Maker entrepreneurs are a special breed. It takes drive, passion, courage, skill, knowledge, creativity, resourcefulness and business savvy to bring a quality product to the world that adds value to peoples’ lives. Not for the faint of heart. The saying “it takes a village” is apt – usually there is a partner, family members, friends, colleagues or a community lending their support and encouragement.
John grew up in Memphis and Kristina in St. Louis. They met at art school in Los Angeles and have lived in the Bay Area for twenty years. John creates watches that are both timely and timeless under the moniker Bespoke Watch Projects, Kristina designs chic yet effortless clothing for her label, Lacson Ravello.
They live in a 1920s Craftsman Bungalow in North Oakland and share a spacious studio in their back garden. We chat with them about how they met, their backgrounds and paths toward starting their own maker businesses, and how as a married couple they work together and support each other.
Hi John and Kristina. How did you guys meet?
John – We both attended Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and lived in the same apartment building. However, we did not actually meet until the Northridge earthquake of 1994. After evacuating our building, Kristina and I chatted for three hours as we sat on the curb. Two years later we met again at a mutual friend’s birthday dinner, and started dating shortly thereafter. It took me a while before realizing that she was the same “earthquake girl” I had met on that dark street previously. Kristina knew all along, and still does not let me live it down.
Kristina – Yep, it took a bit of “shaking” for us to meet.
“Kristina and I both come from families with creative and entrepreneurial roots, so I think the road to becoming independent makers was inevitable.”
What are your work backgrounds, and what inspired you to start your own creative maker businesses?
John – Kristina and I both come from families with creative and entrepreneurial roots, so I think the road to becoming independent makers was inevitable.
Having worked with large brands over the years (Apple, Sony, NBC) and co-founding a design firm ten years ago (SemiBig Creative Industries), Bespoke Watch Projects is a culmination of my experience in visual design, brand strategy, and product development—as well as twenty years as a watch collector.
Kristina – My grandmother and great aunt ran a dressmaking business in the Philippines. As a kid I loved the arts and sewed my own clothes, so it was natural for me to pursue a career in fashion. I have two cousins who are also designers in the industry, thus fashion seems to be in our blood.
After working for big apparel companies over the past twenty years (Gap Inc., Target Corp., Bebe), the timing seemed right to start on my own. I launched Lacson Ravello two years ago.
What are some of the biggest challenges, and rewards, of being an independent designer/maker?
John – What’s interesting is that the challenges and rewards are frequently one in the same. All small businesses must balance a lot of concurrent tasks, such as design, strategy, budgeting, and marketing. I’ve found that many of these areas compliment and inform one another. For example, the budgetary constraints when creating a new product may lead me down a path that I would not have explored before. There have been cases in which I’ve used non-traditional approaches to produce particular parts, such as watch dials. The results were more unique than what I would have originally produced.
“Having a detached studio space definitely helps. It’s also nice to have a creative cohort nearby to bounce ideas and get a trusted opinion.”
Kristina – I agree. I love being on my own and then I remember, “Oh yeah, I’m on my own” (with teeth clenched). The overall struggle is real but the satisfaction of being independent and carving your own path is priceless! I’m not gonna lie—I’ve made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. I’m still learning everyday, which is really gratifying.
How does being a married couple working in the same studio – on your own businesses – work?
John – We have a sizable detached studio behind our house that allows us to share a workspace and still have individual areas. Our phases of work also fluctuate, so we are not necessarily doing the same tasks from one day to the next. It’s common for me to be assembling watches while Kristina is doing design work, and the next day she may be cutting fabric while I’m next door refinishing a watch part. Overall we have the benefit of supporting one another creatively, but are able to maintain individual focus as needed.
Kristina – Having a detached studio space definitely helps. It’s also nice to have a creative cohort nearby to bounce ideas and get a trusted opinion. We agree on things for the most part, but occasionally take part in an “invigorating debate”.
What inspires you?
John – My “inspiration bank” is pretty eclectic. Swiss horology and Modern design are the two primary bookends for my design process—paying homage to traditional watchmaking as well as contemporary typography, graphics, and product design.
The less obvious influences are more conceptual in nature. The act of watchmaking is quite meditational and Zen-like, requiring concentration, patience, and dexterity. Music is a very important component for me in this regard, as I spend hours behind the bench. It definitely keeps me in “the zone” mentally. The immediacy and physicality of making watches is also an integral part of the process—this act of “making a mark” is akin to sculpture and painting. I guess it’s no accident that fine art was my original pursuit in school.
Kristina – I’m inspired by so much and it has evolved over time. When I was working for big companies, it was always a more linear approach, more thematic, and a challenge to figure out what was “the next big trend” that everyone was going to jump on. For Lacson Ravello, I take a more pragmatic and intuitive approach. I love searching for just the right fabric and asking myself what I would like to wear, whether it’s the hand (how it feels), a print, or texture—so I let the medium speak to me. If I find a fabric that feels right and the ideas start coming, it usually ends up in the line. I have to personally like it and want to wear it.
I’m also inspired by the Bay Area lifestyle that is so distinct from other regions, and design with that woman in mind—uncomplicated yet cool, effortless, and always prepared for chilly morning and evenings.
How has living in the Bay Area influenced you and your work? What are the advantages of being here?
John – The Bay Area historically has always inspired, fostered, and nurtured entrepreneurs and creative thinkers. We have found that this to be true, whether it’s the support of other makers, availability of local resources, or desire of customers to seek out and support local makers.
Kristina – Ditto that. Living in an open-minded and fostering community has helped a lot. I occasionally ask myself would I be able to do my own line living in another town. Perhaps in LA or New York where they have sizeable fashion resources, but the mentality seems to be different—starting small but being prepared to go big with marketing, reach, production, etc. In the Bay Area there’s a similar motivation but there also seems to be an acceptance to remain small and niche with steady growth. I kind of like that.