To kick off our Craft Series, which will highlight the varied work of the artists, makers, curators, and craftspeople that inspire and elevate our work, we spoke with Brit Kleinman, founder and creator of AVO, an art practice crafting everyday moments of awe. Brit describes her beginnings, processes, collaborations, and philosophies surrounding creating unique, handmaid rugs and textiles and reminds us why we all cherish the handmade: “Perfect isn’t that great”
How do you first start honing your craft? What originally drew you to weaving and upholstery?
All my work at AVO starts where all of my favorite things start – with play. I like creating tactile work that sparks intrigue within a space and engages you through the senses. The techniques I’ve developed at AVO were largely self-taught and have grown and been mastered through experimentation.
My mom is a textile artist, and as a kid I loved weaving, baskets, and crafts. Also I have always been a painter and studied industrial design in college. I’ve worked as a designer for a variety of products and brands – I’ve worked in luggage design at Samsonite, I was the head bag designer at Jack Spade, I’ve consulted for brands like Shinola and Casper, and most recently helped design the future trash can for NYC.I enjoy the process of learning and coming up with techniques that don’t exist yet.
AVO started with a passion for play and a lot of trial and error. For my patterned leathers, I spent a long time experimenting with dye, seeing what worked and what didn’t, and conducted a lot of research into the history of the material. My passion for weaving started by working with textiles mills through other brands. Then I bought myself a basic loom and started messing around. I’m thankful to have a great team now that continues to build out these processes on a larger scale. And a network of production partners all over the US. I couldn’t have predicted what AVO would become when I started 8 years ago!
Tell me about your process. How closely do you work with your clients to iterate your designs? Where does the initial inspiration come from?
I love designing pieces that are tailored to a specific space or experience. I always start by asking my clients to send me a mood board, and describing the big picture – how is this piece going to be used? Who are you and what interests you? How can our visions align and what excites the both of us? I often think in terms of sensorial experiences and creating a focal point in a space- something that people want to walk up to, inspect, touch, and experience.
How do you source the materials you work with? Do you source with sustainability and locality in mind?
I think about this a lot because materiality is very important to me. It’s often overlooked that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry – and we make a conscious choice to only choose to work with leather that is a byproduct. The majority of our leather comes from US steers, and we use tanners in Brazil, Italy, and Spain, who embrace the leather’s natural characteristics that most people like to edit out. That’s what gives each piece it’s individuality and beauty.
The health of my employees and clients is also top of mind, we are careful to dye all our work in house with water-based dyes – it’s important for me that my team is not working with anything toxic.
My approach to sustainability is making work that not only lasts, but gets better with age, and working with materials that are sustainable within their own cycle. Leather is biodegradable, and goes back into the earth unlike most vegan leather, or other synthetic alternatives. It’s funny, because leather is considered a luxury good, but in reality, is a super economic, durable material that we have been using for centuries. Leather self-heals, and the more you use it, the better it looks.
How does materiality, in an aesthetic sense, influence your practice?
Materiality is where I start most of my designs – not sketching on a piece of paper, but instead picking up a swatch and experimenting with dyes. I try to have a dialogue with each material I work with.
Working with leather reminds me of pottery or woodworking – each material has an ‘opinion’ of their own and pushes back. Some days it’s hot and the clay is cranky, leather is the same way – each one is unique, and that dialogue is what makes it exciting. There is beauty to be had in that repetition, I’m always learning from the materials I work with.
Tell me what it’s like to run a small, women-owned business. What challenges have you faced and what has been rewarding about that?
As a business owner, I must think very carefully about what kind of life I want to foster for myself and my team, and what kind of objects I am crafting. I think about my business as the product itself.
I firmly believe in balance, I love living life to the fullest, and I love the work that I do. At AVO, we all work a 4-day week, which has always been a goal of mine and such a joy to realize I had the power to put into action! As a business owner you are in charge of making change for yourself and for your employees.
Having my own business can be so stressful but also so rewarding. Sometimes it’s great to work for someone else and not worry about anything other than just being creative. But for me, I enjoy the full range of challenges it takes to conceptualize and bring ideas into reality in a sustainable way. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s important to me to always strive towards creating a business I would want to work for, even if that means slower growth.
All businesses have the same problems, just at different scales. It’s been helpful to see other people in my position and realize it’s achievable – thankfully I have a network of other small business owners, and have built a great creative community around me.
Our studio deeply values working with makers and artisans who are experts in their craft. What is special to you about handmade, high-quality, custom goods?
Integrity is what comes to mind – handmade goods have this inherent sense of integrity. It reminds me of the phrase “Perfect isn’t that great.”
Not that we aren’t detail oriented, but one of the things that makes handmade goods so beautiful are their variations. At one point, we became so good at creating our designs that some people didn’t realize they were handmade and thought they were screen-printed – it was just too hard to tell. After that first collection, I started to come out with work that showed more of the hand, with color variation and washy parts. When things are too perfect, they lose a little bit of their soul.
Tell me about how you have collaborated with other brands – I love that you worked with Sabah!
Collaborations have been a great way for me to show off our materials in different forms and dip into other categories we don’t normally work in! I love what happens when two design firms come together, combining vastly different skill sets to create a new product. I enjoy working on all scales, making pieces that are personal objects, but also large installations that live in the public space.
Tell me about the rugs and tiling that currently live in our Twin Peaks project!
In that project, we worked on a colorful woven leather runner for the hall, and a large woven rug for the dining room dyed in sultry-silver earth tones that reflect the house’s surroundings. We also crafted leather tiles for the private elevator that resemble roman marble, but have the warmth of leather.