Made in America: Handmade wooden sunglasses

January 22, 2013 8:42:37 AM PST
What do you do if you graduate from college as the recession is beginning and can't find a job? Some people move back in with mom and dad. But one San Francisco man decided to just launch his own very small company that's slowly filling a niche demand.

Steven Kilzer's small workshop in San Francisco is made up of four walls, some equipment, and a dream.

"The main stuff we make is out of walnut and cherry," Kilzer said.

Sunglasses -- handmade wooden sunglasses -- sold direct online through a website he built himself. Capital Eyewear is small; as in, one occasional part-time employee. A philosophy student named Max, with a limited concept of mass production. Max says that on average they produce seven in one day.

The sunglasses aren't just an example of a product 'Made in America,' but also a homegrown attitude. Kilzer graduated from college with a marketing degree in the fall of 2008, just as this nation entered its great recession. He needed a job. No one would hire him.

"I got sick of waiting," Kilzer said. "I got sick of waiting for other people to decide what was going to happen for me."

Kilzer finally figured that if no one would give him an item to market, he'd have to invent one and hire himself. But for a guy with rudimentary woodworking skills, it took a while.

He bought a laser cutter that was $8,000. The basic frames come out like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, four at a time. Now add the hours of grinding, shaping, sanding each one-of-a-kind pair. Plus the search for new material -- he plans to make more glasses out of a 2,000-year-old redwood from an old railroad bridge.

He's so dedicated to his young business that he spends a lot of nights upstairs in a small apartment with only a hotplate and an alley view.

"I've seen people in start-ups who want their weekends, and still work a 9 to 5," Kilzer said. "And I've just kinda looked at it is as a luxury to get to work for yourself."

So sometimes, you see, 'Made in America' means making yourself in America. It's lots of work, lots of worry, and a character building reality check for a college grad who couldn't get a job. At least, then.


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