Back when I had zero jobs, I looked up to guys who had multiple jobs. Guys who did things they didn’t have to do because they wanted to take things a step further. First it was BMXers like Brian Castillo who worked a design job and rode bikes for fun, even though he rode at a pro level and got paid for it. In ’97 I found Dyrdek fascinating because he was so into investing, music and entrepreneurship outside of skateboarding. Then it was rappers who also sold drugs, then James Franco acting in multiple movies while writing, making art and going to school full time; then Alexander Wang Creative Directing Balenciaga while running his own brand.
Caesy Oney is one such busy person. He’s got a dream job at Nike and owns his own brands, Draught Dry Goods and Odd Fellow Company. Through hard work and relentless curiosity, he’s put himself in a position of freedom to create as he pleases without compromise, surrounding himself with the people and things that make him happy.
I asked him what compelled him into this position, and he said “It’s important for me to be always working from an uncomfortable place creatively, and to hold myself to high standards. Complacent designers are boring and lazy.”
Below are a lot more questions and answers with Caesy, and photos of the beautiful products he creates.
When did you know you wanted to design, and what got you started?
I have always felt the need to make things. Design is something that I naturally gravitated towards, probably for many different reasons, the most important being that I cannot imagine doing anything more fun with my time. At this point in my life I don’t have any reason to do anything that isn’t fun.
I got started in design by putting in the time and work, and being a student of it. My degree is in art, so I approach most projects through that filter. I still feel like I am learning and growing every day.
Are you from Portland originally? What’s your take on the city, and do you travel a lot?
I am from Montana originally, and have been living back and forth between Montana and Portland for the past 10 years. I travel constantly. Portland is always the best place to come home to.
What do you do for Converse, and how long have you been there? What in particular do you love about it, and is your relationship with them tailored to accommodate your other work?
I was hired by Converse a few months ago to work as a Concept Creator on the Innovation team. I design and make sneakers, garments, and bags for them. It truly is a dream job, and I work with and for extraordinarily talented people. We are tasked with looking into the future of fashion and footwear design and developing a language or framework for the company as a whole to employ at their discretion, seasonally, in addition to being just generally innovative and inspirational. Converse is located in Massachusetts, but I work out of Innovation Kitchen at Nike here in Portland, where there is a tremendous amount of resources for prototyping. The opportunity to make things is limitless. Converse is very supportive of my other projects, and I feel blessed about my whole situation. Couldn’t imagine a better company to work for, or a better fit for me since I’m sort of a weird guy with strong opinions, and my skill set is broad and unique, which means I could/would only work for a company that understands that and wants to nurture it and let me do my thing.
What was your objective behind starting Draught Dry Goods and Odd Fellow Company?
My objective is just to make exactly what I want to make, doing that every single day, and maintaining absolute happiness and gratitude.
Are Draught and OFC opportunities for you to take a more analog approach to design after all of the tech and innovation that you’re surrounded by at the Kitchen? Or is there a different type of innovation happening at your brands?
My approach is going to be analog wherever I’m designing. I design and make things with my hands. I have no formal training in patternmaking or 3D modeling on a computer. I am a quick study, but I generally just rely on my taste, my resourcefulness, and my ability to develop a strong point of view. I’ll continue to do that as long as I have the support of the consumer and my community.
What drew you to sewing and leather working specifically?
I can’t say why I was drawn to sewing and leather working initially, but it was probably because they are both hard to do well, and I recognized some potential in myself to excel at it. I have been doing this every day for five or six years and am still learning at an alarming rate, and it’s easy to measure my progress, which is something that I pay close attention to. And I don’t mean progress in terms of money or skills, but rather maturing as a designer and person. It’s unlikely, but if I get to place with this where I feel like I have nothing left to learn, then I’ll drop all of these projects and do something else with my time. It’s important for me to be always working from an uncomfortable place creatively, and to hold myself to high standards. Complacent designers are boring and lazy.
What type of team do you have in place in order to make those brands happen while you carry on your other job? I know that most everything is made to order and that you have strict control over the local manufacturing and Quality Control — things that larger brands really struggle with as they grow. How do you manage this?
