Kristen Wentrcek is the founder, owner, designer, and creative director of Wintercheck Factory, a Brooklyn, New York, manufacturer producing American-made, design-focused goods for living. Wintercheck Factory began designing and manufacturing furniture in 2009 and soon after, expanded into soft goods, including apparel, accessories, and home goods with a balance of aesthetic and functionality.
During MAKESHIFT 2013, Kristen Wentrcek joined us as a presenter and moderator for MAKESHIFT @ The Standard, an evening of conversation and making centered around the concepts of fashion, food, design, craft, and DIY and where they intersect. As a presenter, she helped lead the conversation, moving between three groups of makers and along with other presenters, shared her experiences with starting and running Wintercheck Factory, and how the elements of fashion, food, design, craft, and DIY have impacted her venture. She also re-crafted the above tote for the MAKESHIFT Conversations Image Quilt.
Kristen joins us today for a brief Q&A about Wintercheck Factory, making, American manufacturing, and MAKESHIFT.
AC: American manufacturing seems to be a core principal for Wintercheck Factory. You have a wonderful map of the U.S. on your website, marking all of the places your products are made. Was that level of transparency an initial goal, or did it come about after you started the business?
KW: I’ve always wanted to keep a level of transparency, not necessarily to make any sort of statement (although there are facets of it that are very important to me), but more because I love the entire process of having a product made. I try to go to as many factories as possible, partially because it is helpful to design better when you can see the actual machines and people that do the manufacturing and their limits, but also because there’s an aspect of discovery when you see how everyday products are actually made. I recently went to North Carolina to see a factory that is making a rocking chair for a furniture line that I’ve been working on. The owner was walking me around and we came to this huge long curved plywood form. As it turned out, it was the mold for the old wooden ski Nordic Track design! I think there’s something exciting about seeing the origins of everyday products and then being able to utilize the same techniques to make an entirely different product. I think you can start to appreciate products more, as you see the materials and techniques that go into making them. So it is partially about creating value through information and partially my own personal scrapbook. See photos here.
AC: You worked in real estate development before starting Wintercheck Factory. How has that experience influenced your present venture?
KW: I’ve always said that the process of having a product manufactured is similar to having a building made, minus the huge loans and massive team. Only in this situation, you’re the developer, architect and marketing team. The manufacturer is your different construction trades. It is not a complete direct translation, but I think that job gave me the right groundwork to figure out how to have a design fabricated on a small scale, when to take risks and how to budget it all.
AC: We love the bench you made for the MAKESHIFT Chair Workshop at Build It Green! NYC last May. Furniture was the first product Wintercheck Factory made. You also make really cool scarves and shower curtains with utility pockets. Do you see these items as a sort of furniture?
KW: I see them more as tools. I find it enjoyable to have cut and sew products manufactured because the investment is low, the turnaround is quick and they can be affordable to a wider audience. I also love the factory that I use in Greenpoint because the owners and the staff are so sharp and inventive. The opportunity to collaborate with them is sort of irresistible to me. Beyond that though, I think that by nature, furniture is a product that provides utility. So in the meantime while furniture is being developed, I’ve enjoyed injecting that quality into smaller products like the scarf and shower curtain, which both have storage pockets.
AC: What does MAKESHIFT mean to you, and how do the elements of fashion, food, design, craft, and/or DIY intersect for Wintercheck Factory?
KW: My understanding of MAKESHIFT is that it addresses the idea that ‘design’ is essentially everywhere, influencing everyone, all the time, from the shape of the spacebar on my keyboard to a George Nelson sofa, to a crocheted hat on Etsy.
AC: Tell us about your MAKESHIFT bag.
KW: In retrospect, I guess this is related to the third question! I took part of the fabric out of the right side and sewed it onto the front to create a pocket. Then I closed up the right side, sewing in a divider to hold change and pens.
You can see Kristen’s tote and all the MAKESHIFT totes as we add them to the MAKESHIFT Image Quilt.