“to make” – construct; create; put parts together to form something; cause something to exist.
In theory, we all make things everyday. But think about the last time you truly made something – with your mind, with your hands, with your heart. Maybe you cooked dinner from scratch, designed your own garden, built a table, or fashioned a piece of jewelry. You created something, whether for yourself or someone else. Maybe it was your own idea, or perhaps you borrowed bits and pieces from others. Either way, you put it out there, a tangible piece of your efforts, and it felt fantastic.
Dustin Klein and Ellie Lum are professional makers and are lucky enough to experience this feeling each day through their various artistic expressions. Dustin is the founder of Cadence lifestyle cycling apparel and has a fine art practice, using mediums of design, painting, and tattooing. Ellie is the founding partner of RE Load Bags and specializes in the craft of sewing and teaching skill-building workshops. Together they created Klum House, a space where they live and work. As skilled makers, they make all the things they need or want, and offer many of their goods and wares for sale. Simply put, it’s seriously cool.
“I personally want more people in the world to spend their time using their hands to make things. Because I think it can bring so much joy and so much creativity to the world. That’s the world I want to live in.” – Ellie
Klein + Lum = Klum
With a shared desire to start a new chapter, Dustin and Ellie had been working toward the goal of Klum House for over five years. Both are self-proclaimed “home bodies,” and they wanted to make a transition to fully surround themselves with their own living art, in a space where they could gain inspiration from their surroundings. The pair had previously worked in their own off-site art studios and have tried different setups for their designing and making, but they knew the ideal creative scenario would be incorporating all elements of their life together, where they could make, create, design, and live all in one space.
Having called Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Berkley all “home” in the past, Dustin and Ellie decided on Portland, Oregon. Cycling is their preferred method of transportation and a key part of their respective businesses, so the most bike-friendly city in the country just made sense. They packed up everything in April of 2015, including their sweetheart Yorkshire Terrier Winston, and made the move.
These talented makers had met a few times over the years and were friends as well as artistic collaborators, both coming from the cycling culture and having worked as bike messengers. “We really matched,” Dustin shares with a smile. “It all feels right. That’s why we are here in Portland right now…aligning the parts up to live the life you want to live and spend your time the way you want to spend your time. It’s what feels right.” They love to cook vegetarian meals, spend time outdoors gardening, cycling, and surfing, as well as work on their special projects, with making and creating always at the heart of everything they do for work and play.
You can feel the easy and natural chemistry between them, and a mutual respect for their creative visions and individual talents. They work well together and make complementary art, yet they each have their own distinct style and artistic spirit. Klum House is the not only their home and workspace, but the goods and art they sell. It’s the perfect blend of their personalities and multidisciplinary works. “We are always making things,” Dustin shares. “We might as well put them together and see what we can do with it.”
“Aligning the parts up to live the life you want to live and spend your time the way you want to spend your time. It’s what feels right.” – Dustin
Klum House is a beautiful, sustainable space in North Portland that encompasses their home, individual studios, workshop with Ellie’s teaching space, a woodshop, and Dustin’s tattoo studio. Their home incorporates their sustainable practices and handmade wares in every facet: the walls are filled with Dustin’s designs and art, Ellie’s textiles beautify their furnishings, lush greenery and botanicals bring life to the surroundings in different up-cycled containers, Ellie’s hand-built garden beds enhance the backyard, various tools and supplies serve as decoration and inspiration for their work, and there are even have hand-made beds for Winston.
All Sewed Up – Ellie Lum
“If I wasn’t doing the work the way that I am or creating the way I am, I would be limiting myself for the world.” – Ellie
Born and raised in San Francisco, Ellie always had a knack for sewing and making. Her mom taught her to hand-sew as a child, and she fondly recalls stitching clothes for her Barbie dolls to keep herself busy when she was sick with pneumonia as a young girl, and continued to hone her skills over the years through trial and error. At the age of 16 she became a bike messenger in Philadelphia, where she launched RE Load Bags in 1998, a custom messenger bag company, helping fellow messengers carry their goods around the city. She transitioned to Seattle next, and opened a store for locally made goods to sell her bags, with a fully integrated workshop next door. Ellie employed up to 20 sewers at a time and trained them to make bags from start to finish, with every aspect being completed in-house and never outsourced. She watched her employees use the sewing skills to start their own businesses, and was inspired by how they translated what she taught them into the art of making for a living. “I started realizing that I had a lot more fun and enjoyment teaching people how to sew and how to make a living off of a skill,” Ellie explains.
When rent increased dramatically at her space in Seattle, she told Dustin she wanted to go to school, so she sold the shares of her business in Philadelphia and they moved to the Bay Area. She studied Environmental Education at City College and UC Berkley, studying how people learn with their bodies and senses. Ellie taught sewing at a local workshop school, which gave her the vision to specialize in skill-based sewing classes at Klum House.
