This past winter we had the opportunity to visit Bryr Studio’s workspace and storefront in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. Isobel, owner and designer behind the handmade clogs, kindly took time to show us around during their store renovation.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind it?
The word Bryr means ‘to care’ in Swedish, but is pronounced like the English word Briar. I grew up in England, and so I liked that it had roots in both the Swedish heritage of clogs, but also felt like the countryside I grew up in.
When/Why did you start working in this particular craft?
I started taking leather night school classes at Textile Arts Center a few years ago, and got really interested in making with leather. From there, and I took a week long intensive shoe-making class in Sedona. But as with most hands-on crafts, most of learning really came from actually doing.
I worked in apparel design for 16 years.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
When I left my design job, I really wanted to have a daily practice of making. I’d always wanted to have my own line, and so when I learned how to make shoes it seemed like it was the right time.
What did you originally envision your company to be like? Tell us a little bit about the different phases of your business and how it’s changed over time.
When I started out, I was working with an outside manufacturer, but I found that it wasn’t what I wanted the business to be. So I took a 6 month break, wrote a business plan, and learned how to make clogs myself. In the winter of 2014, I relaunched Bryr to be focused on custom-made product.
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
One of my friends told me recently that she loved the vibe of the studio, and how genuinely happy we all seemed. After many years in the not-so-positive fashion world, I feel really proud to be creating a space that feels positive, friendly and open.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
When I launched my business, I took a big risk and walked away from my job. There have definitely been moments along the way when it felt like it wasn’t going to work out, but I feel extremely lucky to be following my dreams.
Your company started as a solo venture then grew to a multi-employee business – what was that process like? Were there any risks in taking this step? How did you manage this transition?
One of the reasons I started the business was that I wanted to have a daily practice of making. A lot of business advisors will tell you that you can’t run a business AND make things, but I’ve been trying to keep that balance.
I love that I get to make on a daily basis. I love that I get to follow my instincts and make what I’m feeling, and that I’m not on a set schedule so ideas have time to percolate.
I am very inspired by San Francisco, living in the city but being near the ocean and the forests. But the actual materials are the biggest inspiration to me, and I love nothing more than going to the tannery to pick out leathers.
If you could learn any other craft, what would it be?
I love ceramics, and actually just signed up for a class at our local ceramics studio.
What is your favorite part of your studio/workspace/shop?
I love looking out onto the shop and see my team happily making.
I love heading out to coast on the weekends, hiking along the trails, swimming in the freezing water followed by oysters in Tamales bay. I would love to live up in West Marin some day.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
Hugely! I feel like I’m having a love affair with San Francisco right now. Most weekends, my partner and I will head out on an urban hike across the city, exploring hidden parts of the city, stopping off for a beer here and a taco there.
We are a teeny tiny company right now (there are only 3 of us!) so though I don’t want to become a big company, I would like us to grow a little more.
What is the most important thing you do daily for your business?
I’m currently working on building a ‘shop’ space in the front and adding weekend retail hours. I’m also quietly dreaming of adding a few clothes here and there, but that’s just a far off idea right now.
It took a long time to get to the point where I was making a paycheck, so I would recommend either saving up or going part-time for the first year or so. I would also highly recommend taking a business writing course (for SF folks, check out Renaissance Center!). Remember that no matter how much advice you get, you know your business better than anyone else. Trust your gut.