Austin recently spoke with Alistair Hinkins about about the industry we operate in and the history of MAPLE.
I spoke in-depth with Austin McMahon, the main man and mastermind behind MAPLE, about the mechanics of industry he has found himself in. From collaborations with a cornerstone of the industry, BEAMS, to the process behind designing and manufacturing product; Austin opens up about what it's like to operate a brand in this hectic age we live in. Growing at a rate that even he couldn't anticipate, he’s gone from teaching himself how to use Adobe Illustrator to discussing collaborations with the likes of BEAMS and Goodhood.
Passion projects started as creative outlets and platforms of expression are often more organic than those labels that are started to make profit. They grow naturally, nothing is forced and the relationships behind the brand are real. Coming onto the scene in 2014 out of Edmonton, Canada, MAPLE was set up to fill the void that was, and arguably still is, the men’s jewellery industry. Whether you associate with the street culture of Vancouver, or you’re a high-fashion devotee, MAPLE is making product to suit all layers of the fashion-strata.
There's no mention of a traditional fashion background around here; Austin McMahon didn’t study product design or fashion marketing. Instead, he’s self-taught and has made a name for himself and his culturally-relevant label by investing in something he was passion about. His interest in making things led to him exploring how to make product, which eventually led Austin to self-finance samples. A project that was started by a guy who schooled himself in all things from designing product to running a company is what I admire most about Austin; he's got a DIY attitude about him.
An integral part of the brand is remaining uniquely Canadian with a strong and independent identity. With this in mind, MAPLE, and the team behind it, have their eyes set on becoming the first culturally relevant men’s jewellery brand. To top it off, now that Austin is at the helm of the brand it’s the most authentic it’s ever been; ‘Now that the company is purely under my direction, I feel that the product and the way the company is perceived is the most authentic it's ever been.’ Austin may have parted ways with his original partners Daniel and Arthur Chmielewski but, he continues to work with those close to him, with a carefully hand-picked group of friends and collaborators. On separate occasions he has tapped into the creative minds - see, all organic relationships here - of Kevin Wilson, Jan-Micheal Stasiuk and Ryan Lindow who were able to capture the vision and ethos of MAPLE perfectly through the art of photography. The relationships that have been forged over the years between Austin and his collaborators are genuine and organic, and make MAPLE more than just about product.
Over the last twelve years he's spent time Djing - from house to disco - as well as putting time into his recent endeavour, MAPLE Radio, which hosts exclusive sets and mixes. The station puts on the likes of Lou Phelps, a Montreal-based artist and producer, and Ted Jasper; giving them a platform to spin records to whoever chooses to tune in. It’s all about community and supporting those around you when it comes to Austin’s mindset.
From Djing and hosting events from 2006 onwards, Austin is a man of many talents. Whilst his events company Bodypolitic has taken a backseat for the meantime, the influence this has had on Austin and his brand is evident. When I asked what he’d learnt from hosting Bodypolitic events and the impact it had on his work ethic, he had this to say: “Throwing the events taught me the importance of community building. I think learning to create a culture around events or brands is what really sets one apart from another." He's hugely influenced by all things music-related, which resonates heavily in what he brings to MAPLE and how he conducts business.
"I think learning to create a culture around events or brands is what really sets one apart from another. MAPLE has now become the remix of all my influences over the years growing up in Alberta."
An amalgamation of sources have inspired Austin and influenced what MAPLE is turning out to be. Whether it’s early 2000’s rave culture, surfing or skateboarding, the subcultures that he mingled and associated with have all manifested themselves in what MAPLE has become. When it boils down to it, Austin had this to say: "Inspiration comes from everywhere: music, friends, and people on the street. If I see something that resonates with me, I’ll take a picture on my phone and add it to a folder I have on my computer." By combining the influences of what he grew up on - surfing, skating, music - with what he lives on a day-to-day basis, it means that McMahon's approach to product design is truly unique.
