Vedat Ulgen outside his Brooklyn studio, photos by Rachel Orlow
UncommonGoods is a place that celebrates entrepreneurs and makers and wholeheartedly embraces creativity. If you’ve spent much time shopping with us or reading our blog, you’ve seen this celebration shine through the stories we tell about our products and the designers who make them. These stories share what really makes the pieces we sell and the artists we work with unique.
While every product we sell meets standards that make it an uncommon good, every once in awhile something comes along that is truly weird. Weird in the best sense of the word: In the way that weird, new music makes you want to listen again and again. In the way that a brilliant invention makes you ponder how in the world someone actually came up with that. In the way that an eccentric person makes you want to get in touch with your own beautiful inner weirdo.
Vedat Ulgen’s Worn Sleeve Vase and Worn Jeans Stool are perfect examples of this type of “weird” design. They are totally unexpected, look one way and feel another, and are as useful as functional products as they are intriguing as art.
These designs are made from upcycled clothing, so they should be soft, right? But they have a unique texture that’s smooth and doesn’t feel anything like you’d imagine. It seems like the sleeves shouldn’t stand upright and the stools shouldn’t hold the weight of a full-grown person, but they do.
Like his products, Vedat’s studio, Thislexik, isn’t exactly what it seems. From the street, it looks like a stack of shipping containers. Get a bit closer to the five colorful containers, and it becomes clear that the stack is actually a building with a living roof and windows perfectly placed to let in enough light. Inside, Thislexik is rooted in sustainable practices, fueled by experimentation, and filled with dozens incredible designs.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Red Hook, Brooklyn studio myself recently, and as a proud proponent of the aforementioned brand of weird, I was in paradise. It’s hard to convey how inspiring this space is to someone who hasn’t been there, how cool these designs are to someone who hasn’t interacted with them, and how innovative Vedat is to someone who hasn’t met him, but I hope these photos and this interview are at least a start.
What are your most essential tools?
Our hands and our minds; our drive to experiment with materials.
Where do you find inspiration within this space?
We work inside of reclaimed shipping containers. That, to me, is inspiration enough. I helped design the studio—my first architectural endeavor—and the 1,500 square foot space implements an eco-friendly design for sustainability. We make all of our products in the shop downstairs and ideate in the office space upstairs where we can write on the walls or hang our drawings and inspirations. The dual space allows for my ideas to become designs and my designs come to life.
*Editor’s note: Vedat and his team consider sustainability in everything they do: The studio’s bathroom uses a composting toilet; the building is heated with stoves that burn pellets made of recycled sawdust (and they turn their own sawdust in to be made into pellets); a green roof helps keep the studio from overheating in the summer; and they collect and filter rainwater and air conditioner water for reuse.
Where does downtime fit into a day in the studio?
Our downtime is interspersed throughout the day—we maintain a general vibe that keeps everyone from getting too stressed. From time to time, we pull up videos on the projector screen when we order take out for lunch for inspiration. We keep it casual, but know when to put our heads together and get to work.
There’s a lot. For one, there’s jumping into the design industry without even realizing how tough and time consuming it is. When owning a business, you have to make your own schedule. Sometimes there are no weekends or evenings off. It’s just working all the time.
As the owner, you need to know every aspect of the business: sales, customer service, social media, marketing, and of course design and production. Owning a company is like a clown juggling seven bowls, while entertaining children, and trying to bake the birthday cake at the same party.
RUN! Run and don’t look back. No, but if I’m being serious, check if there’s water in a pool before you jump.
How do you set goals for yourself?
Being a start-up owner, setting up goals fluctuates; priorities fluctuate. Goals set themselves, depending on the company’s status and what it needs in that moment. Everyday is a new day for new goals to be set.
We meet in the office space once or twice a day to discuss our priorities as a team—whether that’s business development or what we’ll be producing to the minutia of running a successful company through social media, customer service, everything. We like to stay on top of our calendar We come in every morning and it feels like we throw a dart at the board to pick a goal for the day because there’s so much to be done.
How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
We celebrate everyday at 6 o’clock, knowing we’ve survived another day.
Victory is a mysterious object in the beginning phases of a startup. Every small accomplishment is a victory for us and that calls for a celebratory moment with our team members, whether it’s enjoying a lunch out, or a few drinks over dinner. We like to keep the morale up and the team close.
For me, victory is being a good team that gets the job done—we celebrate with each other for the stressful times we’ve survived in the studio.
What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“The only thing standing between you and your goals is the bullsh*t story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” –Jordan Belfort
What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
For the past two years, I’ve been trying to learn business and management. I have a background in designing and working with different materials, but the skill I never learned (in school) was business. So I chose to learn it the hard way by opening up my own company.
How do you recharge your creativity?
My creativity is driven from curiosity. I’m shocked that some people don’t know how things they use everyday work, like a light bulb, or an elevator. When I learn something new, or how something works, I can implement that knowledge and technology in my life by reifying or deconstructing its meaning and applying it to the process of designing new products.
Collaboration plays a role in every part of the company—from the business aspect to designing. Collaborating with other people makes better design—or better ideas that make better designs. Whenever I outsource, I always do so locally; I like to be friendly with the people I work with and enjoy bouncing ideas off one another before reaching a conclusion.