Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Re-Doers: Interview With Stephanie Huffaker and Giveaway!

Hello, friends! Sorry for the radio silence! It's been a wonderfully crazy couple of months including everything from an impromptu move, finishing my first DIY book (yay!) and a much needed vacation. I'll be posting a new tutorial next week, but today I wanted to do something a little different...  

I regularly come across fantastic makers who create some seriously great work from recycled and reclaimed materials. For a while now, I've wanted to do interviews with some of my favorites, so this will be the first of a semi-regular feature that combines an interview along with a giveaway of a piece by the featured designer. I've never done giveaways on here before but I LOVE what these designers do and love the idea that this will give you a chance to love it, too! You can find info about the giveaway at the bottom of the post. Enjoy the interview!

I couldn't be more excited about kicking this off with my friend, Stephanie Huffaker! 
I first met Stephanie several years back when we were both vendors at a handmade market. After eyeing her goods all afternoon, I had to check it out from up close. Her stuff was beautiful! It was even more exciting when she told me that most of it was entirely recycled materials. I've been a fan ever since. Over the years we've become friends and I've even had the opportunity to assist her at a few of her free bracelet workshops that she offers through the New York Public Library. I tell ya, this girl is the real deal. I'm so inspired by her perspective on the act of creation and think that you will be, too.

How long have you been crafting? 
A long time! :) Crafting was a big thing in my family growing up. We were always working on some kind of craft project or other. My mother sewed a lot of my sister & I's clothes as a kids and encouraged us to help her so we both became avid sewers early on. Sewing & crochet were my favorites back then and I think what I do now just builds on that love of fiber arts and traditional handicrafts. 

When did you begin focusing on recycled/ trash items for your projects? 
After college. I actually went about it in a very serious and studious manner! Now, looking back I find kind of funny, especially since the outcome of all my seriousness has been all these bright, candy-colored, somewhat tongue-in-cheek accessories!

I studied Industrial Design at Pratt and after I graduated, I wasn't sure what to do with myself to be quite honest. I had diverse interests and strong convictions that I wanted to create objects in a way that didn't harm other people or the planet. And it was very important to me to be able to express myself creatively. I had hoped to find a job that would satisfy all of these things, but that's a tall order! So in the meantime, I gave myself a design brief, like one we would have received in school, in order to keep my brain in shape for tinkering and problem-solving. This isn't the exact brief but it's pretty close as I remember it: 

a. Research a ubiquitous object that is thought to be extremely low-grade, "worthless" and disposable.

b. View the object as abstractly as possible, as a pure raw material, free of any associations to what it once was.

c. The general perception of this chosen object is that it has very little or no value, therefore people don't think twice before throwing it away. On a mass scale the way we perceive, and in turn, manufacture, use and dispose of this object has wrecked havoc on our environment and our health. What qualities does this "disposable" object/raw material have that can be exploited to make interesting objects that people do value? How can this object be used in a way that is positive, and starts a conversation about the way we value the objects around us? And if possible, can it be fun????

Around the time I gave myself this brief, I was visiting someone and it struck me that all the plastic bags under their sink (you know, the typical place people stash 'em!) were these amazing bright, beautiful colors! When I opened the cabinet door it was just like "Wow Wee!!" And once I started experimenting with them, (they gladly gave me all of them!) I was really excited to find that plastic bags can be worked with in ways similar to working with fiber art. Since I love fiber arts and I'm passionate about sustainability, it was very exciting to find a way to marry those two things in a way that would be a new creative adventure! I was pretty psyched. :)

Why/What inspired this? 
I read a book called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough & Michael Braungart. In it, they discuss their ideas of designing objects with a 'no-waste', closed-loop lifecycle: 'cradle to cradle' rather than 'cradle to grave' (grave meaning the landfill). At the time it was required reading for all students in the Industrial Design department at Pratt.

Do you feel optimistic about the future? 
Great question! A lot of what you hear about environmentalism can be pretty depressing! Especially (in some ways) when you're someone who loves designing and making objects! Sometimes you have to wonder: is it a good thing to be making more objects? Do we need more objects? Is your work going to have a positive impact?

How can we be creative object-makers, enjoy life, communicate, make people smile and/or provoke new ways of thinking? Can we do these things without making more pollution & using up resources in a way that would threaten people's health and livelihoods down the road? These are heavy questions and pretty tough goals, they can be a little over whelming!

My way of dealing with them is to focus on the small positive changes we can make as individuals using the abilities and resources we have access to. I'm a designer/crafter working on a small scale, on things that I'm passionate about: discovering new processes for making things by hand, communicating a bit of the way I see the world, getting pumped up about fun stuff like color & texture etc. Through my projects I hope to get people thinking  about the reality of how our actions affect the environment, but also to get them excited about looking at the things around them in a more positive light.

So what are you up to now?
I'm excited to be working on some new sculpture and accessory designs which incorporate more types of disposable materials- such as broken umbrellas and plastic blinds! I'm also using a few other recycled materials such as recycled leather scraps and occasionally bits of vinyl records.

I'm also working on an ongoing installation project about the way that plastic photodegrades. You'll be able to check out updates on my progress with this piece on my blog over the next few months. I'm hoping to display it in progress sometime next fall.

I have several upcycled craft workshops coming up around the city at places such as LaGuardia Community College and various Queens Library locations. The workshops I teach through the Queens Libraries are free and open to the public through a great program called Greening Western Queens. You can find out more about these workshops by checking out my shop announcements on etsy: 

If you'd like to win these 4 stackable bangles made by Stephanie, 
just follow and leave a comment below. 
I'll announce the winner in next week's post. Good luck!


  1. these are awesome! all of the work is great looking, and it's so cool to know that the materials are so ubiquitous.... :) inspiring!

  2. Those bangles are amazing. I want many many of them please!!!!!! What cool work!

  3. omg love this! I want those bangles!!

  4. Thanks for the great interview and photos of Stephanie's work. Love it !

  5. Super-rad! Love the objects made with plastic bags.