz Clayman.