The Power Couple Behind Charlotte Stone & Pacific Wonderland Inc.
Guys, let me just tell you: the power of social media is uncanny, to say the least. Earlier this summer, I was exploring on Instagram and stumbled upon Findings Market, "a curated pop-up experience that supports and features local creatives, emerging artisans and inspiring brands from Ojai, Santa Barbara, Ventura and beyond." I was disappointed to find out that I had JUST missed their last event, so I put that on the backburner and it quickly became an afterthought.
Four months later, Whitney, the organizer of Findings Market, reached out and informed me that they were planning to have their Holiday Event on November 11, so we decided to team up by featuring a select number of brands on ERIN FRED to help promote the event. Little did I know that two of the brands planning to attend had much more in common than I realized: the owners of Charlotte Stone and Pacific Wonderland Inc. are married! After I got in on their secret that (okay, it's not really a secret, but it sounds so much more fun to write it that way), I knew it'd be the perfect story to feature in anticipation of this weekend's event!
Meet Charlotte and Steve, the extremely sweet and talented husband and wife team behind Charlotte Stone Shoes and Pacific Wonderland Inc. If you haven't heard of them, Charlotte Stone makes beautifully vibrant and funky shoe styles that'll make even a neutrals-only girl like me want to slip into a pair of electric blue suede boots. Pacific Wonderland Inc. shares the same aesthetic with its midcentury-inspired furniture designs and stands out with its clever color combinations and California beach vibes. I had such a fun and inspiring time hanging out in their creative workspace and getting to chat with these two. I hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as I did: scroll down for the full scoop!
ERIN FRED: Tell me a little about how Pacific Wonderland Inc. started.
Steve: I started it as a corporation to do my art through paintings. The name comes from my time living in Oregon. Their license plates used to say "Pacific Wonderland" and I thought it was such a great name for how I feel about the West Coast. The whole place is such a Pacific Wonderland with everything from surfing and skiing and I felt that the name was appropriate. I used it out of respect for that background and history.
ERIN FRED: How has PWI grown since then?
Steve: Well, initially PWI started as a side project with paintings. Then I made my first chair imitating a lawn chair we bought at a flea market, and a friend of ours who’s a tastemaker came over, took a photo and posted it on Instagram. That same night, she called me and said that my chair had gotten the most likes she'd ever received on an Instagram post. That's when I began thinking, "Maybe these are something I can make?" So, I just started from there. I started making them and getting them out there. Instagram has been my main form of advertising.
Over the next 5-6 years, I added some other pieces and macramé. I went from selling one-offs to friends to wholesaling to bigger retailers in California and New York, like an order of 80 chairs I fulfilled for a hotel in Asbury Park. We've also hired an amazing fiber artist from Ojai to macramé everything now that Charlotte is super busy.
ERIN FRED: What are your main influences when creating a piece of work?
Steve: This is a hard question because I'm not classically trained as a furniture maker. I worked for Jorge Pardo, an artist in Los Angeles, and he showed me that anything can be art (including furniture), so he’s one of my influences in that aspect because I feel very free in whatever I make. He's definitely a major influence, and I think he's a genius artist because I never felt like he was overthinking things; he just did what he wanted to do and trusted his own artistic, intuitive process. Also, everything influences me like old cars and my chair, which reminds me of an old Porsche *laughs*. It comes very naturally to me. Since I’ve gotten into furniture, now I look into artists, but I can’t really name any. I've now been working backward and getting into educating myself about furniture.
ERIN FRED: What's your favorite part of the process?
Steve: The design. Then I say that and realize that I sit and design for too long, and then I want to be more hands-on. I don’t get to design as much as I have to do the labor part, so I’d say the sitting down, sketching and brainstorming is my favorite part. I prefer to be a designer than a woodworker.
ERIN FRED: Charlotte, how would you describe your personal style?
Charlotte: This. My personal style is very casual, maybe slightly quirky. I have a hard time describing my style. I really appreciate thought-out style like accessorizing and occasionally I do that, but in the end, I end up in some sort of flat sandal and t-shirt. It’s all about functionality.
Steve: *Laughs* Most of the time she's got a pump and a sandal on and wanders around wearing two different shoes.
ERIN FRED: How would you describe a Charlotte Stone girl?
Charlotte: I would say she has no fear of color. She definitely wants style with comfort on the side; there’s no exchanging comfort for fashion. I think she appreciates quality, quirkiness, and art.
ERIN FRED: If you had to dress up for a fancier than usual night out, what would you wear?
Charlotte: I would probably wear some sort of vintage dress or jumpsuit with big earrings (always), maybe red lipstick, and some crazy shoe.
ERIN FRED: If you had to pick just one style from your last collection as your favorite, which would you choose and why?
Charlotte: It'd have to be the Daria Boot because I love the toe character. It’s not pointy or round; it’s in between an almond toe and it has a really beautiful angular heel that I think is really gorgeous. The suede is imported from Italy so it’s really soft. And it is both kind of an elevated and modern cowboy boot. And you can wear it with jeans and skirt, so it's super versatile. Plus the electric blue is really punchy.
