Here at MT, we like to talk about people who are doing things. Whether it's folks who are opening up a new restaurant, shop, or working to restore something historic, we like to celebrate the doers in Detroit. But what about the makers? From jeans to stained glass, from screenprinting to jewelry-making, the city is a hotbed of small-scale craft manufacturing. So in order to better explore what's being made in Detroit, we've started a series, and we're calling it Shop Talk.
In our vast and daily trolling of the Internet, we recently stumbled across Smith Shop. They've been around for two years, so clearly we've been missing something. And while we haven't been paying attention, they've been quietly building a business crafting high-end kitchenware, jewelry, and architectural pieces.
With a spatula going for $225 and a $100 "nail bangle" (which is currently sold out, mind you), Smith Shop's wares aren't cheap. But with them comes the chance to begin the tradition of handing down a family heirloom through the generations. Because they're made with quality materials by skilled workers, they have the potential to last a number of lifetimes.
We chatted up metalsmith Alissa Lamarre and asked what Smith Shop is all about and where we can pick up one of those handy, long-lasting spatulas.
Metro Times: How did Smith Shop get started?
Alissa Lamarre: Gabriel Craig and Amy Weiks founded Smith Shop shortly after Amy graduated from grad school at Cranbrook. I think things were in the works even then. They were able to get in at Ponyride, and they founded Smith Shop two years ago.
MT: Has the shop always been in Ponyride?
Lamarre: They've been there the whole time. I've been there, let's see, for about a year now, maybe a little less than a year. I work there part-time. I have other jobs that I work. I'm working there a couple days a week, and they have two other full-time employees and they have an internship program ... so they currently have an intern as well.
MT: What sort of smithing happens at Smith Shop?
Lamarre: We do metal work of all kinds, so everyone actually currently employed at the shop has had their training or schooling in metalsmithing, so we do a variety of everything from fine jewelry, goldsmithing, that sort of thing to architectural blacksmithing. It runs quite the gamut. We just finished up with the Ann Arbor art fair, and we are underway re-creating some railings for a couple clients — and we've done things like wedding bands and engagement rings as well. We do a big variety of things.
MT: Where do your materials come from?
Lamarre: We try to be environmentally conscious and responsible in terms of where we source our material, so a lot of it is recycled — and in terms of the gold, we try to work with the clients in finding a responsible method for sourcing that material.
MT: Materials that are recycled — where do you find them?
Lamarre: It's just locating; it's connections. People get rid of things. Initially, when Ponyride was under construction — it's constantly evolving, and we're still doing work to the building itself — but I know they sourced a lot of material from the remodeling process. So there's some material we've been able to use for our jewelry line. If it can't be sourced from connections, then we do end up purchasing locally.
MT: Where can we pick up one of those fun bracelets or a bottle opener?
Lamarre: We work with Detroit Mercantile. We have some of our wares there. You can find us online, and then we have jewelry with City Bird and we have our kitchenware and utensils and jewelry at Zieben Mare in Franklin.
MT: Now, it has to be said — this stuff is pretty expensive. Why the big price tags?
Lamarre: The thing about that is that we're making things entirely from start to finish, and it's all about craft. It's all in the hand. It's something where we're taking raw material and working it through all the way to the completed product, and there's a lot of time and investment in that. Part of it is — when we're talking to people — about educating them about the process. I don't know if people realize how much time goes into making something like these objects that you use everyday. These things are made out of steel, they're made out of very durable material and they should, essentially, last you a lifetime. If they're made with care and you allow them to, they'll become family heirlooms or things that can be passed down or cherished. And there's also the artistic care that goes into it. Everybody's making. We all have input in terms of how things get designed and how things are made, and so it's a collective experience as well.
MT: They're very beautiful. They're almost like something to display as a work of art rather than using.
Lamarre: That's something we consider as well, to try and design a product that's going to become a conversation piece in and of itself and is also quite functional. I think there's something really inherently satisfying about that — to be able to have a piece of, essentially, art on display and to have that be integrated into your life as a functional tool, as well as something that you learn to love and use every day.
MT: Do you do custom orders as well?
Lamarre: The shop is still growing and we're taking on larger and larger projects, so we do have the ability to take on bigger things. But you can just email us [or] give us a call with a description of what it is you're trying to achieve. — mt
smithshopdetroit.com, 1401 Vermont St. Open to the public by appointment only.