“I started realizing that I had a lot more fun and enjoyment teaching people how to sew and how to make a living off of a skill.” – Ellie
Ellie lights up as she talks about sewing and interacting with other makers, and finds fulfillment in sharing the knowledge and talent she has gained as a professional bag maker for the last 17 years, whether in private lessons or her intimate workshop classes. She has always had a propensity for teaching, recalling a time in fifth grade when her math teacher wasn’t able to make it to class and asked Ellie to take over the instruction. Her teaching style focuses on how to design products for the marketplace, and she freely shares her vast background as a business owner and entrepreneur. She also encourages all of her students to actively make mistakes in her classes. “If you make a mistake in the class when I’m there, you’re actually getting more for your money than if you don’t make mistakes,” Ellie explains. “Because I’m going to show you how to troubleshoot those, and you’re going to learn so much more and remember because you did it twice.”
With her profound understanding of life as a professional maker and the natural ability to instill her expertise in a way that resonates with others, Ellie is fueled by her passion for teaching, yet can still express her art through her different sewing works. “If I wasn’t doing the work the way that I am or creating the way I am, I would be limiting myself for the world,” she shares. “And that’s just not something I am willing to do.”
Down to a Fine Art – Dustin Klein
“Practice is the secret weapon to success in anything…you have to be okay with it not being good in the beginning.” – Dustin
Dustin grew up in Fargo, North Dakota and was addicted to skate boarding when he was young, using it as a creative outlet in an area without many cultural influences. He moved to different cities after graduation, seeking artistic stimulation. When he lived in San Francisco, life as a professional maker clicked for him. “Oh shit, you can make things for a living!” he shared about the realization. “I had never been confronted with that or put the pieces together…this is a different way to live and I want do that…I just need to make things.”
In 2003, Dustin started Cadence, a lifestyle cycling clothing company, which emerged from his idea that at the time there were limited apparel options for cyclers. He moved to Seattle in 2005 and used a space in Ellie’s workshop as a landing point to get settled into his new work. He took the brand to the next level in 2011 with a business partner, which then opened up his time to focus on different artistic expressions, like tattooing. “I have a fine art practice, but I just make shit all the time,” Dustin laughs. “I’m just constantly making stuff.”
Naturally curious and filled with a compulsion to make and design, Dustin has a structured, yet free-flowing approach to his fine art practice, using different mediums like painting, drawing and tattooing. “Why do I jump mediums? I don’t know…it’s like a blessing and a curse” he shares about his multidisciplinary practices. “Jack-of-all-trades, master of none…there’s this weird thing in me that wants to do everything…you can be a master at anything, but you can be really good at doing things…but to do just that one thing, I don’t know. I wish that I did that. Because I think if I did just one thing it would be very intense.” Focusing on one form is just not Dustin’s style, and his self-confidence in designing or making new things allows him true creative freedom.
“This is a different way to live and I want do that…I just need to make things.” – Dustin
Self-taught and gifted with the ability to translate a vision into an artistic reality, Dustin sees art in everything around him. He is keenly observant and always interested in what can be done with different goods, materials, and designs. He also understands the importance of taking a stab at different mediums that may be outside his comfort zone. “Everyone is their own worst enemy, like 99% of the time. You see it constantly. People that end up doing projects that are often successful…they aren’t stopping themselves, they are just doing.” Dustin explains. “Just fucking try, it’s going to suck the first time…try, fail, try, fail. Practice is the secret weapon to success in anything…you have to be okay with it not being good in the beginning.”
State of the Art
Like all makers, Dustin and Ellie face times where they battle creative blocks with their art. They have learned different tricks and techniques over time to cultivate their inspiration. Whether it’s taking breaks, sketching, or developing a process to help them simplify their work, they each find ways to cut through the clutter and distractions. “Don’t put too much pressure on it, let it be,” Dustin shares. “Just start. Just start doing stuff. Trust the process.”
“Use the resources you have and work with what you’ve got…break it down into the most attainable thing you can do at this moment.” – Dustin
They have also learned that when you expose yourself to new things you can get a sense of what’s right for you. “You have to be willing to take risks…explore it. Just try to do it in some form,” Ellie explains. “Say you want to be a painter, but you don’t know how to paint. First, just get some paints and try it out, see how you feel. Try it on a small scale.”
Like any artist, designer, or maker, they both experience the competition in a marketplace that can sometimes feel saturated or even discouraging at times. Ellie has friends who ask her why she would want to teach others her sewing skills and create her own competition. “I actually have a really strong belief that if people are in their own artistic element, that whatever they make is going to be different,” Ellie explains. “Because that’s from them and they are unique in who they are.” And sometimes giving your secrets away teaches you even more in the process.
The common theme that echoes between Dustin and Ellie, and translates into their success as professional makers, is their innate confidence to try. “Don’t think it to death,” Dustin expresses. “Just start doing it. I didn’t have any money when I started Cadence…use the resources you have and work with what you’ve got…break it down into the most attainable thing you can do at this moment.”
So why does making and creating feel so good? Perhaps it’s the break from our virtual world, a connection to our human ancestors who had to make in order to survive, or losing ourselves in the sensory experience of something we can use and share with others. In learning new skills, we find more appreciation for our own goods and wares, and a better understanding of different forms of art. Ultimately, in the most human sense, it’s satisfying. “I personally want more people in the world to spend their time using their hands to make things,” Ellie shares. “Because I think it can bring so much joy and so much creativity to the world. That’s the world I want to live in.”