Interview with Designer Caesy Oney
Greg Cordeiro, our contributing Design editor on Juxtapoz.com, took a moment to ask a few questions to one of the most creative guys in the industry right now. Caesy Oney of Draught Dry Goods, Odd Fellow Co., and more, gives us some insight into his creativity, design approach, and motivation.
I had been teaching myself how to pattern and sew for a couple years after college before leather made its way into my studio. Just by the nature of its utility, it's an incredibly resilient material, and unlike most textiles and synthetics, truly becomes more beautiful with age. I obsessed over it until I identified an area of the industry that I could carve out for myself and a project like Draught Dry Goods.
You make every piece yourself and use a lot of hand-craft. How did you learn your processes? Is it in your family?
I am self-taught in every aspect of the business. With a new project as your only source of income, there's plenty of motivation to learn the craft and be efficient about time and materials. My late grandfather worked with leather in more of a rodeo/tack context, but I'm not great with horses, so I had to find my own path.
Being a native of Montana and moving to Portland, which is a pretty big change, has that had affect on your work?
I've moved back and forth between Montana and Portland for 10 years, so the most recent move back to Oregon didn't feel big, just necessary and timely. I needed to position myself back in a more urban environment, and Portland isn't particularly big, so it's a nice mix for me coming from a rural place like Montana. Furthermore, the amount of workspace I can afford here is astronomically greater than other cities I might be attracted to. Case in point, I run Draught out of a well-lit, 2700 sq. ft. loft with a private conference room and expansive views of the city at a price that would get me a broom closet in the shittiest neighborhoods of LA or NYC. Most of my best friends live here, and the quality of life here is amazing. Portland and Montana offer two very different things, both essential to my well-being and creativity.
What do you draw your biggest inspirations from, whether for Draught, Odd Fellow Company, or for Converse? Does your design process and thinking change when moving from brand to brand?
I would hope that my design process and way of thinking is always consistent. Each company operates in its own lane, supported by the brand ethos, the consumer, and the myriad of other parts and pieces that create a company and its unique point of view. That being said, I approach every project the same way, like a math problem that requires a beautiful and efficient solution filtered through my taste and abilities, and each company provides distinct parameters for projects. As a designer and maker, it's easy for me to identify the common threads between things that I make to support this claim, but I'm very mindful of the differences as well. To be completely honest, I don't know anything about math, so that might be a silly analogy.
Each season for (Draught in particular) you tend to have a theme throughout your work that really carries a great story, i.e. Pleasure Permanent, When it Rains it Pours, or use of specific materials together. How do you land on your seasonal story that carries across your range of products?
I find it easier to design against a story or general desire, which is why I choose a theme to support a collection. I put up guardrails that allow me to formulate how a photo shoot might look, or generate graphic assets that can be pulled down into product, and hopefully interpret the story through product and how it's presented. This also allows a collection to be a bookmark in my career, or in my own personal story. The idea of Maximum Pleasure and Permanent Vacation evolved from a personal credo to the mission statement of Draught, and kept shifting until it became my core branding element with the woven labels and foil stamps. Pretty soon it'll be the only branding for Draught Dry Goods all together. I just realized with this most recent collection that the word Draught isn't anywhere but the hang tag. I like it this way better. Whatever my original intentions, these very simple ideas are the cornerstones for all things that I do in my life. It's an attitude, and is accessible to anybody. Everything I do is aimed at pleasure and vacation.
You’ve got a lot going on and I would say you are just as much of an entrepreneur as you are a designer, which I think a lot of modern designers are required to be. Not only must you be a great designer, you have to sell your work, merchandise the pieces, market them, and have a general understanding of manufacturing and finance. What have been your biggest challenges with this multi-faceted discipline? What came the easiest? Would you change anything about how you’ve work with any of your businesses.
I've got a lot going on because I have a busy mind and it works better for me to have several projects to push ideas through. Draught is like a living organism that grows with me, and will always be this weird project presenting offbeat ideas and objects. I'm trying to position OFC to be more conventional and pared down in its executions. The biggest challenge is always available resources. That being said, if I had endless cash flow behind each of my projects, I wouldn't be afforded all of the work that could only come out of limited resources. The easiest part of doing this for a living is having good ideas and being a student of design. I have such a deep and profound love for making things, that ideas and designs are plentiful and most of my time is spent figuring out how to thoughtfully approach or articulate each one.
If I could change anything, I'd have enough money in the bank to staff up, and be delegating the parts of the job that I would rather not bother with. I do love the entrepreneurial side of running a business and all of different hats you have to wear, but there are only so many hours in a day, and I'd rather spend all of my time designing and traveling.
What was your biggest break through that helped get you to where you are now?
There must have been a moment when my ability to take a idea from my head and articulate it with my hands felt completely uninhibited, like there were no road blocks whatsoever. I would contribute that experience to just being an eager student of design, art and fashion, and most importantly production. I worked hard to develop a holistic approach to design, which required that I be fluent in every aspect of it, from concept to finished product to how it is presented and defended.
Your leather goods are beautiful and clean and you seem to introduce a new type of product along side them each season with Draught. What have you got coming down the pipe that you are stoked about?
The new collection will focus on imagery and figures from Memphis hip-hop in the early 90s. I selected a handful of key artists to focus on, including Tommy Wright III, DJ Zirk, La Chat, and Project Pat, and I have loosely confirmed interviews with each of them, respectively. My approach to the project feels anthropologic given that I haven't actually been to Tennessee, and culturally speaking, I grew up in a small town in Montana, which might as well be on the other side of the world from North Memphis. I'm obviously a big fan of the music, but I'm also fascinated by this small movement in particular given the lasting impact it had on the genre, and that the production and subject matter is so unique to that region. It was also pre-internet, which makes researching the topic surprisingly difficult. Most importantly, I'm interested in identifying intersections between this small movement and any creative practice. I hope to talk about that through artwork and product in the collection. The work will be somewhat of an homage, but mostly just a broad and fluid concept projected through the lens of Draught which is always a little weird in general. For instance, each key figure will get a handmade flag and jacket in the collection, and the artwork and copy will be pulled down into other objects. My dream would be to fly out to Memphis this year and shoot portraits of the artists and the places that produced that sound.
I will also be introducing new bag silhouettes and elevating presentation/execution of existing pieces for the sixth collection. I designed a couple of new bags with intentions of fully producing them outside of my workshop in the same factory we make our jackets here in Portland. Since my business partner owns the factory, I've been working closely with him on the factory floor to comfortably expand its making capabilities. It will be a milestone for me personally given that I rarely produce anything outside of my workshop, and should hopefully offset the price and inaccessibility of some of the more complicated and expensive offerings.
What is your favorite piece you have done and why?
My leather backpacks. I think they are simple and beautiful.
You’ve been in the game for a little bit now. Who is your favorite living/non living designer or line of work? Do you have any up and comers on the scene that you think have a chance of really making some noise?
I love Common Projects and how they have positioned themselves in the market. It's very sophisticated and I admire that. 69 out of LA is making the most interesting and strange work, and I admire that as well.