I have a partner with OFC who owns and manages the factory where we produce our jackets, so there is a huge relief of production responsibilities on my part, and I can put my energy towards the design and creative, including shooting the product and editorials, which is my favorite part of any project. I want everything that I’m working on to be contributing to my own well-being and creativity, and now that Draught doesn’t have to pay me, it can be exactly what I’ve always intended for it to be, which is a concept-driven platform for collaboration and weird projects that might exist only to tell a story. That being said I still spend an additional 30-40 hours a week cutting and sewing orders for Draught by myself in my workshop. It makes for very long work weeks and no days off, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything. It’s a privilege to get to do this, and it means the world to me that people support me and buy my work.
For some people being busy is a necessity; it’s fun meeting people for whom one occupation is not enough. Do you love the state of constant hustle? Or is it more about the results for you?
Yeah, I don’t know how to do anything else. Nothing else I do is as fun as making exactly what I want to make. I need to juggle multiple projects to keep my mind fresh.
What are the rules you live by when it comes to collaboration, work ethic, process and time management?
I don’t have any rules. I just work as hard as possible, and try to be modest about successes and accomplishments. In terms of collaboration, I only want to work on projects that are smart and interesting, and projects that teach me something or open up new friendships. The only rule is that it needs to be fun, otherwise what’s the point? So yeah I guess I have one rule, and that’s maximum pleasure with no compromises.
What’s your workspace like? Are you organized? Minimalist? Hoarder?
I like my workspace, which is called 7K. It’s big and filled with my best friends, and I can smoke and be as loud as I want and hang out with my dog. It’s sometimes clean, sometimes dirty, but generally pretty organized. I need my studio to feel like a place you can visit and feel creative. My apartment is very minimal and pleasant in contrast.
Working in the apparel industry you encounter a lot of conversations about local manufacturing, especially now that there seems to be a renewed interest in knowing the people and the story behind one’s garment, meal, beer, coffee, whatever. I was going to ask you more about that, but then found that you’ve already answered that question quite eloquently already: “I produce things domestically because that is the most realistic business model for a project of my size. There are still plenty of domestic production resources and suppliers in the states, and I really enjoy my relationships with them. Unlike some other designers, I certainly don’t do it out of some sort of ill-conceived notion of patriotism. If I lived in China, I would probably make shit in China.” Is it more about your philosophy of “balancing efficiency and effectiveness”? What are some ways that producing domestically makes the process more enjoyable?
My newest project, Odd Fellow Company is great example of why I love producing things domestically. And we have a huge advantage in the industry because all of the walls between design and production are gone, and we own the factory. Because I have experience working with factories on the other end of it, I really want to change the climate of how those relationships are managed, especially in terms of their efficiency and effectiveness. It’s really fun for me because any structure or organization that exists only to make things is so beautiful and interesting. It’s going to open up a lot of doors for collaboration, and for doing large private label runs to keep the factory growing and busy.
What are your aspirations for the future and where do you want to take your brands? Do you have specific intentions for how big you will allow Draught to get, etc.?
I’m just doing the best I can, and taking my time with it. I have long term ambitious goals as a designer, and they require a slow game to get there and do it right. I’m young and hungry, which makes me feel restless at times, but I still have an incredible amount of learning to do. My only aspiration is to make exactly what I want to make, forever, and to keep refining my taste. I would love to be designing from a place not limited by resources or money, and I’ll hedge my bets with multiple projects until I get there.
What people or brands get you inspired?
I draw inspiration from my closest friends, friends in the industry, and my coworkers. Somehow I got lucky enough to be surrounded by only talented and generous people. I have a lot of love for certain brands, but part of doing this for a living is paying attention to everything, including the lines I don’t understand or particularly like. Both good and bad work can be inspirational.
Outside of design, what gets you excited?
Travel, art, motorcycles, love, photos, friendship, snacks.
I imagine that music must be a driving force in your workshop; what have you been listening to?
I basically listen to music from the moment I wake up until I go to bed, and it’s a really important part of my workflow and life in general. I listen to a lot of hip hop and R&B, house and bass and electronic shit, fuzzy garage rock and classics, and old soul. I can get really serious about roots reggae if I am in a daytime swimming or chilling situation. I think my favorite albums of the year so far are Lonerism by Tame Impala, North by Sango, Ice Cold Perm by 100s (even though it released in 2012), pretty much anything TDE is releasing, pretty much anything that Action Bronson touches, pretty much anything Souelection is releasing, the Pusha album, Freddie Gibbs or anything featuring Freddie Gibbs, and the Jessie Ware and Quadron albums, and the King Krule record.
Car of choice?
Drink of choice?
Tequila in the summer, bourbon in the winter.
City of choice?
Portland, Los Angeles, Missoula. Someday I’ll split-live between all three.