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Interview: Refashioning Conscious Consumerism

September 27th, 2016 03:16 PM
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with Mary L Chan
Founder of Bartleby Objects


"I privilege design over trends, a long-lasting material, and flexibility in style... I want my brand to encourage conscious consumerism and an engagement with contemporary culture..."



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What is your background

I’m formally trained in interior and furniture design; Bartleby Objects grew out of the interior design practice I established in 2006, called Studio Bartleby.  Through the years, I developed skills in leatherwork and textiles which are drawn upon in the hand-crafting of my products.  

I’m originally from Malaysia, raised in Hong Kong and Singapore.  I studied English Literature in Scotland and New York, and only after college did I go back to Parsons for an interior design degree. 


What inspired you to start this project?

It grew somewhat organically from my interior design practice, where I specialized in custom furniture and textiles for our clients.  Studio Bartleby focused on private client work for almost 10 years but I always wanted to make work that was more representative of my own design perspective, less tied to the needs of our clients.  And then, sadly, my mother passed away a few years ago; I, quite frankly, had a very hard time maintaining the high level of emotional investment that I need to fully collaborate with clients.  Simultaneously, designs for leather goods came to me very quickly and making things has always been rather therapeutic, so the product line grew and grew.  


How are you reinventing the relationship people have with fashion?

I hope I am affecting the public’s relationship to fashion by example.  I am like most people who live with the pressures of a personal economy and a desire for beautiful things.  As a maker and consumer, I privilege design over trends, a long-lasting material, and flexibility in style.  I want something that I can wear often and for a long time, and I aim to make objects that fulfill those needs.  As a business owner, I want my brand to encourage conscious consumerism and an engagement with contemporary culture, not just what’s cool in the moment.  


What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far?

Oh so many!  Everything is a challenge, which is part of the fun.  I think this is specific to me, who has no real experience in the fashion industry, but I find it difficult to communicate with retailers within the current fashion calendar.  The fashion/market week sneaks up on me every season while I’m quietly sewing away in my studio, and I have to stop making products to focus on photography, line sheets, presentations.  I embrace all the parts of being the designer/maker/seller and I just have to get more organized about which hat I have to wear, at any given time.  


What are you most proud of?

Independence.  The business is completely independent, which certainly has its limitations but it allows me to to make what I find interesting, to tell the story of the brand with authenticity, and put resources toward the things that I privilege.  I think I’ve always had a point of view that exists in the space between things, and the freedom to express those spaces is a real grace.


Bartleby Objects

Bartleby Objects is a  multi-disciplinary design studio, making objects of use for the home and individual.  We are primarily concerned with making spaces and objects that respond to context. We make objects to address the needs of work, engage in a relationship to the body, and respond to notions of desire, economy, and power.  We make our objects on a very intimate scale - one at a time, and by hand.  Our stocked textiles are handmade in Peru.  All other products are made in our Brooklyn Navy Yard studio by designer, knitter, weaver, wood-turner, and leather-worker, Mary L Chan. 

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