In Conversation With… Elliat Rich and James Young of Elbowrkshp
He makes fine leather footware and baggage under the banner of James B Young. She makes limited edition furniture under her name, Elliat Rich. Based in Alice Springs, they create industrial design pieces under the aegis of their brand, Elbowrkshp.
Elliat, James, talk me through your individual and collaborative practices.
JY: Well, I have my own work on shoes, bags and leather good as James B Young and Elliat has her own rich and diverse design practice. Elbowrkshp is a burgeoning brand that is a really collaborative space for us that involves Elliat’s design skills and me pretty much on the tools, making things. That’s becoming more of a focus for us. What we’re trying to do is offer up scope by hooking into Elliat’s design thinking and design language and my basis in materiality.
ER: It’s the classic equation of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. There’s a lot more specif, specer.. James, can you say that word for me.
ER: Thanks. There’s a lot more specificity to us, being here in Alice Spring, much more story in the product. The process is so different, we’re out here, client correspondence is carried out in a controlled manner and our work process is incredibly organic – much more than would ever be possible if we were living in one of the big cities. We’re heads down, doing our stuff. We’ll be discussing things all the time, as well as at designated production times.
Talk me through an Elbowrkshp product, the process from conception to market.
EY: Okay, so let’s look at the Elbowrkshp Core which we released recently. It’s made from Central Australian sandstone and a good example of where we’re going with Elbowrkshp. We started off by asking ourselves, ‘What can we say about this place?’ We together came up with the idea of using local sandstone, and then it was a matter of finding local makers, stonemasons, craftsmen and mechanics to tool up for us to be able to create the work. We do a lot of design work on the drive out into the Outback, discussing what we want to say and what we can do with the material we’re considering.
Is sourcing local craftsmen that easy?
ER: Not at all.
JY: This product was in many ways a result of the consideration: What is a locally available resource? What it came down to was second generation stone masons, guys who are drilling for the mining industry.
ER: So we’re rocking up to the core samplers working in the mining industry and saying, ‘Hi, we want to produce this high-end design product!’ They are extremely specific in what they do and extremely diligent in the way they apply their skill, but have never worked on a design object that needs to be precise and consistent in perhaps a totally different way. It requires resourcefulness and lateral thinking not just on our part but on theirs. But it’s the same kind of resourcefulness that anyone who lives remotely of necessity becomes adept at.
Living remote is part of your narrative, part of your lives. You’ve had your three kids out there and are raising them remote from big city life. Have you made a commitment to grow your aesthetics along with your ethics?
ER: We’re definitely interested in the ethics of living remote first and foremost.
JY: Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, Alice Springs is actually a really good sized town with a lot of great resources. To have a young family, to both be involved in the creative industries. We look at the major cities and realize we just couldn’t do it. Commute times, housing prices all of the things that mitigate against a good life. The community here is really strong and there’s a really strong creative community so we actually feel very well nurtured and supported.
ER: While we try to say there’s a real lack of resources where we are, in fact that’s something all Australian designers are confronted with. If we were in Europe, it would be a different story altogether, but in the context of Australia we don’t feel greatly disadvantaged living outside what are usually considered the centres of activity. We get so much more from living here than what we miss out on.
Have you strategized Elbowrkshp to fulfill a certain typological roster, or do you simply come up with ideas as you’re driving cross-country?
JY: We’re moving towards that model, quite quickly actually. We’ve recently begun planning the business in a strategic way. The Elbowrkshp products have to date emerged from us having workshops or ready produce, but we’ve realised it’s a really good platform for us to develop product that will have an international audience and impact beyond Australia.
But our priority is the @elbowrkshp.
Elliat and James were In Conversation With… Stephen Todd