Picking Apart Austin's Brain
Through conversations like this it allows the passive consumer an opportunity to see into the mind of a designer they’re purchasing from. There's a lot that goes on between ordering your product and it arriving at your door that many people wouldn’t think twice about, but it’s constantly whirling around your head as a designer. Let's get Austin's perspective on the workings of his brain and the industry he's in.
A.H: You’re carried by two of the most prestigious retailers in our community, HAVEN and Goodhood, whose brand selections are superb. Was there an element of relief when they were interested in carrying MAPLE from the get go?
A.M: "Well, HAVEN were friends of mine. Dan and Arthur were like big brothers to me and they gave me a chance in the beginning. I was the very first fit model at HAVEN, ha! Goodhood, I was surprised; I was a big fan of theirs and the quickness of their response had me pumped. It was shocking/exciting more so than feeling relief."
A.H: Has it come to the point now where stockists approach you? Or, are you still reaching out to those who you’d like to see carry your brand and support the vision of MAPLE.
A.M: "Some approach us, but we still approach ones that we want to work with. Brand list is pretty important; we want to sit with certain brands."
A.H: The individuals that you choose to work with when shooting editorials and lookbooks, as well as models that feature, are all close to you. Is it important to MAPLE that you work alongside individuals you have a pre-existing relationship with?
A.M: "Yeah! I want to have a genuine connection with people we’re collaborating with. Everything is better when it’s authentic. I’ve made some great working friendships internationally through MAPLE. And, locally when we do projects it’s usually with friends."
A.H: Over the last two seasons, your main focus has shifted to accessories and jewellery. But, that begs the question, how do you continue to be innovative when making jewellery?
A.M: "Innovate, hmmm… Everything’s been done before, so it’s about good taste. I’m more or less trying to remix vintage styles with modern ideas: patterns, text, content etc. My personal taste is evolving constantly. Now that MAPLE is becoming more of a reflection of me, you can see the evolution from season to season."
A.H: Something that often goes unspoken about in this industry is the process behind the product; an aspect that intrigues me heavily. What steps do you and your team take when it comes to scouting out manufacturers for your product?
A.M: "Trial and error. I’ve worked with a handful of different factories over the last 5 years. Some try to rip you off or have insane minimums but, some are fair. I was lucky enough to meet my jewellery partner in NYC during market week, he knew we were at MAN show and wanted to do business. Now we’re good friends."
A.H: Given your previous response, how difficult is it to forge relationships with manufacturers who you have to try and explain your vision to?
A.M: "It can be difficult. The process of turning a drawing/idea into a physical item can be hit or miss. I’m lucky enough to be working with a friend on the jewellery and he knows what I’m trying to do design-wise. Someone who can translate my vision into conceptual product."
A.H: What are your thoughts on the longevity of product in fashion and how this relates to sustainability?
A.M: "I think it’s important that products last. Nowadays, sustainability is becoming increasingly more important when it comes to the environment. That’s partially why I think jewellery is so great. You can’t get more sustainable than precious metals; they last forever and can be melted down and made into new product."
A.H: How does it feel to go from starting up 4 years ago to collaborating with BEAMS? It must humbling, and a little bit frightening, to see how far you’ve come in such a short period of time.
A.M: "It’s a bit scary; you always think you’re not good enough. So, when a big dog like BEAMS comes to see you there’s some pressure to perform. Nothing is ever for sure in this business too, there’s a lot of talk that happens. So, sometimes you can’t get too excited; you’ve got to wait to see how things play out."
Through this piece, I hope that I've opened your eyes to the creative process behind a growing brand in this industry. Austin is at the helm of MAPLE, surrounded by friends as collaborators, mentors and helping-hands. To me, MAPLE is more than just about product, it's about relationships and a community he's built up. I hope that I have captured that by poking into Austin's mind and relayed it to you, the reader.
-Ali George Hinkins