Introducing The Commons
The Commons is a design team focused on creating modern craft objects that enrich the lives of both the user and the maker. The Commons co-owners Erin Reitz and Kerry Clark Speake have over 40 combined years in the fashion and design industry and in 2013, they launched The Commons as a destination to feature their own designs including glass, ceramics and wood objects as well as a curated selection of American made goods for the home.
This Spring, The Hudson Company reached out to our friend and The Commons co-founder Erin Reitz to discuss her professional journey, design process, inspiration, and the hypnotic calm of her adopted home, Charleston, SC.
THC: Can you briefly describe your professional background and journey?
ER: I began my career in the fashion industry, way back in 2001. I was an intern at Nanette Lepore and that's where I really fell in love with design. I was enchanted by the way the design team collaborated and then produced the clothing right there in NYC. After that, I designed for many companies in NYC and on the West coast. Unfortunately, during that same time, I was seeing more and more production and sampling processes moved overseas. I got to the point where I was traveling to Asia four times a year to review prototypes and check in on production, and I started to see some things that didn’t sit well with my moral compass.
THC: So, what then?
ER: So, I left the fashion industry and decided to start The Commons with my business partner Kerry Clark Speake. Our goal was simple (in theory): we wanted to sell hand crafted goods made right here in America.
After a year of opening The Commons shop, I realized that I missed the design process very much. So, I connected with STARworks NC, a non-profit in NC aiming to rebuild it’s town economy through the production of craft. We designed a line of glassware and ceramics called The Shelter Collection which is solely produced at STARworks. It's a great partnership and we are still trying to refine our business model so we can scale up the production of craft so that we can hire new artisans and bring in new designers to the non-profit. I am very inspired by the notion of scaling up craft and designing goods that will be produced by the talented artisans who live in our local communities.
THC: Speaking of your local community, How did you end up in Charleston of all places?
ER: Yeah, so, about four years ago, I came to visit my brother who lives here in Charleston and then...I just never left. My original plan was to move from Seattle back to NYC and, at the time, I was so excited to be back in New York. But then came here and experienced the calm of Charleston.
There is an incredibly inspiring and supportive creative community here in Charleston. At first, I was really surprised about that. The city’s creative energy revolves around the food world, but there is also a wealth of artisans, designers, photographers, and small business owners that really look out for each other.
When I came here and experienced this artistic community first hand, I decided this had to be my new home.
THC: What's something you would you say you're trying to achieve with the commons?
ER: At The Commons we are trying to represent what is new in American craftsmanship; we act as a kind of curator of the beautiful wares being made here in this country. We do have a sort of Scandinavian and Japanese-inspired aesthetic but our products are uniquely American. We are striving to achieve a model that promotes the scaling up of craft, a sustainable business model that can give artisans a platform for consistent work.
THC: Looking ahead 5 - 10 years, what dreams do you have for The Commons and yourself as a creative entrepreneur?
ER: We have really started to focus on our work as a design studio. I would love to grow our design business, both for The Commons as well as designs for private labels / other companies. We want to be designers who design beautiful, functional, modern products that are produced by American artisans. I see this as a slow growing, but sustainable business objective and we really look to Alabama Chanin as the leader in this regard. With The Commons, we hope to emulate and build upon what she started so many years ago.
This is a really exciting time for American craft, and I am excited to be a part of that. It is an essential part of our culture and heritage that should be protected, celebrated, and nurtured.
Learn more about The Commons at their official site. Or visit their showroom next time you're in Charleston: inside the Fritz Porter Design Collective, 701 East Bay Street, Suite 106, Charleston, SC 29403.