Edie Kahula Pereira

July 25, 2017

Raised in Hawaii with Chinese lineage, Edie Kahula Pereira of Specialty Dry Goods has always leaned towards Japanese sensibility wabi sabi and the beauty found in imperfection.

With a background in architecture, product design and art curation, Edie eventually craved making something with her hands. Enter Specialty Dry Goods - grown from a lifelong love of textiles, Edie's brand has organically developed into a unique leathers brand.

We visited Edie at her Santa Monica-based home to see how she balances running her own business with a desire to fulfill both a social consciousness and a sense of community...

Edie wearing the Kai Deep V Tunic and Jessica Button Skirt
Edie in the Amer Patchwork Jacket and Pant

— We'd love to hear about the ways in which you enjoy your local community of Santa Monica, it feels like the only place in LA that you can bike and walk around!

After bicycling down the top of the hill from my (Venice adjacent) Santa Monica neighborhood, I sit at Gjusta enjoying baked eggs and cafe con leche. Grabbing a hot water refill for Debbie, I pass Daniele who’s speaking to a mutual friend Agnes on the phone. ‘Sitting over there…join us if you can.’ After a quick catch up I head home to finish a special order veg tan leather drawstring bag to send off to Houston Texas today (via the beach path). Firstly though, I bike over to Muji to exchange a shirt, then to whole foods to grab a few staples for the weekend. Bag complete, I pack up the Linus bike basket and I’m off to the post office! Think I’ll head to the promenade tonight. Feeling the need to binge on magazines… After a 35-minute walk, it’s the B&N magazine section. Wait, 7pm! The Salesman at the Laemmle Santa Monica Film Center starts in 15 minutes. A 5-minute run/walk, and I make the trailers. So happy to have the big blue bus to take me home. Standing outside my apartment, I can hear and smell the ocean which is 13 blocks away.

— Working from home, I am curious to know what elements are important for you to have here, be it texture or music or tea? In relation to this question, I am curious to know if any rituals surround these items/ideas?

Daylight, French garden table, coffee and matcha lattes, laptop, iPad mini, mirrors, KCRW/NPR and KUSC radio, outdoor space, afternoon ocean breeze and the clothesline.

I begin my day by opening the blinds to daylight and turning on the radio. I check in with my Instagram feed, then my e-commerce site to find out which designs people are curious about. Coffee or matcha, I turn on the hot water. The light in my apartment is best in the morning (product shots on the distressed garden table are a signature). On Thursdays I head to Gjusta for breakfast as a way to relax into my task list for the next few days. There’s always some sort of photo content that comes out of that visit and the human contact is quite satisfying. With long stretches of time being by myself making bags, the bustle of people interacting sets me right for the rest of the day.

— You mentioned earlier that you love layering and wearing anything loose and unrestrictive. Do you think this is a result of the practice of your work or has this always been your style? What sort of fabrics or colours are you currently drawn to in your own wardrobe?

Wearing loose styles probably has to do with my Hawaiian heritage and wearing the muumuu. In the 80’s, I loved Perry Ellis. His pants were oversized and long. I would keep the fit but shorten to a cropped length. I worked at Nordstrom in the department that sold young designers so I wore a mix of clothing types but was always drawn to texture. Linen, cotton and wool are still my favorite fabrics. I wore more color back in my Nordstrom/fashion days but as soon as I got into grad school and entered the world of architecture and design, black was always the new black. In the last decade, I steer towards shades of gray, black, dark navy, dark brown and white, with some non primary shades of blues and greens thrown in.

In my closet there’s years of Dosa (Christina Kim) purchases, 90’s Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garcon and clothing I’ve been collecting from the designer-maker community of friends and colleagues. Some of my favorite things come from people I know or have met.

— Can you tell us about the journey of the leather you use in Specialty Dry Goods - from farm, sourcing, make, and wear?

Originally, I began making potholders as a personal project, using canvas that had lying around and I’d unravel the yarn from an unfinished alpaca shawl to hand sew the patterns. Discovering an abundance of remnant leather collected by a DTLA leather supplier from industry cutaways, I began to make small pouches that eventually lead to full size bags. As my business grew, it became more difficult to fill requests for multiples of the same bag, as all bags were unique. The time it took for me to dig through these bins to find that great piece of leather was very inefficient. I had to put that aside.

