Designer Profile: Rachel Gant, Founder of YIELD, Endswell and Obscura - St. Augustine
Hi Rachel! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m an Industrial Designer currently living in Saint Augustine, FL. My partner Andrew Deming and I run the brand YIELD which we started about 4 years ago in San Francisco. I grew up mostly in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, spent my adult life mostly in San Francisco, and then found myself here in Saint Augustine about 3 years ago!
How did you know you wanted to design products?
I was always torn between subjects in school, I loved Math, Art, and Literature, but didn’t know how I’d ever weave all 3 together. My older brother studied Industrial Design, and I quickly realized that Design & Architecture really do weave many subjects together while still providing a creative outlet. I originally studied Architecture, and about 3 years in realized I was very drawn to furniture and product design mainly due to its scale and feasibility. While some projects are more extensive, the shear ability to prototype and create a final product from start to finish with my own two hands in a relatively reasonable amount of time was appealing to me.
What led you to begin YIELD?
We always knew we wanted to design together as we shared so much in common. It just happened a bit more spontaneously than we expected, which in hindsight is comically typical for us. It started with a bag design I had been working on in school, so we started testing the market, adding a few products to the mix, and the beginnings of our studio were formed within 6 months of graduating.
How did you decide to to start your sister company, Endswell? Was jewelry always something you wanted to design?
Yes, I’ve always made myself pieces here and there as a hobby from a young age, but it was when our close friends asked us to design their wedding rings that I designed Infinity No 1 & 2, and Endswell was born. The process made us realize there really was a void of modern jewelry that combined minimal yet complex forms with meaningful intent.
We love that you call your Endswell products 'modern day heirlooms'. Where did this idea stem from? Do you want to continue to grow Endswell as a wedding and engagement brand?
With my background, I naturally wanted to design jewelry that was based in CAD & 3Dprinting, but had a classic look that harnessed the precision and fluidity achieved within those programs, not the engineered, futuristic forms that are typically made using 3d-printing. We like to think of them as “Modern Heirlooms” that marry the best of ancient and modern casting technologies. Endswell has primarily become a wedding & engagement brand which we love, it is the original meaning afterall. We will certianly grow this portion and we have expanded much more into custom design work, but we also plan to add more everyday jewelry like earrings and necklaces so that a piece of the collection could be accessible to those who aren’t in need of wedding/engagement rings as well.
You opened Obscura, a brick and mortar shop this year! Was it a natural progression to open a retail space? Was it a plan that you had had with the growth of YIELD?
It is definitely something we’ve always wanted to try out. It came about for a few reasons, the first being that we really wanted a more physical presence in Saint Augustine. Since we are based there, many people will visit and ask to come by our studio. While we welcome visitors, we recognized that it’s more of a workspace and it was difficult to display our pieces or offer items for sale. Our other motivations are a culmination of a desire to support outside artists/friends and to test the waters of direct retail in a smaller setting before jumping head first into opening a store in a larger city.
How did you decide which brands to bring into your shop?
A lot of our brands are close friends we’ve made locally and through various exhibits we’ve showed in together over the years. Others we simply stumbled upon online and have admired their work enough to bring it in.
What is your working relationship like with Andrew? You're both founders and designers, but do you have differentiating tasks?
Yes, Andrew is a Graphic Designer with an MBA in Design Strategy, whereas my background is in Architecture and Industrial Design. So although we both definitely have crossover in how we work, he focuses more on our business’s presence in the world which includes everything from the brand identity & packaging to the big vision of our voice as a company and how we interact with our customers. I focus heavily on the product design, styling, and manufacturing. A typical day for me would be touching base with manufacturers on quality control & timing, writing a few emails to clients who I am design a custom wedding ring or coffee table for, and then perhaps planning a photoshoot with our photographer Kelsey to discuss color, material, and art direction.
Could you share with us the origins of your brands' names?
We toiled over the name for quite a while, and eventually Andrew came up with Yield. It’s sort of a “fruit of the labor” idea. We both knew we wanted something that could be distilled down to one word, and we loved the concept of a rewarding ‘yield’ or harvest after a long season of work. At the time, we were living in the city and struggling with a work/life balance (as we still do, just in a different way) and liked to focus on the importance of that balance of work and play.
Do you have a favorite product you've designed or material to use?
I absolutely loved our new glassware. I’m sure I’m always a bit more enamored with the newest thing, as it’s still in that phase where I can so easily remember when it was just a sketch, but the glassware really is one of the more beautiful pieces I think we offer. The way it suspends liquid is just mesmerizing, especially Rosé. ;)
We love that you create functional, yet beautifully designed products. Is there a common item that you would like to redesign or a new idea that would be a functional, useful product?
