THIS IS THE SECOND OF A THREE-PART SERIES FEATURING Q&A'S WITH A FEW OF OUR MOST TALENTED AND CREATIVE FRIENDS.
Last week we introduced you to our good friend Jeff Bell (See post HERE). This week we'd like to introduce you to Erin Reitz - an unbelievably multi-talented friend here in Charleston, SC (Co-founder of The Commons). Well let's jump into it!
Where did you grow up? What was it like there?
I grew up in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C.
Having access to the museums in D.C. was incredible. Some of my most memorable days were playing hooky with my mom and visiting the first ladies dress exhibit at the Smithsonian.
You spent a great deal of your career working for large brands. What was it about the corporate world that led you to leave it and start your own business?
The speed and volume drove me out. I was having a hard time staying balanced and inspired. Combine that with some of the manufacturing practices I witnessed overseas, it really forced me to question how my soul felt about where I worked.
On one trip, in particular, I found myself at a rural factory in India standing inside a glass office positioned above a factory floor. I was the only woman in that office, surrounded by my US partners and factory managers. The entire factory floor was populated with women in beautiful colored saris. I’ll never forget seeing the women look up at me in the office. I can't explain what I felt, but from that moment forward, I viewed my overseas trips differently.
Today, in addition to designing for Natalie Chanin (a pioneer in the industry of sustainability) I own The Commons with my amazing and talented friend, Kerry Speake.
Tell us about your partnership with Natalie from Alabama Chanin. How did you two meet and how did the opportunity arise for you?
I design garments and home goods for Alabama Chanin. I first met Natalie about 3 years ago…she is a family friend of my husband, Brooks. When he told me he knew her I freaked out because I did a project on her work when I was studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. This was in 2001, a year after her company began making hand sewn garments produced in Alabama from 100% organic cotton.
Brooks took me out to dinner with Natalie, and about 3 glasses of wine in I couldn’t play it cool any longer: I confessed I was a major fan girl. Over the years we've come to know each other socially, and fell into a lovely friendship. She offered to have me visit Alabama to shadow various divisions in her company so I could learn how to gradually grow my own business, The Commons. That trip began my professional relationship with Natalie. I returned the following month to design a new collection. It has been an absolute dream job. I travel to Alabama about once a month…and work remotely from Charleston otherwise.
What is it like when you sit down to do your daily work (design new products, etc)? What’s your process look like? How do you create?
My days vary between working at the shop, working through design and production of glassware and ceramics at Starworks, and designing at the Alabama Chanin Studio.
But when I design, if I am well rested and have a cup of coffee…I can pretty easily get into the zone of putting together moods, colors, and sketches. It always begins with an article about someone who inspires me, or an image of an artist in his or her studio. I can be very easily influenced to get into my own fantasy world. And then sketch from that sort of imaginary place. When it comes out it comes out in pretty strong spurts…but if it isn’t coming that day, then might as well give up until the next day.
Your husband works in food and beverage, creating restaurants. What’s that dynamic like for you two? How do you help/support each other even though you’re in two different fields?
Our work excites each other. We learn from each other.
I love our time traveling together, trying out restaurants, perusing interesting shops, and visiting galleries. We are in constant dialog commenting on places we visit, what would we have done differently with each atmosphere, the food, the assortment, and so on. I feel like our conversations are a continual sketch pad of each other's future projects.
You’ve traveled the world, but now you’ve made Charleston home. How has being rooted (having a home) affected your life? If you moved somewhere else besides Charleston, where would you want it to be?
I don’t know if I will ever feel rooted. I have had quite a few “homes” over the last 20 years…and as much as I crave the roots, I think sometimes I need at least the potential of change in the future to keep me excited.
But I do love returning home to Charleston. It is so relaxed and easy. You really can’t feel too much stress when you are living around palm trees. Though, we have a deep fantasy of living in England someday.
You’re a book collector. Novels…magazines…coffee tables editorials…you have it all. What is it about books that you’re drawn to?
I love having books around me. Even the colors of the spines in the room makes me feel comforted, a reminder of how much there is to learn and see in this world.
I love to read and try to be reading either a novel or a biography at all times. These days that process goes slowly, and I may be reading 3 at a time. But I try to read at least a couple of pages a night of something to get myself back into my internal creative world.
Collecting art books is a huge love, they are like friends you can count on when you need a boost.
And a great magazine gives you that sense that you are tapped into a creative community that is happening right now.
When do you feel like your work is at its best?
When I’m alone, after a good night’s sleep, and I have a meaningful focus.
For the products that you make, and as a designer yourself, how do you measure what makes good design?
When I was a design director for Eddie Bauer, I once discovered a handwritten card that Stine Bauer’s (Eddie’s wife) friend wrote to her. It has become one of my favorite quotes!
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” // William Morris
What I enjoy most about designing products is creating a connection with the inspiration and the piece I’m designing. That is the invisible string that ties it all together.
Check back in this time next week for the third and final interview on our "Some Of The Best" series!