Interview: OIL / LUMBER Founder, Ethan Summers

The designer discusses contrasting influences, reinventing an iconic silhouette, and Nashville

Nashville-based designer Ethan Summers dabbles in three different mediums. His label OIL / LUMBER acts as an umbrella for all the concepts he comes up with, which include minimal modern furniture, apparel that references his Japanese heritage, and objects that range from coffee cups to tote bags. By operating as a design firm, rather than a furniture-maker, fashion label, or objet d’art manufacturer, OIL / LUMBER can release any number of diverse projects.

Nearly all of OIL / LUMBER’s creations are designed and manufactured in Nashville. Summers and his team tinker away on industrial sewing machines or spend time in neighboring metal and woodworking shops until pieces are finished, emphasizing careful craftsmanship. After a few new pieces appeared in the online store, we spoke with Summers about process, the importance of quality over quantity, Haori jackets, and more.

How did you land in Nashville? 

I moved to Nashville in 2008 to play college soccer and met my future wife during our senior year. After graduating, I started to become immersed with the creative community here and started to think about how I could be involved. The creative community here is tight-knit and really supports each other, so I saw it as a great place to start my business and plant roots. It’s proven to be the best decision for my business and family, four years later. I think a lot of our success and growth has been derived from the fact that we are based in a region not known directly for design.

We’re a bit obsessed with Haori jackets and really like your take on them. How did you arrive at this design?

The design was derived from a Japanese coat I wore as a young child that my mom made me, along with another jacket I wore when I played Japanese Taiko Drums. I took these garments and took the best basic shape and applied them to our modern take on those coats. Traditionally, they wouldn’t be made this way, but using natural materials and unique details have made these our own.

The construction is a beautiful exercise in simplicity—is that approach a strategy to speed up the cut-and-sew process or is it about reducing material waste or something else altogether?

A lot of our Japanese jackets, including the Haori, are inspired by garments that have been around for centuries. I’ve always had the mindset that some of the most simple pieces are the ones you hold onto and really cherish in your wardrobe. It allows individuals to see the full garment for what it is, keeping distractions out of it and focusing on the details we take pride in. People start to understand the thought and process that was put into all sides of the garment.

All of your apparel is made to order. It seems like you intentionally want to focus on quality over quantity, which we really appreciate. Can you tell us more about this?

We are only one of many slow fashion brands trying to convey the message to our customers of where things come from and how they are made. Our mission, through our made-to-order process, is to create garments of the highest quality that are made with sustainability, ethics, and transparency in mind. We are a young brand that has a lot to learn, but we are doing our best to evolve as ethically as we can while prioritizing sustainability. We are trying very hard to reduce clothing waste through better quality garments, and education.

Images courtesy of OIL / LUMBER