A better view of the Aalto piece and an assortment of the baskets that served as raw material for the exhibition. Hanging in the right corner is one of Burks’s basket abstracted objects: a pendant lamp made from the recycled HDPE of milk jugs and water bottles that Burks found in the streets of Brooklyn and cleaned for reuse.

Stephen Burks’s Man Made exhibition at the Studio Museum

In search of inspiration, the Chicago-born designer Stephen Burks has often traveled to places like Peru, South Africa, Haiti, India, Australia, and Kenya. But the idea for his latest project began a bit closer to home: “Three or four years ago, I met this basket salesman at a street fair in New York,” remembers Burks. “His name was Serigne Diouck, and I told him I was interested in his technique.” The two became friends instantly, and Burks soon learned that the baskets were constructed from spiraled sweet grass, stitched together with colorful strands of recycled plastic and made in Diouck’s birthplace of Thies, a tiny village outside of Dakar. Their collaboration, though, was longer in coming. “Since 2006, I’ve been shooting this documentary of my work in the developing world,” says Burks. “Finally in 2009, the Sundance Channel came forward and wanted to produce a pilot. We did a four-day shoot in Senegal with Serigne where I did a bunch of experiments around these traditional baskets.” One of the products to come out of the shoot was the Starburst lamp, a cluster of Diouck’s baskets turned into readymades and strung together with bulbs until they resembled some sort of third-world Castiglioni lamp. On a studio visit last fall, Thelma Golden and Naomi Beckwith — the curators of New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem — spied the Starburst and commissioned Burks on the spot to create the museum’s first-ever industrial design exhibit around the theme of those hybrid experiments. The resulting show, called Stephen Burks: Man Made, opened this spring at the museum.
More
Baggu’s team now works out of large, sunlit studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but when the brand began it was more of a family affair. “To order bags from China, you have to order a lot,” says Sugihara. “It’s not like you can get 100 bags. It was suddenly like, ‘Okay, we have to order 40,000 bags.’ We put them in my parents’ garage and my 15-year-old brother did fulfillment. We got really lucky and had almost a full-page editorial in Teen Vogue before we launched, so we enabled our website to take pre-orders. The factory rushed those to my teeny tiny apartment in Brooklyn Heights, and I stayed up for three days packing and shipping orders to get them out.”

Baggu

“Always listen to your mother” isn’t exactly the kind of central tenet they teach you at Harvard Business School. But for Emily Sugihara, the California-raised, Brooklyn-based designer behind the reusable bag line Baggu, it’s a piece of advice that’s been invaluable to the brand’s runaway success since its founding in 2007. Back then Sugihara was a Parsons grad working as an assistant designer at J. Crew, just coming to realize that a corporate job wasn’t her calling. “As a kid, I was very entrepreneurial, and I always knew I wanted to have my own company,” she says. At home over Christmas break one year, Sugihara and her mother began talking about making a line of reusable shopping bags. Her mom was “sort of a treehugger” and an artist in her own right — an expert seamstress who learned to sew making her own clothes as a kid in rural Michigan — and Sugihara was a die-hard New Yorker-in-training, sporting fingers turned purple each week as she lugged home bags full of groceries. Together they came up with a bag that’s almost exactly like the original ripstop nylon Baggu that sells today: long handles that fit comfortably over the shoulder, gussets along the bottom that allow things like milk and eggs to stack, and a single, double-reinforced seam that’s the result, Sugihara says, of her mother’s “sewing genius.”
More
A typical self-initiated project. “I did the pigeons shoot with my husband. A pigeon fancier lives in the same neighborhood as my parents and I had the idea to ask him if we could photograph his birds. I loved the beauty of the plumage and it was a great challenge for us to photograph these animals. Some of the images were used for one of the trend books, but in general it is possible to buy pro-rata picture rights of my images. I would love to make a photo book out of them but until now, I have not had the time.”

Imke Klee, stylist

Who hasn’t suffered the sting of a thousand rejection letters? Imke Klee, for one. In 2007, having just completed an integrated design program at the University of the Arts Bremen, the German-born stylist and photographer sent her diploma work off to famed trend forecaster and design guru Li Edelkoort in search of some feedback. “It was sort of a trend book about how to transform traditional values into modern, contemporary ones,” says Klee — in other words, catnip for a trend junkie like Edelkoort, who responded almost immediately with an invitation to come join the Paris-based offices of Trend Union, Edelkoort's renowned forecasting agency, which counts companies like Philips, Virgin, Camper, and L’Oréal among its international clients.
More