ERIN FRED: I love that you’re actively making incremental changes to improve your business’s environmental impact. In an Instagram post, you mentioned that you're “...taking [your] first small step on a giant staircase of goals to better the way [you] make & sell shoes.” What other goals and plans do you have in the works?
Charlotte: Because we’re surfers, we’re hyper-aware of the impact that our production has on the quality of our water sources. Chrome tanned leather uses all sorts of chemicals, which makes it hard to purify our wastewater. So one of my goals is to use all vegetable tanned leather, cut back on chrome dyed materials and synthetic fabrics, get into using more organic linens and natural Vachetta, and use vegetable tanned outsoles on everything. That’s a big one that’ll help a lot. We’re working on a partnership with Amour Vert (who've sold our shoes from the beginning) and I'm working on five styles for them for Spring, along with some local projects.
I’m also working with a factory in Los Angeles for dressy women’s shoes and working with a guy who makes the LAPD's boots. He’s never made women’s shoes, but he's made the Ava Boot for me and they’re so well made, it’s incredible. It's all stitched together by machine and they’re really beautiful.
I'm hoping to increase production with two local factories I'm currently working with. The issue with more eco-minded, sustainable production is that not a lot of people know much about it or are doing it, and all of these tanneries that have certified vegetable tanning tanners don’t have color cards like other tanneries do because they don’t do a lot of production. It's hard to get them to work like other tanners work. It's not easy, but we’re dedicated to figuring it out.
ERIN FRED: How did you guys meet?
S & C: We met at a Christmas party for the Vagabonds.
Steve: I came to LA from Portland because I don’t like Christmas. I came to surf. She stayed home for Christmas in LA, which was really rare for her because her parents are super into Christmas and really like to party.
Charlotte: It was the first time I wasn’t spending Christmas at home, so my friend who was a sales girl for a designer I worked with was at the Christmas party.
Steve: Her sales friend was my best friend’s roommate at the time. My roommate kept pushing me to go out and said that we had to go to at least one Christmas party. Charlotte was at the party early, hanging by the cheese platter, and we just hit it off just as friends. Within 6 months, it developed into me moving in with her.
ERIN FRED: What attracted you guys to each other?
Charlotte: I liked that Steve was a painter; I thought that was really interesting. My family is made up of all artists and designers so I liked that. I liked that he was really handy. On our first date, his van broke down and he just got under the van and fixed it. I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
Steve: That was the worst thing for me. Luckily it impressed her and didn’t scare her away. Charlotte's the type of person where anything I can do, she can do ten times better. She can paint, sew, bake, do anything. All of our friends mock her because she can do everything. I remember when I first went over to her house and I complimented her on a cool table she had, and she said: "Oh yeah, I made that in high school." Pfft, whatever. Nothing to her.
ERIN FRED: How do you make time for each other and maintain a successful relationship even with the pressure and workload of managing two businesses?
Charlotte: It’s a challenge but it’s really fun at the same time. The weird thing is that we work together all day and then we go home and we talk about work and how exciting it is and what’s happening, but there are challenges. It’s a lot of time to spend together and when it gets stressful, separating our personal feelings with just getting down to business is a challenge. That’s what therapy is for; we can air our grievances in therapy *laughs*. For the most part, it’s really fun; it feels good to know you really do know what each other is struggling with because we’re right here.
Steve: When things go well, it’s really rewarding. We work pretty well together for the most part. Our biggest struggle is dealing with numbers because we’re artists and designers so when we have to do that, it’s hard because none of us want to do it.
ERIN FRED: What’s the work dynamic like? For example, does one of you tend to assume the role as visionary, and the other more apt to take on detail-oriented tasks?
Charlotte: It shifts; sometimes Steve leans on me for vision. We fluctuate and fill in as needed.
Steve: As an artist, I can give my creative opinion on the design of a shoe, even though I don’t know much about shoes.
ERIN FRED: How does working together bring out the best in each of you?
Charlotte: It creates a really nice environment. It's a really open and encouraging environment and we have same energy level. When we start down a road, it can snowball really nicely and we feed off each other’s energy. We occasionally come in on weekends and crank up music, play in his shop and get inspired.
ERIN FRED: Where do you guys see yourselves 5 years from now?
Charlotte: Because of what the production aspects do to the end product and cost of the end product, I think that means CS will move to be more direct to consumer. We plan to collaborate with more likeminded brands. So, I think we plan on connecting with customers more directly and improving our environmental mindedness. We're taking that more seriously especially now that we really see that we have to recycle. One day, we were in the back cutting down boxes, and when we filled up Steve's truck, we realized how much waste it was. It’s a lot.
Steve: We're going to WEV soon, which will help us make a business plan that'll incorporate the environmental aspect that we need to include in our business model.
Charlotte: You don’t know what you need to improve until you’ve gone through it a few times and looked at it for a while. We’re not trying to conquer the world; we just want to be sustainable and self-employed. We want to have a healthy business that doesn’t hurt our brains too much, that’s rewarding. As long as it stays that way, that’s what’s most important.
If you'd like to see their designs in-person, come join us this Saturday, November 11th at Finding Market's Holiday Event at the Waterline! They are only two of many amazing local creatives that'll have their goods on display, so I recommend visiting to show your support to local artisans, get your holiday shopping done early, and listen to some great music while you're at it: head here for more information about the event.