That’s constantly the question we’re asking ourselves! We’re always seeking the next seemingly mundane object to redesign. It’s often right under our noses, something you use everyday but never think about how it could be better or how it could become a centerpiece. At this point I’m not sure what it will be next, but I’m sure we’ll stumbled upon the next idea soon!
How do you connect with your customers and community?
Our most frequent touchpoint is through Instagram. We try to share a mix of our daily routine alongside products so that customers can get a glimpse into our daily lives. We realize it’s a bit odd for us to be outside a major city center, and a lot of our community is intrigued to see what we’re up to down in Florida, and how our latest home renovation project is going.
What are some brands/designers that you are excited about that we should know of?
To name a few across the full spectrum, I’ve recently been admiring work from Bobby Clark (@bobbyandtide), Ronan Bouroullec (@ronanbouroullec), Eny Lee Parker (@enyleeparker), Workstead (@workstead), and Flora and Form (@floranadform).
Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local?
We are in a time where independent designers are realizing that working for consultancies and within a larger corporation isn’t the only way to make a stable living. In the end, the larger companies are either employing or lifting work from these designers, so we should just be supporting them directly instead of enabling an ongoing cycle of exploitation and copycats. If we as a society can learn to value the craft and talent behind these products, the appeal of mass-produced shadows of the original designs will decrease.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
It’s so cliché, but I love hearing from happy customers. Not only did we make something meaningful that they cherish and use it their everyday lives, but it gets back to that fruit of the labor concept. To start something as an abstract sketch, and then fast forward to not only a finished product, but something that’s a positive touchpoint in someone’s home, or better yet, a wedding ring that touches someone to their core, an object they will wear for years to come and possibly pass down to their children… that’s rewarding!
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting your businesses (any or all of them)?
There are many, but for me personally I struggled with delegation. In many ways, what we’ve created has a strong presence because we’ve held it tight and that inherently creates a very cohesive collection, but that also means that I’ve woven a complex web of information that only I know fully. I’m a divergent problem solver, so it’s easy for me to dive down rabbit holes of all the ways we could do things better or differently. Over the years as we’ve grown, I’ve purposely valued letting our employees more fully own their department and have slowly passed over control of various tasks big and small. We have daily morning meetings for check-ins to ensure we’re all on the same page, and I actively check myself on when to and when not to be so divergent.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
As a feminist, I naturally believe in equal opportunity and love to support my male and female counterparts. However, I find it especially important to support other women in this field because both the design and business industries are certainly not inviting as a female entrepreneur. I still encounter resistance when communicating with manufacturers, ironing out business contracts, and well honestly, even just shopping at the hardware store! So many “friendly faces” will stop me in my tracks with my comments and questions emboldened with a clear predisposition that I must not know what I’m talking about. After long weeks and months of these experiences, we need to support one another so we may persist. While I have many close male friends who are extremely supportive, it is important to have other women who have personally experienced and can relate to the obstacles encountered. With this support network, we can motivate each other through new territory that is going to be ten times harder to navigate as a stereotyped female and perhaps strengthen collaborations with those companies who have been supportive of women designers. Together we can collectively strengthen those companies who offer equal opportunity and bypass the unnecessary obstacles altogether.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
Jessica Walsh, Grace Bonney, and Helen Rice are the first to come to mind. All three just seem to step up to challenges confidently and successfully while still letting so much personality shine through.
What have you learned from owning your businesses that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
I’ve learned how and when to say no; how to identify what is worthwhile and what isn’t. I am naturally a divergent personality and a problem solver, so ideas and options are plentiful. The hard part is choosing which direction to go, and once we do, going strong with confidence and not letting it get convoluted by outside forces.
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
A break :) The Fall is typically the calm before the storm. We have nonstop tradeshows through the Winter, Spring, and Summer, and Fall is our last chance for a break before holiday! We’re going to take advantage of our Florida weather and hopefully fit a trip or two in as well.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve definitely improved this balance over the years. We recently shifted our work day to begin at 8am so we can hopefully be out of the studio by 4 or 5pm. This has made a world of difference in that we can more easily fit in a trip to the beach with our dog, a walk downtown, or just a leisurely evening planning a more elaborate dinner. We’ve also been more adamant that we keep our evenings and weekends clear of work when except during very urgent times. We’ve managed this by being more diligent with calendaring and delegation at the office.
What are some of your favorite places in St. Augustine?
My favorite natural settings are Vilano Beach which has the best shark tooth supply, Castillo de San Marcos where we sit on the fort walls and look out over the water at sunset, and the residential historic district south of downtown for walks down cobblestone streets filled with jasmine & Spanish moss. My favorites spots for food & cocktails are the Ice Plant, The Floridian, and Odd Birds.