July 17, 2016
TENDEN is a textile collection by designer Todd Hancock. Based in Grand Haven MI, Todd founded TENDEN in 2010 as a way to create quality products, ethically made in the USA. Todd’s passion for textiles garnered an expert knowledge of how to best work with each material, from cotton and denim, to canvas and leather.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting story behind it?
TENDEN is named after my grandmother, who was a seamstress. It’s the last six letters of her surname, Chittenden. I always admired her, and as a child, I remember businessmen bringing their suits to her house for alterations. My sister and grandpa played cribbage together, so I hung out with my grandma working on various sewing projects. Later in life, I visited her wearing an Oxford shirt that I made myself, and she bragged to everyone in the nursing home that I was better than she ever was.
Have you always been passionate about design?
Yes! In school, I signed up for every art and music class available to me. From there I developed an interest for how things were made, where they came from, and the meaning behind them. Whether it was spray painting a logo on my skateboard when I was twelve, or being the only male (and the only person under 70) in a quilting class, I love learning how things are pieced together. I used to take jeans apart, make patterns out of the pieces and sew them back together just for fun.
Why did you start working in this particular craft?
The idea of being able to make your own wares empowered me. It was also a combination of the poor working conditions overseas, the lost art of knowing who makes what you buy, and wanting to bring back a made in the USA as my motivation. I’ve been working almost exclusively with textiles for about ten years now. It was a natural transition from working with paint to fabric with the thought of making artwork that would be functional and appealing to the eye.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
Although some of my mainstays are similar to what others in the field are making, my process, story, and construction are unique. Each of my products has evolved over the years through trial, error, and customer feedback to make the original design what it is today. It’s inspiring to see what others are doing, but I never feel tied down to a certain trend. When I walk through the doors of my studio and see the mess of fabric and scraps, the possibilities are endless. I don’t necessarily know if I will spend the day filling orders like I’m supposed to be doing or sewing one of the latest ideas bouncing around my head, like a hand sewn checkerboard. My creations are unique, personalized, detailed, and from the heart — everything is made by me from start to finish.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
There have definitely been bumps along the way. I’m mostly self taught, so every once in a while I’ll discover an easier way to do something such as an adjustment to my sewing machine or sizing a pattern differently that would have saved me tons of time and fabric waste over the years if I had known about it earlier. You live and you learn. The cool thing about this handmade movement is that it’s not competitive so people are excited to share their knowledge.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business?
It was chaotic working my other job while trying to get TENDEN off the ground. I may have been a lot “further along in my career” if I had taken the leap years ago, but then I would have missed another experience. I’ve spent many early mornings and late nights sewing, dyeing, cutting, and hammering but I don’t consider it a sacrifice. I’m pretty mindful of the balance between work and play.
What has been your proudest moment since creating your business?
Probably the day I realized that my dream of living off my work would actually happen. It may not be there yet, but it’s pretty darn close.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
I’m currently traveling across the country with my wife and family because my wife is a travel nurse. It’s great to be in different places, it’s too easy for your eyes to always see things the same way. It’s a great way to find inspiration and grow in different directions.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
I traveled the country in a van for six years with my best friends after high school. We met a lot of interesting people making incredible music and art. I believe if you’re doing what you love, nothing else matters. I’ve tossed pizzas in New Orleans, painted houses in Portland, and been a mechanic and bartender in Michigan. I draw from these experiences rather than from a formal business background and learn as I go.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
Well, it’s pretty simple, I like to work when I want to work and if I want to go on vacation I go. There aren’t too many jobs out there that offer those benefits.
What are some inspirations for your work?
I’m inspired by my customers, their stories and what I can make that they will get excited about or be able to use. Other inspiration comes from artists, musicians, fellow makers, travel, and culture. It could be a piece by Paul Klee in a museum, a postal service bag at an antique store, the morals of the punk rock band Fugazi, or an 80 year old cobbler in Cuba. If you’re in the right state of mind, inspiration is everywhere.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Believe in yourself and never give up!