Son of a Sailor

Studio Visit

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Jessica and Billy Knopp work out of an adorable studio and retail space in Austin where each Son of a Sailor product is lovingly crafted by their team. A little while ago we had the opportunity to stop by their shop and see the inner workings of their small but hardworking company.

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When/Why did you start Son of a Sailor?

William and I have always been creative together—it’s just something that we have always shared! The first day we spent together after meeting, we ended up doing art projects on the floor of my San Francisco bedroom floor. William was visiting a college friend who happened to be my roommate, and she had to work that day. I invited him along on my Monday ritual of thrifting and art supply hunting, and the remains of the day were spent collaborating on little projects. I didn’t have any idea at that time how telling that day was. Jewelry and accessories ended up being some of the more marketable things that we were making together, which I suppose allowed our recreational creativity to turn into a business. We’re finding more and more outlets for different kinds of products as we grow.

Since that day we have continued to create things together at every turn of our relationship. It only makes sense that it translated into a business. It’s also an amazing thing—being able to work creatively with the person you love—that we try to never take for granted.

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What is your process like? From resourcing materials, to the final product, what all goes into it?

We have quite a few processes in place with such a wide variety of products, but there are some common themes to our process. We are always sourcing samples of materials that look interesting to us, and trying new things with resources we already have. Often times, we will seek out individual elements that we need after brainstorming new ideas. Billy and I design pretty much everything together, but we both are constantly on the hunt for materials that inspire us. When we do seek out new materials, we try to source as much as possible from smaller businesses, American manufacturers, and businesses that we feel we can build a relationship with. The type of people that we work with matter very much to us, and will at times be the reason we choose to work with one vendor over another, even if the price isn’t as competitive.

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Our products typically go through a number of different iterations before we settle on a final design, and we often run prototypes by our small staff. We have a great group of folks with diverse tastes, so they make a great test market! Lastly, we’ll try to use the item for a while to see how it wears. I’m pretty good at breaking jewelry, and Billy is good at testing the mettle of our hard goods, so we typically get a good idea of how rough & tumble or delicate an item is before launching it.

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Once an item makes the cut into our current assortment, we then take another look at the production process. We find opportunities to streamline processes and batch tasks. We also spec out the exact process in order to allow our staff to begin producing the item. Whenever we introduce new processes or tools to the mix, we’ll also build in training for the staff. Our latest jewelry collection included the introduction of metal forging to our process, and included quite a bit of training for some of our staff.

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What are some valuable lessons you’ve learned while starting Son of a Sailor and its incredible growth?

I think the foremost lesson I have learned, and that is constantly reinforced, is that you can’t do it all. Not only is there never enough time in the day to accomplish the myriad things that you would like to accomplish, but also you shouldn’t expect yourself to be an expert in every facet of the business. In that vein, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be able to do everything. I strongly believe should you seek out the people who can help you with the areas of your business that are not your strongest suits, like accounting, for me! Don’t just defer the work, though, take the opportunity to learn and bolster your weak areas. I also believe that owning a business can be all consuming, and you should cut yourself a break. At a certain point, try to turn it off. Try to maintain your friendships, your meditations, your personal time, and your sense of self. Don’t let the business run your life—as tempting as it may be!

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What are some of your inspirations for your work?

Son of a Sailor has truly become a blend of some specific inspirations peppered with each of our own artistic perspectives. Our work has some nautical roots, spurred by Billy’s days in the navy. You can feel that in the use of brass as our primary metal, the addition of bold pops of color that began with signal flag influences, and some of the hardware and trimmings we use. I have a deep seated love for mathematics that makes itself known in geometric influence and patterns. We each have a love of natural materials and finding fresh ways of looking at traditional ideas.

As cheesy as it sounds, I also truly believe that Billy and I constantly draw inspiration from one another. We always talk about how I am the fast, prolific and efficient maker, while he is the thoughtful, methodical, more experimental maker. Because of that, we each push each other to do things we definitely wouldn’t do alone. We really challenge one another and I believe that our partnership creates a convergence of ideas that is very unique!

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Do you have any tips or suggestions for potential makers out there?

Owning a business is full of excitement and there are so many benefits and rewards to working for yourself. Expressing yourself creatively and forging a business from that is a beautiful accomplishment. But it’s full of real-life challenges that make you earn your keep. My suggestion is to go about your business responsibly and make sure you accomplish the nitty gritty, but always remind yourself about the magic of creating a job around your creative passion. Don’t take for granted that you get to do what you love for a living, even if you are four cups of coffee deep at 10pm doing your taxes! The passion for your craft will keep you going through the tumult and daily grind of the boring stuff!

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See the full collection photos in our Flickr album.

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