WORDS: Eric Buron PHOTOGRAPHY: Julien Roubinet
When I first met Kyle Mosholder, the founder of D'emploi, I'd been reading Alan Weisman's The World Without Us. In reflecting on Weisman’s book and his exploration of how the things we make impact the world, I couldn’t help but think about Kyle’s consideration of his own impact with his line of canvas goods.
Because Kyle finds fulfillment in the process of making physical objects, such as his canvas clothing and bags, but struggles with the idea of adding to an over saturated market of products, he oversees the production from start to finish to make sure something new is being contributed to the world with the least amount of waste. His honest eye allows him to interrogate the value of his work. In this way Kyle not only shows his heart, he also shows his humility. We all need to make things in order to survive, but at what price?
Questions like these led me to Knickerbocker Manufacturing Co. in Brooklyn where Kyle spoke about the importance of customer service, the powerful learning tool of reverse engineering, and the very first bag he ever made.
What is the first thing you remember making?
The first thing I can think of is this hip bag that I was making and selling at bike shops. It was the first time I learned to set a zipper. It had two belt loops on the back and you could thread a belt through it so you didn’t always have to wear it if you didn’t want to. I did some makeshift branding where I stitched the triangle on the top. It was very important that I did everything by myself in the beginning.
That's when I started hitting up different bike shops that I would frequent and be like, “You guys want to sell these on consignment? Just try it out?” And they’d be like, “Sure.”
What was the main part of the bag made of?
At first I was using a lot of surplus based materials. I have a really good spot that I like to hit when I go home to visit my folks in Pennsylvania. I started buying stuff like that- older materials, old military surplus stuff, canvas, whatever.
How did you get into making bags?
I bought an old Jansport backpack at a thrift shop and cut it apart and made a pattern out of it and put it back together. That is the way I would always work: I'd try to reverse engineer something to learn from it. That’s how I taught myself whatever form of pattern making I do. A lot of my designs are built from basic shapes, which is something I like to do in order to keep them minimal and basic in a visual way, not necessarily in a functional way.
Is sculpture what you studied?
Arts in general but it ended up evolving into sculpture. The first five years in New York, all I was doing was working for various artists or finishing companies; truly understanding the way something is made from an industrial and production standpoint then doing everything I could to imitate that.
What’s the most meaningful mistake you made?
Everyday is some kind of mistake to learn from but my worst mistake is that I didn’t understand the value of customer service when I started my business. Since then I’ve understood how paramount that is. Making people happy, keeping them happy and creating advocates for your work in the world. When you're small, you need everybody. It's so important to creating and building a business.
Is there anyone's work that’s been inspiring to you?
The first one that jumps out at me is Frank Clegg. He’s been making and designing bags since the 70’s. His leather work is gorgeous. He has a small team of people and they make goods of an unmatched quality without being overtly luxurious.
I really like Hermes and their ability to do random things. They make art objects and weird stuff. I mean, saddle making is really an amazing form of leather working, it’s really high up there, but I see it as more functional, a means to an end.
I read Yvon Chouinard's Let My People Go Surfing. Chouinard started Patagonia. One of the most inspiring things I read in the book: “The most responsible thing that you can do as a consumer is buy used clothing.” There’s more clothing in the world then there are people at this point. We don’t actually need more shit. I feel the same way in general with making and selling things.
What do you do to promote your business?
We have a few wholesale accounts and we promote online. I’ve been really trying to push the Snapchat stories (@demploi) where I have the ability to explain a process in a way that a documenting photographer or videographer doesn’t.
Telling a story from point A to point B versus give you a small window. It opens and closes each time but to be able to open that window and look through it for a while and then close it. There’s not a huge following on the Snapchat but it’s a lot of fun when I have enough time to mentally do it. It breaks everything up. You gotta stop and integrate but it’s the most fun part.
What was the last thing you made?
I’m working on these camera bags right now with Cub and Co. and they’re fantastic. They make camera straps and leather goods that are all focused around camera work. We produce a camera bag for them. It is of their design but with all the materials that we work with and integrate into our work regularly.
What would you say you’ve found out about yourself in the process of making?
It’s really important to me right now that there’s a utility and a function to everything we do because I don’t believe that people need more things in their lives. I have so much scrap and I’m trying to find ways to utilize the scrap and throw less away. Keep these things from going immediately into a landfill. That’s another thing that’s really important to me. We’re always trying to push the brand to be something that is doing more good in the world than harm.
Hopefully, that’s what will get us back to being more conscientious about the things that we own and the things that we buy.