The studio for Oil/Lumber’s handmade clothing and furniture is clean and simple–the equivalent of a basic white T done perfectly. It’s located in a giant converted warehouse, with offices, industrial sewing machines, massive cutting tables and a classic showroom existing effortlessly in one open space, with wood- and metalworking done in a cavernous shared basement.
But first, it all started at Fort Houston, back when the co-working hub was located in the May Hosiery building. When the creatives of Fort Houston were forced to move, Ethan Summers of Oil/Lumber set out with a few friends–Adam Gatchel of Southern Lights Electric, Luke Stockdale of Sideshow Side Co., and Bingham Barnes and Drew Binkley of silkscreen company Grand Palace–to find a new place to land. The warehouse, located near the fairgrounds, had no air conditioning, no interior walls, no big glass garage doors that allow light to spill in. But they saw potential, and what was once the practice facility for the Nashville Roller Derby (the floor is still stained with a ring from so many roller-skated laps) is now a co-working space for Oil/Lumber, New Hat and many others.
Summers is half Japanese and grew up making shibori, and many of his Oil/Lumber designs draw from items of his family’s heritage, such as a tiny, beautiful jacket he used to wear when he was five years old. The materials are natural, recycled, organic, and they go far: A beautifully cut jacket might be made of the same material that will be used to upholster a sofa. They’ve collaborated with Patagonia, Bar Otaku, and hotels like Noelle.
Oil/Lumber’s clothing and furniture are designed to exist and change with people over the years, and in the same way, the company’s studio has grown and changed with them.
How far do you think you’ll expand?
The plan is to always make everything here. Regardless, we would never outsource the manufacturing, and if we did, it probably wouldn’t be my company anymore.
With the mixed sense of a showroom and a workshop, this room feels a bit like a restaurant where the kitchen is open to the dining room, or like coffee shops with the bull pit at the center of the room. The work you do is really on display.
No one knows how stuff’s made. We say it’s handmade, but no one knows what that means. They see it as a buzzword sometimes. . . . The hard part is educating people who aren’t local. We sell most of our stuff online, and when people buy it, I’m like, ‘What do know about us?’ and they’re like, ‘I just like the jacket. I bought it.’ That’s great, but you need to know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
I do every button hole still. I do ever bar tack myself because it’s the last part. I kind of QC everything myself. There’s still levels of that we have to do.
How do you replicate this experience of being in this room?
We want to be as genuine as possible and make sure that they know we’re not playing the game, and that it still looks beautiful and looks cool. . . . Even if that’s made in China, Korea, wherever, someone’s hand-sewing that, and it’s kind of cool to know if it’s made by somebody.
And it’s got to be across the board. We claim to be as sustainable as we can be. We don’t claim to be 100 percent sustainable because I’m not 100 percent perfect. If I claim that, I will get called out. Whenever we get a decision [whether] we can make it sustainable, we usually choose yes. The only reason I wouldn’t is because we don’t know enough about it or we don’t have enough money to do it.
We’re trying to move the furniture into more direct-to-consumer, like the clothing. I have Ikea stuff, but some of it’s like, you can buy one thing that will last you 20 years, or buy one thing you buy every three years. We’re trying to educate people on, this is a solid hardwood table. A thousand dollars for materials is not crazy.
Our differentiator is that we do both. If you do one or the other, it’s not really that different. . . . All the things that make you weird as a kid are the creative things that you push away for the longest time, and if you end up doing it professionally, that’s the things that make you better. All the things that make us weird, spin it, use it as art, differentiate.