Cycling culture and fashion combined into a very fresh accessory collection, designed by Norman Petersen, both artist and cyclist. MechaWear handmade pieces are becoming an urban fashion trend and I’m glad to welcome Norman who talks to us about the whole project and gives valuable insight and advice.

Hello Norman, welcome to EC! Give us a brief introduction of yourself - when did you start creating jewelry in general?

Hi, Aphrodite. First of all, thank you so much for this interview and for featuring my work. Also, thank you for all your amazing work in bringing us Eye Candies.

My jewelry work comes out of my lifelong interest in art and invention. When I was little my mom might come home to find me in a suit of armor built from cardboard wrapping paper tubes or in a new papier mache mask. I started fine art painting in high school. In my late 20's, I was working as a house painter and through that I found decorative finishing and trompe l'oiel.  Add to all that a love of bicycles and you get the MechaWear product line.

So I'm not a jewelry designer in the classical sense but due in part to my background in art and decorative finishing I'm always looking for opportunities to make things look beautiful.

Talk to us about the MechaWear project. How was it inspired and what were the first steps you took towards branding?

A couple years ago I was wearing a basic bicycle chain bracelet and it just came to me that it could and should be colorful and that there was room for a formal design concept and a unique clasp.

The overarching brand concept is based on the growing Upcycling movement which suggests that we should be able to take a lot of this stuff we just consume and, instead of melting it  down or tossing it into landfills, find alternate uses. Recycling is often expensive and inefficient and only one part of a big picture solution.

For the name, I was on Godaddy, riffing on possible domain names. “Mechanical wearables” came to me and then MechaWear came out of that. I was fortunate to find a good domain name so easily as that can be expensive and time consuming.

Give us a short description of the creative procedure and technique going into designing and manufacturing a MechaWear piece.

The recycled bike chain goes through a rigorous, 4 stage cleaning process to remove old grease from between plates and rollers. The chain is then protected against rust and corrosion (Turns out some people have somewhat corrosive sweat. Go figure). The unique, hidden clasp is installed and finally the bracelet or necklace is decorated with the exclusive MechEnamel process.

After many attempts with different coloring materials I created an enameling process that's durable, allows for virtually any color and has a rich, luminous quality. Traditional glass enamel is energy inefficient and expensive. It's also nearly impossible to apply to mechanically complex items. I have an investment partner who won't let me share details on our unique enamel process but suffice it to say that MechEnamel is amazing in color and luminosity, is harder than glass enamel and the process is totally “green” in terms of the environment.

One of my goals is to keep the jewelry aspect of the MechaWear project minimal. Of course everyone has an idea for the material and I have to stay true to myself and not try to please everyone. However, some of the suggestions have been too amazing to deny and have been/will be implemented, so my ears are always open (send ideas to contact at mechawear dot com. You will be rewarded).
How would you describe the person loving and wearing MechaWear?

I'm amazed at the variety of people showing interest in this product. For example I was recently in a local coffee shop and the barista flipped out when she saw my blue MechaWear bracelet. She bought one for herself and one for her boyfriend. When her 62 year old mom saw it she had to have one. To top it all off, none of them are cyclists.

We had assumed that it would be a niche thing for cyclists but our customers are turning out to be anyone into edgy, fashion forward accessories.

Apart from supporting recycling, you also organize donations by offering limited edition pieces. How has this gone so far and what are your future goals?

It's going well for some of the causes and so-so for others. One of the big lessons has been that the big charities don't have time for small fund raisers. For example we wanted to do a hot pink bracelet for Susan G. Komen until we learned that they require a minimum of $5000 in monthly donations if you so much as mention their name in relation to a product. Livestrong has been very slow in responding to our offers of fund raising which is sad because I'm convinced that a length of Lance's chain converted to a yellow MechaWear bracelet would bring a few thousand dollars at auction.

So we decided to keep it local and grow from there. We've raised over a thousand dollars for drug exposed newborns (picc.org) and we're also involved with some great bike related non-profits like IMBA and Bike Works in Seattle. Also, we're in talks with some celebs who like the product and are interested in helping raise funds. I'll make sure EC gets that scoop early.

What's your opinion on trends and brands - mainly promoted online and what tips would you give to a new, upcoming designer?

Since we don't have funding to flood the market quickly and fuel a fast trend, we are looking at building a brand patiently over time and our projections are modest. If we get some viral juice, great. If not, just having a cool product that gets noticed and builds over time is fine by us.

The concept of brand is so elusive and strange that I try not to worry about it. Our pieces have the website printed on them because we don't have unrealistic expectations that everyone will remember the name.

If seems that the casual jewelry world  (as opposed to luxury brands like Tiffany) is not like cola or cars with regards to loyalty. It looks cool so you buy it and hopefully it gets worn. The reality is that anyone who wears fashion accessories has a box of stuff they don't wear very often.

I strive to create something unique enough that it stands out from the common link chain or colorless metals. I believe this will translate over time into a core group of fans who will spread the word by wearing it often.
My first tip for a new designer is to ignore most of the creative advice people will so willingly share. Research your ideas to establish value and if it's there, build them. Listen to what people suggest, but don't let it keep you from producing and shipping your ideas.

