ALL IN THE FAMILY: STANLEY & SONS

 

Chris and Lindsay are the slender surfer couple behind the apron and bag company Stanley & Sons. You’ve probably seen them out in the lineup in Montauk, cruising by with slinky style and wispy grace; one might be riding an Andreini Streaker, the other on a Robin Kegel Killer. If there’s swell, they’ll usually squeeze in two or three sessions in between hand sewing bags in the basement workshop of their home in the Springs on Long Island. When it’s flat, Lindsay handcrafts and sells ceramics, and the pair collaborate on bumper stickers.

While the company is still fairly young, there’s some family history behind the brand. The Stanley & Sons moniker is an ode to Chris’s grandfather, Stanley Grodzki, who owned and operated Apron and Bag Supply Co. in Manhattan, a manufacturer of factory aprons and bags. In 2008, Chris too started making bags and aprons in his bedroom, mostly for himself or for friends, and eventually grew the weekend hobby into a business.

It’s been roughly two summers since the husband/wife team moved their home base and business operation from Brooklyn to Springs for cheaper rent and better surf. We visited Chris and Lindsay at their home studio in December of 2014 where they let us take a peek at their quiver and snap shots of their newest employee, a puppy named Goose.

[Goose, world's best helper.]

Chelsea Burcz: Tell me about how Stanley & Sons came into fruition…

Chris Grodzki: My grandfather originally worked for a company called Aprons for Industry in lower Manhattan and the company was suddenly closing. My grandfather wanted to buy the business from the owner and keep it going, but the owner didn’t want to sell and eventually closed up shop. My grandfather then rented the storefront across the street and moved all the sewing machines there, as well as all of the machine operators. The following month they went back into the original space and continued working there. It was at that time he started Apron and Bag Supply Company. He passed away when I was young, so I never got a chance to work there. He always had large bolts of fabric, so when he passed away a lot of it ended up in my mother’s house. As a result, I always had an abundance of fabric around me, and I learned how to sew at a relatively young age. I’d sew myself pouches and things like that.

In 2008, I started making tote bags. Then I made an apron for a friend; he was working on his bicycle so I made him an apron so he wouldn’t get grease all over clothes. I think I was originally drawn to aprons because it’s a really simple thing you can get technical on. I started thinking, I’m making aprons and bags and that’s what my grandfather did, wouldn’t it be funny if I continued this? I thought it was a joke. Now our aprons are based off of a bunch of aprons that my grandfather had made, that’s where our curve comes from -- it’s same with our tote bag.

A friend who owned Luddite Antique store, which is now in Greenpoint, offered to sell the bags. At the time I still had a full-time job doing photo retouching, so I was making the aprons and bags on the side. I’d maybe make one bag over the weekend and somehow that was entertaining for me. When it was going well enough that I had work for at least three months, I quit my job. We’ve just been doing the same thing since then. I originally started in my bedroom, then I moved to my living room, and then I found a shared space to work. Soon after Lindsay reached out to me.

[Chris in his home basement studio.]

Lindsay Grodzki: I was living in San Francisco and making stuff just for fun on my own, mostly bags and belts. I saw Stanley & Sons online and I thought that it was really nice stuff. I emailed Chris thinking it was some big company, I guess I didn’t research it very well. I was coming to New York for the summer and I asked him if I could intern and learn the trade. I went to the garage shared studio on a really hot summer day in Brooklyn and I was like “oh.” It ended up being really cool to meet Chris and to see what he was doing.

CG: We didn’t have a bathroom in the studio and we were right next door to a bar. So basically when you had to go to the bathroom that was the end of the work day. We’d get a beer and use the bathroom.

LG: Then we moved the studio to Williamsburg below the former Moon River Annex -- and then Chris convinced me to move to New York.

CG: We met when we were really starting to get busy and needed help. She came in and was amazing. From the first day she took to tasks very well. She worked. We thought the same, we approached problems the same way.

All of our rivets are backed with leather washers. We now have them clicked out for us, which is a reasonable thing to do, but we used to have to do it by hand. You’d take the hide, punch a hole in one circle and then punch another hole in the center of that circle. A regular bag has 20 rivets which means 20 washers, 5 bags is 100 of those. We were punching every one of those by hand. We still do all the riveting by hand but not the washers. So that being said, Lindsay did an insane amount of those and the first thing I thought was, “You’re incredible. I would’ve already stopped and had a beer by now.”

CB: So what’s your process like now?

LC: In Williamsburg, we thought we’d make our own little factory. We had an employee work with us full time, and then we had a lady that would come in and help us sew and a guy who would come in after hours and rivet with us.

CG: While in Williamsburg, we worked 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day.

LC: We were running ourselves ragged. Not only manufacturing, but also trying to keep up with designing and making a website, and all the other parts that go along with running a business.

