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The Road to Slabtown



First things first. So, you know this bag we’ve been talking about forever? (Well, since last November, actually, but what even is time anymore?) This totally next-level, heavy-duty, super-functional, rolltop backpack we’ve been working away at for months? Yes, the Slabtown. That’s the one. Well, I am very happy to announce that this amazing labor of love now has abirthdate. The Slabtown Rolltop Backpack, our bundle of pride and joy, will officially be joining the Klum House collection onMonday, June 1. That’s 11 days away! Queue the fireworks and happy dances and virtual celebrations—okay, and maybejust a touch of panic attack 😅—butmostly those other things.

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Even in optimal conditions, organizing a big product launch (or, in our case, many interrelated product launches simultaneously) is a major undertaking. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and WOW, things get tricky pretty fast. Like so many other small businesses the world over, we’ve had to adapt and pivot and reinvent in ways we never could have imagined just months ago. We’ve had to rip up and throw out many of our old roadmaps, plans that felt so certain, and draw up new ones on the fly. It’s been a wild ride. And yet, here we are! Still kicking. And here the Slabtown is! So close to its birthdate. Through a magical combination of good fortune, a kick ass team, and serious hard work, the show goes on.

With the Slabtown launch around the corner, we thought we’d take a moment to share some of the things we’ve learned along this unexpectedly bumpy and winding road. But before we do, we want to acknowledge that these setbacks pale in comparison to the the unimaginable scale of grief and loss experienced by so many during this crisis, including the healthcare professionals and other frontline responders who have been working tirelessly, fighting an uphill battle without adequate protection. We are extremely fortunate that the Klum House team is healthy and that we have been able to keep our business afloat through our online shop and the continued support of our amazing community.

People first, always. 

This one is a no brainer. It’s at the heart of the entire global response to curbing the spread of Covid-19—every stay-at-home order, every mask sewn, every non-essential business put on pause—but in those first days and weeks after the pandemic turned the world as we know it on its head, we were faced with the task of figuring out what, specifically, Klum House’s response and responsibility needed to be in all of this. How should we be directing our energy? Continuing work as normal was out of the question.

During that bout of existential vertigo (the first of many) all of those Slabtown deadlines, confidently and colorfully arranged on our calendar, fell away. When would Slabtown happen? Would Slabtown still happen? Even those questions got put on hold as our work fluidly morphed in response to the crisis unfolding day by day. What does our community need? How can we be helpful? What do we have to offer?It felt like we were sprinting in a hundred directions at once, trying to bring workshops online, support mask making efforts, adapt to at-home work, ship orders with only one person in the studio at a time, find new ways to foster virtual community. When we finally caught our breath, Slabtown was there, waiting for us.

 

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In the words of the inimitable Tim Gunn, “make it work!”

The Slabtown had been put on the back burner, but it couldn’t stay that way indefinitely. We had already put SO much work into this epic project. Our first advanced-level pattern, the Slabtown instructions booklet was nearly double the length of anything we had previously produced. While not completely finished, it was already gorgeously illustrated and well on its way to being a landmark achievement for our small but mighty team. We had already ordered lots of the Slabtown supplies we were to carry in our shop for the launch and we had already (thank god!) filmed the Slabtown online class. So, conditions were not opportune for a launch, per se, but there was no turning back. We were going to make. it. work.

One of the first major hurdles was simply adapting to digital communication. Our pattern writing process is intensely collaborative and hands-on. We generally have lots of “step-outs” (partially finished bags) floating around the studio to help us write and illustrate, print-outs of the instructions being handed back and forth, peppered with post-it notes and glitter pen edits, and we are constantly pinging each other with questions and ideas. Hey, Ellie, what’s another word for “sandwiched”? Hey, Kath, can you please remove this stitch line from the diagram on page 34?Through Slack and Zoom and phone calls and video messages, we had to find new ways to keep Slabtown moving forward.


The next hurdle was the photoshoot. We had big plans—photographers and models lined up, wardrobes carefully selected, a shot list, of list of beautiful, waterfall-misted locations throughout the Columbia River Gorge. The Slabtown photoshoot was first postponed due to a freak Portland snowstorm and then, when the next weekend rolled around, the stay-at-home order went into effect, so all bets were off. Once again, we had to improvise. Ultimately, instead of a big, multi-person, multi-location shoot, Ellie took a trip to the coast with her husband, Dustin, who brought his camera, and the two of them did a damn good job of filling the photoshoot void, if we do say so ourselves.

 

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Everything is interdependent.

This is another statement that can easily slide into vague platitude but has been proven so concretely and indisputably true for our small business as we’ve scrambled to bring the Slabtown to life that it bears repeating. Businesses depend on and function within larger economic ecosystems and industrial supply chains. When one link of any chain gets broken, the effects are felt far and wide. When the mill we order our waxed canvas from in Scotland has to shut down, our business, all the way around the world in Portland, Oregon, is effected. The same goes with leather tanneries and suppliers of tools and hardware and zippers and all of the other products we carry. Suddenly inventory is running low, everything is backordered, and no one knows exactly when, if ever, things will get back on track.


Locally, here in Portland, the industrial fabric and leather cutters we work with closed temporarily and then re-opened, social distancing policies in place, and began largely reallocating their time and resources to making PPE. Phyllis, one fabric cutter we work with, began cutting (and sewing) all of the masks for the Portland police and fire departments. Those in the sewing and small batch manufacturing industries had skills and equipment that could help save lives, and that, of course, become the number one priority. 

 

In recent weeks, these awesome Portland manufacturers have managed to fit in our Slabtown cuts, so we now have big stacks of pre-cut Slabtown fabric and leather piling up in the studio. Similarly, the printers we work with to print our instruction booklets, packaging labels, and large-format patterns have all totally pulled through, despite all kinds of new obstacles of their own. And the postal workers keep showing up, doing their job so that we can do ours. One day at a time, one piece at a time, the Slabtown is coming together, and we are not doing it alone. It’s thanks to the hard work of many other businesses in Portland and around the world, and of course to all of you, our maker community, for being the reason why any of our crazy ideas ever work at all. 😉

We’ll be sharing more of the Slabtown story in the days to come. In the meantime, make sure you’re signed up for the Slabtown waitlist for early access and a special discount code. T-minus 11 days!



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