Secondly, ship. Set a date to finish it, plan the steps to make it happen and then get it out the door. Fear keeps most people from actually shipping a finished product. Be afraid, but ship anyway. Ideas are virtually worthless without follow through. World changing inventions are out there in the notebooks of people who are too timid to share them. Don't let that notebook be yours.

Regarding online sales: It comes back to shipping. I've been dragging my feet about submitting MechaWear to bloggers for a while. “It's not quite ready”. “I need to get this re-shot”. “The FAQ page isn't complete enough...” There's never a shortage of excuses. So then one day I say to heck with it and submit to a few blogs and someone awesome like Aphrodite from EC gets right back to me. Do it now is the point.

I think one of my mistakes was that I insisted on building my own sites. I wanted to get to know the code,  have control... Very time consuming and if I could do it over I'd hire someone or use Ix or Shopify and learn the code on the side. The upside is that I'm not beholden to anyone for design and I can fix problems quickly instead of waiting for a tech geek in an email queue.
Where do you find your materials and what gets you into creative mood? Can you describe your studio/working place?

I'm dedicated to using recycled materials so I have agreements with bike shops to supply chain and spokes and other worn out parts.

The creative mood is always with me. I don't mean to sound pompous; It's actually a problem. I have to force myself to stop thinking about design and color and invention. It's a struggle to just relax and “be” without thinking about a painting or a design.

The struggle for me is more about what Seth Godin refers to (in Linchpin) as Emotional Labor or being willing to risk ridicule and failure every day. This is what keeps most people from creating or building something amazing out of their own unique being.

Think of a parent who's child is heading out for a ski trip, a bike ride, or to summer camp: “have fun, be careful”. But children, businesses and artists grow when they take risks. So to counter act that inner parent I have to look in the mirror every morning and say to myself  “have fun. Take risks. Do something dangerous. Fail a lot.”

In the great book 'The Now Habit', Dr. Neil Fiore instructs to “just start”. Instead of “I'm gonna get this done now”, say “I'm just going to START on this part and see what happens.” This mindset is designed to reduce the fear associated with big projects and it's made a huge difference in production for me. 

My studio: I love to look across industries for ideas so when I'm in auto parts or hardware stores I'm thinking about painting and jewelry. I have saws, drills and brushes and plaster and glues, re-curves and transfer paper and grinders... This is the only way stuff like bicycle chain and enamel can come together to form fashion accessories. I make a point of keep all this stuff organized because if things are helter skelter it's impossible to produce.
When you're not creating MechaWear - what can we find you doing? Hobbies, interests ...

My first love is mountain biking and cycling in general.  I've been weight training for the last year or so and I'm realizing all kinds of amazing benefits from getting strong and lean. Physical health is a component of success in general and when I make that a priority I realize positive results in all areas of my life.
Share 5 of your favorite jewelry designers and 5 inspiration sites you visit most often.

Well, having established that I'm not a traditional jewelry designer, I hope it's okay if I fudge this a bit. I see brilliant design as unconstrained by specific disciplines and for me the most amazing ideas come from unexpected places.
1. The Italian painter working in California, Carlo Marchiori (http://catoga.com/carlo-marchiori/carlo-marchiori.html) is a big inspiration for me because he sees opportunity for decoration in unusual places.

2. I love the work of Karim Rashid who created the Bobble water bottle and literally about 3000 other things: http://www.karimrashid.com/ His work is very expressive while focusing on useability. He's driven in all the best ways including environmental and social concerns.

3. I look to Art Nouveau for a lot of inspiration. Mucha, Tiffany, Rene Lalique. I like this line from Wikipedia: “Art Nouveau is a philosophy of design according to which artists should work on everything from architecture to furniture, making art part of ordinary life.”

The organic shapes and use of multiple materials satisfies my broad ranging creative energy and I love to take the complex forms and reduce them or borrow specific elements.

4. I used to feel weird for just staring and looking at images or color or form for long periods of time until I realized that it's my primary job. If “good artists borrow and great artists steal” (Picasso) then you'd better start looking at stuff to steal. So I use Google Image Search a lot (turn off “moderate safe search” because the blog with just the right photo might have the “F-word” or breasts and get filtered out). Also, http://Piccsy.com is very inspirational. I also rely on Flickr, 1x.com...

5. I have to mention the master of color, Maxfield Parrish. His work was very high toned and vibrant and I've always been drawn to that. Hold the pastels, pass the primaries. This love of intense color definitely shows in the MechaWear line. http://www.americanillustration.org/artists/parrish/parrish.html
Can you give us a sneak peak of your future plans?

Look for some very lean items with feminine lines that incorporate the MechEnamel and some surprises.  

Also, we've got a bag in the works that features Upcycled cloth and a dual use feature for the bicycling world. MechaWear is as much about bicycle fashion as anything else: http://mechawear.com/blog. The bag will have a very substantial charitable component as well.
Last but not least, please feel free to add anything else you feel like sharing.

I recently built a simple blog to share some of my paint and mechanical work. I'm only posting my personal favorites so it's sparse for now but will grow with time: http://normanpaints.com.

Thanks again, Aphrodite.

LINKS: […]

Site: http://mechawear.com/index.html
Blog: http://mechawear.com/blog/

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