Spacecraft: Keeping it really weird to help us feel sorta normal

Spacecraft: Keeping it really weird to help us feel sorta normal

This story originally ran in the October 2008 issue of Freeskier (V11.2). Words by Nicole Birkhold.

Illustration: Colby Smith

CUE THE CLICHE storybook intro, “Once upon a time…”

That’s how my conversation started with Spacecraft Sales and Marketing Coordinator Ryan Davis.

“This story has been told to me by the founders and I don’t know if it has evolved into lore in many ways, but I think I got a good, accurate description of how things started here at Spacecraft and why,” started Davis.

My brow wrinkled with concern. Lore? The story evolved? What kind of tale was I getting myself into here? I’m just trying to write a piece on the lifestyle clothing company Spacecraft, not be told the origin of Middle Earth.

“The starting point was probably previous to the winter of 1999,” he continued.

Phew, that’s a timeframe I’m familiar with, late ‘90s. My brow de-wrinkled somewhat.

“Stefan Hoffmann, the founder of Spacecraft, was an amazing photographer. He was going to the University of Washington, where he had a little photo exhibit. Some pretty heavy hitters here in Seattle went to it and they were very impressed. The photos were pretty far outside the box and Stefan was able to establish a photo grant to travel the world and go to some mythological cultures and kind of capture the essence of these people who were still literally living 400 years back.”

My concern came back. Mythological cultures? And Stefan went there? My senses of reality and fiction were becoming blurred and I wasn’t sure where Ryan was going with this. Mythological means fiction to me. I was under the impression Stefan existed in reality. But Ryan continued.

“He went to Sri Lanka and Bangkok and Zimbala and Bali and he went to many of these places to capture what he needed for his photo project and also take his surf board and get the best waves in the world.”

Ahha! Making more sense now. I’m thinking mythological is simply a descriptive term for some of the most remote, beautiful and culturally “different” places in the world. And who can’t relate to wanting to surf!

“Through his surf adventures, Stefan ended up in Bali, Indonesia. Bali is one of the most consistent places on the planet for waves. Coincidentally, it also has an amazing craftsmanship structure where there are a lot of families that make sculpture carvings or they knit or they paint.”

My brow was now far from furled. I was getting into Ryan’s story, picturing all I had ever learned or heard about Bali and imagining the blue ocean and colorful crafts of the people. I was still wondering where Spacecraft fit in, however.

“While Stefan was there, he had a beanie that I believe his grandmother made him.

“It’s his riding beanie as he’s an avid snow- boarder as well as surfer and pretty well rooted in the Washington snowboard scene. So, Stefan ran into this shop in Bali of knit goods that made everything from bikinis for Euro tourists to wool hats. He pulled his grandmother’s beanie off his head and asked them if they could duplicate it. They did. Perfectly. And it was fairly inexpensive. He had about 30 made and brought them back and gave them out to friends. That tipped the underground ‘gotta have it’ feeling about the beanie. Some B-level pros were friends and were rocking the beanies and some shops around would ask where they got their hats. They’d be like, ‘My friend had it made for me in Bali.’ So through word of mouth it came back to Stefan.”

By now I’m fully engrossed, waiting to hear how he goes back, gets more made and keeps shuttling them back and forth.

“That summer, Stefan met Sarah O’Brien, who is much more linear and business-minded while Stefan is


the Willy Wonka dreamer.”

He meets the girl who is going to be the brains of the operation. Check.

“They went over with $3,000 and made as many beanies as they could, created the Spacecraft logo (designed after a snowcat that sits on the bottom of a super-secret locals’ backcountry run near Seattle), stuffed board bags full of beanies and brought them back. Year after year they would spend their winters at Stevens Pass and then they would fly back to Bali and spend four to nine months trying to build a business with an art project pedestal.

“We have a staff in Bali now. Three full-time Bala- nese who work in our offi. Dewa is the main guy and is the first person Stefan met when he first had the beanies made. Dewa pulled Stefan aside and said, ‘I know this family that makes all of these beanies for you, and the person who is making all the money is not a good person. If you hire me, I will become your production manager and I will take you to the source.’ They did and Dewa has been with us for seven years now.”

Whoa, what’s going on here? this is the type of shit they make movies about.

“So Dewa was the first hire. He introduced Sarah and Stefan to three families in Bali who were yarn distributors. They are amazing families. Basically they bring in yarn to Bali and distribute it to the outlying villages of where they live. And essentially there are 3,000 to 6,000 knitters who knit our beanies in their own homes, and they get paid per piece. It’s above minimum wage for Bali so it’s actually a decent income and they also stay at home and raise their children instead of going off and working in a factory.”

Having every hat you sell be handmade is a pretty incredible feat when you think about all the other hats on the market that are made on machines. Not only that, but all the other things Spacecraft makes, from belts and wallets to hand-crocheted stuffed animals are all made in family-owned studios that work within a co-op setting.

So while you’re out shredding in the deep snow of North America, think of the people who take the care to hand knit what keeps your head warm while they sit in their rockers looking at the sparkling ocean thinking of you slashing that turn.

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