Monday, November 29, 2010

Khader Humied of Metaform Studio

I decided to begin my series of interviews with an easy subject - designer/maker and green architect, Khader Humied, who also happens to be a longtime friend, whom I met when I was debuting my own eco-friendly products at the Design Show in Chicago.

Khader and his wife Chris Randolph started Metaform Studio in 2001, and quickly drew media attention for their clever handmade designs from reclaimed materials. For years they worked and lived in a large studio space an hour north of Manhattan, but recently they chose to move to a smaller space in Nyack, NY. Chris is an artist and full-time art therapist, and Khader has been working part-time for architectural firms, and teaching design at local schools. Khader continues to make Metaform products in between gigs.

Carl: Do you consider yourself an Indie Maker?

Khader: [laughs] Of course! I design and build things in my basement studio and sell them.

Carl: What criteria do you think defines an Indie Maker?

Khader: They have to invent and produce their products themselves, they have to be a small-ish kind of business - one to... several people, they need to have a unique way that they make things, different from what's available on the market. Do you want me to give an example?

Carl: Sure.

Khader: I mean, you could buy many mass-produced iPod cases, but if you go to Etsy you'll find many people who have made creative and personalized cases that reflect their regional style, ethnic background, or political orientation. It might be recycled, it might be native materials, or I don't know what, but that's the idea - that you make something that you really believe is important.

Carl: So, who qualifies as an Indie Maker, and who doesn't?

Khader: Umm...

Carl: Well you kinda said a bit of that, such as someone on Etsy making something that reflects their personality.

Khader: Yeah, something personal, something that challenges the status quo of making things. Being innovative, having a different take on how things are made, will make you more of a true indie maker.

Carl: Do you think that someone who designs something themself, and prototypes it themself, but then has production jobbed out to another shop, or a factory in another part of town, or another part of the country or the world, qualifies as an indie maker?

Khader: I guess if another part of the world, or another part of the country it doesn't qualify, but if you find a small shop nearby with one person, or just several people to work with, I don't see why that's a problem.

Carl: OK, let's go in a different direction - what do you like most about being a maker?

Khader: I like the independence, freedom, being connected to the making process, being connected to the customers, the store owners, being part of the design loop, where if there's a problem with the product, I can rectify it, and eventually improve my products by being close to the process. Because I'm the maker, I can easily keep coming up with new products, new takes on an idea, so it's not always the same product that I just milk to death (laughs). Since there's no tooling, no big equipment, no employees to train to make only one specific thing, I feel like I can always... if I'm bored or disinterested in a specific thing, or I feel it's reached it's maximum potential, I can move it in a new direction.

Carl: Now, I know that you know that I know what you make, but can I ask you to talk a bit about the things you've made, and are currently making and selling?

Khader: I've made lamps, sconces, nightlights, desks chairs, rocking chairs, bungee chairs, room dividers, tables, so I've been making a wide range of things, but lately I've been specializing in lighting.

Carl: What kind of things would you like to continue making?

Khader: more lamps more lights. Since we moved, I've scaled down my thinking - like my recent nightlight design - because a smaller studio seems to necessitate smaller products.

Carl: Well, what kind of things would you like to make if you had different equipment or even a different space?
Khader: More recycled pallet furniture. I still dream of having a setup where me and a bunch of people can produce furniture for the masses. It would be good to do something that really has social relevance, beyond just saving trees, and decorating people's homes.

Carl: What's some of the hardest parts of being an Indie Maker?

Khader: Sometimes the isolation, and being disconnected from a working group, not being able to meet peers and customers. The financial pressure of when you make sales, and when you don't. The uncertainty of if a product will succeed or fail. Always a challenge. I mean the flexibility is good, I don't have to go to a 9 to 5, I can make appointments, go get coffee, or whatever. But it's hard keeping focused. You know, there's the laundry, and the radio program you're listening to is really interesting, and all the websites you can look at!

Carl: What is most unaffordable to get as an Indie Maker - materials, services, space?

Khader: Space, a showroom is just unaffordable, and it'd be nice to have some of the fancy equipment like a lasercutter. Some tools are really expensive. Affording some workers would be nice (laughs). Advertising in old media, like papers or magazines is really expensive. The problem with that problem is that old media isn't going to be there much longer.

Carl: What turned out to be the easy or cheap things or services to get?

Khader: Reclaimed materials, shipping out light objects sometimes turns out to be amazingly cheap, and the website was really cheap.

Carl: OK, we have made it to - ta da! - the last question: What kind of things or services do you wish existed to help makers become self-sufficient?

Khader: More group community showrooms & exhibits, and group places where we can share equipment & space, and fancy technology that I can't afford, and inexpensive healthcare! Are you insured?

Carl: Do I have to answer that?

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