I now purchase full (non-remnant) hides, a by-product of American food waste. They get shipped to South America (specifically Argentina) to be (commercially) processed and dyed. My favorite leather is 100% vegetable tan, not dyed or colored (I then personally tan the hide in my back yard to give it color), but it is still commercially processed (meaning chemically processed and not environmentally friendly). Why do I use chemically processed leathers? My choice is cost driven. I’ve actually just sent away for samples of environmentally friendly leathers that a Los Angeles based sustainable furniture manufacturer friend gave me remnants of. They use Italian leather and are based in North Carolina. That said I do love going to my leather supplier - a quirky family-run business with over 40 years experience.

— What are some of your more personal, deeply rooted ideas that you are still wanting to explore within your creative outlet?

I’d really prefer to be a fully environmentally friendly business and a socially conscious enterprise. Being a business of one and not ‘funded’, the decisions I’ve had to make are not my ideal. That being said, I have this idea to create a ‘designer residency’. I guess it would be like a paid internship but with design credits and more responsibility. Someone would work alongside me learning the ins and outs of building a small business. The main focus of the designer residency would be to build a collection around the use of remnant leather and other materials. The designer would need to source, design and make the prototypes, research and oversee production. All proceeds would go back into funding the residency.

Something I’ve also wanted to do for years would be developing products with global artisans. An article I read on Christina Kim planted the seed. She would come across a certain craft that intrigued her and wanting to learn more would spend time in a village that does, say, a particular style of embroidery. Gaining the villagers respect and understanding, she’d eventually ask them if they would be interested in creating a collection of goods. It’s all about craft, culture and community.

My own personal experience working with global artisans was when I was a senior designer for an L.A. based product designer and development studio. We worked to produce products with many internationally known industrial designers. One project took me to a small village called La Chamba, 3.5 hours outside of Bogata, Colombia, where their master craft is making black earthenware. I got to see first hand how they produced their products, gathering the materials and employing people from their village. It was interesting to see how the various stages of pottery making were fulfilled in homes around the village before being returned to the main workshop for completion.

I would really love to visit leather crafters in villages around the world to collaborate on a design, and ultimately create a collection of bags influenced by what a person does… what kind of bag would a shoe cobbler need? A saddle maker; a shepherd; a potter? Besides being an adventure, I feel this experience would take me to another level as a designer and add incredible richness to my inner life as a human being. My hope would be that I would add to their lives too.

— I loved hearing how inspired you are by fellow artists in different mediums to your own. Can you tell us about the most recent works you have seen and experienced that have really had an impact on you and the way in which you approach your own creative thoughts?

There was a time when I was feeling a creative void and hadn’t made anything in a while. So I decided to take the day to just be. I went to LACMA to check out the Agnes Martin exhibition, which was so calming in its subtlety. It had so much to say in the texture of her light strokes in quiet tones. I felt like crying. Something about being there amongst all her work released emotion and creativity. I went home and immediately made a bag called ‘oil on canvas’ that now belongs to a customer (who has since became a friend) in Portland. In response to the same Agnes Martin piece, I thought about making a circular clutch. Using a pot cover as my template, I traced a circle over Kraft paper. Cutting the circle out I was left with the remaining paper. It wasn’t the circle clutch I made but the paper left from the circle cutaway, which became the style ‘Agnes M’.

I can’t say for sure if others impact or influence the way I approach my own creative thoughts, but I can say for certain that the feelings I get from other peoples work does inspire creativity, releasing ideas that might have been incubating. Having the ability to use technology to create prototypes, the computer just doesn’t do it for me. I respond to the actual materials. Looking at what’s in front of me that I can touch and feel, imagine and play with.

Once, in grad school, I was stuck on a project idea that I couldn’t get to work. Presentations were two days away. Fellow grads couldn’t believe I was packing up for the night, leaving the studio to go hear the experimental music group California Ear Unit play instead of staying behind to work. At the end of the performance a sheet of music blew down off the stand and landed in front of me (I was sitting front row). The act of watching the paper float and fall was exactly what I needed to move my project forward.

Also, the Echo Park Craft Fair! Beatrice and Rachel really did something special when they gave birth to this baby. There’s an incredible energy here - a buzz that vibrates and inspires. They gave us local creatives a place to shine, a place to find community, and a professional indie platform to be discovered. I am forever grateful to have their support and the support of my designer-maker colleagues.

Images by Greta van der Star

Interview by Yasmine Ganley

Visit Specialty Dry Goods to see Edie's work