A pitch-perfect melding of the neo-hippie look with a biker staple, Box & Flea reinvents the traditional bandana by infusing it with a sense of meticulous craft. The collaborative effort (architect Jeremy Barbour of Tacklebox and Fleaheart's Andrew Woodrum are behind it) radically changes perceptions of this humble piece of cloth.
Box & Flea's beginnings lie with the now ubiquitous canvas tote. Like many creative spirits in New York, Barbour and Woodrum launched the company only after discovering a demand for objects they produced for themselves. Frustrated with the options available, the two began making simple canvas totes and tool totes screen-printed with elegant compositions featuring the portrait of Abraham Lincoln (see below). While interest in their totes developed, Barbour found himself on the hunt for vintage bandanas. Unhappy with the quality and quantity he could find both online and in the field, he decided to start experimenting with designing and producing his own.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Barbour in his studio and learn just how attentive one can be to a piece of cotton less than two feet square. Below is a brief interview covering the process and product of Box & Flea.
What separates a Box & Flea bandana from the run-of-the-mill ones?
We worked for awhile, trying to figure out how to do a bandana that was not printed on one side. Ours actually have no ink. The white part is the fiber, there's no ink there, which makes it incredibly soft and it goes through to both sides. The only color is the dye of the bandana.
Our whole philosophy with this is to do it in small batches. The process we do is really labor intensive, there are four steps and it takes all day to produce 20 bandanas. We start with a solid and then do a bleaching process (we have a chemical that we use) and then there's a process of heat and air drying and laundering. The beauty of these is, because each one is hand pulled, you can never get consistency. The minute you pull them out there's that wow factor. It's a bit like devleoping prints in the dark room, where suddenly the image emerges. I never get tired of that.
The indigo bandanas tend to have much more color variation in the pattern, why is that?
The interesting thing is that not all solids are alike. The blue produces a range from white to purple, the result of the indigo and the way it reacts. The black tends to be more stable. When we first started out we thought, "Oh no, this is a defect, we can't sell this." But in fact, when we were showing these at the Brooklyn Flea, all those with the purple hues were the first to sell. I really believe in happy accidents.
How do the two of you collaborate on designs?
We try to take the differences between the two of us, aesthetically, and then set up a framework. It's almost a bit likeâ€”this sounds cornyâ€”but a jam-session, like a mash-up. Andrew may start with something—it may come from the plaid that's designed on a sugar packet, or a burlap sack, or maybe a rubbing from a manhole cover—and what we'll do is translate those into vectors. Something may start by hand, we bring into the computer, then we'll pass it back and forth. It's a bit of a struggle some times, but I think that's what makes it fun for us.
Box & Flea is available at Saipua, Smith + Butler, Tauk or Franny & Roey. If you're interested in meeting Jeremy and Andrew and getting a 15% discount, head over to Smith + Butler on Thursday, 21 May 2009 from 6-9 pm, for a cocktail reception in honor of the shop's roster of local talent.
More images after the jump.