CG: At the time, it was expensive for us in rent considering we were doing it by our shoe strings. I’ve always wanted to work with a factory but it’s hard to find someone who is capable of doing one thing well. You can find people who can make bags but it’s got to be constructed well. I’ve met with a couple factories over the years but never met with anyone who had the same attention to detail.

Eventually, the lease on our building was sold so we had to leave. We were given maybe two months notice. We were also in the middle of production. It was stressful. We got through a season, and we started working with a factory on certain styles. They are in Texas. We still sew all the aprons and we still do all the leather dying and leatherwork. They never touch the riveting either, so I think last season we did like 10,000 rivets, all set by hand. In the end I had a cyst calcium build up in my wrist...that was interesting.

CB: How did you end up in Springs?

LG: Because we started surfing more.

CG: Well, we originally were going to look at apartments in Long Beach the day of Sandy.

LG: We thought we’d commute. We thought it wouldn’t be that bad because we would drive after traffic hours. The idea was to live in Long Beach and have a studio in Williamsburg.

[The Stanley & Sons line up.]

CG: We never went out in Brooklyn really, we weren’t going to bars. We worked all day indoors, and then we’d go home and we were indoors. We never spent anytime outdoors. We’d always be driving to Long Beach in the morning, so we thought if we started our morning Long Beach, we'd have so much more time to surf.

LG: So we went the day of Sandy just to look at waves and we thought about looking at apartments, too. Then Long Beach got really wrecked, and then we lost our studio.

CG: We had a really great deal in Williamsburg and it’s a really special neighborhood, but we wouldn’t be able to afford to stay there. We were kind of just fed up and were just looking anywhere on Long Island. I’m from Long Island and I’m attached to my family so I wasn’t ready to move to California, so that’s why we’re still in New York. My sister and brother-in-law showed us Springs.

LG: We wanted to live in Springs because it's more wooded, it doesn’t feel so beachy.

CG: It also doesn’t seem so transient. Most people live here year round. Montauk fluctuates so much, but here all the neighbors that live around our house are here all the time. That being said, this area is slightly more affordable because it's all people who live here and are employed by this place, whereas East Hampton is mostly summer homes. Montauk has a lot of people who live there and work there, but they also have a lot of people who drive in and out. We came from Brooklyn where we weren’t taking advantage of the nightlife, so we moved out here and it wasn't a huge change. We work all the time, but now we’re just closer to the ocean and we’re happy.

CB: Let’s talk about the design of the bags, they are more sturdy than most typical canvas bags.

CG: Our bags are made of a really heavy selvedge edge woven canvas and it’s naturally stiff. We now silkscreen them instead of dying them. We originally brought our bags to the dye house but they fucked up a bunch of colors. We thought, why don’t we just silk screen the color on the bag? It’s cool too because the silk screen will sort of wear in and it will get character from the person who wears it. I’m siked on it because whether it's been done before or not, it seems unique to me.

Our leather bags are cool because they are all hand dyed and we sew them inside out, and then soak them in water and flip them right side out. While they’re still wet, we’ll do the riveting and dry it on a box. That’s how the leather bags are so stiff. The leather is so thick that we once used it as a wetsuit bag from the drive from Long Beach to Brooklyn and it didn’t soak the car seat. And actually the leather did break in nicely with the salt water.

[The Stanley & Sons work space.]

CB: Lindsay, when did you begin introducing ceramics?

LG: I jumped on the ceramics band wagon maybe three years ago because I wanted another creative outlet and I’d always love ceramics. In ceramics, every step matters, you can mess up your project at any point. The hardest part is the glazing at the very end. Glaze is crazy to me because the color you want is a different color in the bucket. I want this blue color, but it’s pink in the bucket, and then I’ll debate about putting black in it -- it’s like painting blind, I’m still learning. Out here in Springs I rent a studio space which is actually a two car garage with an apartment on top that’s been converted into a full ceramics studio that has 24 hour access. There’s a gas kiln in Water Mill and I just started firing stuff in there and it’s a game changer. They are actually proposing to East Hampton to build a Japanese style wood kiln in Amagansett, which would be so cool.

[At home with Lindsay.]

 [Lindsay's ceramics.]

CB: How’s the bumper sticker business going?

LG: Chris has an obsession with bumper stickers and slogans.

CG: My dad just gave me a sweatshirt from the local all-weather tire dealer that made their own sweatshirt that says, “Invite us to your next blowout!”

LG: The rule is I’m not allowed to spend more than two minutes designing it, it can’t look too thought out.

Stanley & Sons bags, aprons, and accessories are available at both Pilgrim locations and online here. Visit their website here.

- Words by Chelsea Burcz 

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