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Okay, perhaps you know the company that made the chair you’re sitting on (IKEA?). Maybe you’re really savvy and also know who designed it (Eames?). But you’d really have to be quite clever to know who drafted, built, finished, and marketed it — or you're just a client of Jared Rusten.
The owner and operator of J. Rusten Furniture Studio, Rusten is not only a supreme talent at bringing utility and design out of natural beauty, he’s part of a larger movement trying to recapture American craftsmanship. Rooted in the tools and trades we almost abandoned a generation ago, these young woodworkers are conscious of the state of their craft, ready to take risks, and see their products not just as furniture, but as sculpture for living — experiments you can sit on.
We took a tour of Rusten's studio/woodworking shop/gallery/garage in San Francisco's Mission district and discovered an artist and artisan in love with his work and his jeans. Read on for his tips on perfectly constructed professional dressing.
Against The Grain
"I figured I'd land in a design-related creative field, but a year at an office workstation convinced me I needed a different work venue. I'd caught the bug for building a few years earlier while making a gift for a girlfriend and became determined to make a living at it. So, I paid my dues apprenticing, and, bolstered by a little ego and irrational optimism, I struck out on my own. It's not a proven or well-trod career path, I've found a field where I can really take ownership of what I do — conception, engineering, manufacturing, finishing, and, finally, marketing, and branding. My reward comes when I'm in the final stages of assembling a new design or popping the grain with a first coat of oil. It makes the hustle and the worn fingers worth it."
"The raw, turn-of-the-century bakery I work in now had been on the rental market for a while. Potential renters passed it up because it was too rough or were denied because they wanted to use it for questionable agricultural operations. It's taken a lot of sweat, but we now have 3,000 square feet of space for a work studio, a gallery, and a garage to park my truck. It's also located in a great residential neighborhood — my neighbors keep me from working too late (a welcome restriction), kids play outside of the studio, and I have room to host events and art shows with my childhood friend Benjamin Fanger, who shares the space with me."
"My work in the studio demands a comfortable, hearty wardrobe. I buy T-shirts by the dozens, and usually rock a single color for a couple years until I transition to a new batch. I have multiple pairs of the same jeans. One of my interns thought I was wearing the same dirty shirt and jeans every day until recently when she saw a pile of my laundry. It may be cliché, but I admire people like Steve Jobs for their dedication to a signature look. It's a great lesson in utility and marketing."
"When I started woodworking, PBS master-craftsman Norm Abrams represented the prevailing aesthetic: beard, flannel shirt, jeans, Red Wings — lumberjack lite. Among my peers at that time, masculine work wear was decidedly uncool. But, I've always liked being a little contrarian, and I rocked my own version of 1940s shop teacher. The trend has cycled around, though, and you're now as likely to see a graphic designer or programmer in a full Norm Abrams rig-out as one of my fellow tradespeople. I personally still tend toward a vintage, masculine aesthetic (minus the flannel and beard)."
"Part of why I was drawn to woodworking was a passion for things that increase in value with age and use. For example, I use a finish on my furniture that might not be the most impervious to spills, but produces a gorgeous natural patina over the decades. My favorite clothes are like that — sturdy pieces that are well broken-in or vintage articles still going strong after 80 years."
"The good stuff is expensive, but it's worth it. You should support quality, local or legacy brands that are trying to do things the right way. Another lesson that took me way too long to figure out: Dress for your body type. Not everything is going to work for you, so take some time to figure out the cuts that flatter your proportions the best."
Levi's '50s Tee, $25, available at Levi.com.
Levi's 508 Regular Taper Line 8 Jeans, $78, available at Levi.com.
Photographed by Maia Harms, Hair by Kendall Shira, Makeup by Katie Nash.