Stamps student Keefer Edwards (BFA '19) has a lot on his mind: in addition to typical freshman concerns like class schedules and homework, he's thinking about new product lines, retail outlets, and balance sheets.
In high school, Edwards founded Keef Company, a successful Michigan business that produces hand-made clothing, hats, and accessories.
As passionate about the value of local, environmentally friendly manufacturing as he is about design and entrepreneurship, Edwards sat down with us to discuss school and work.
How do you juggle academic work with a successful design business practice?
It takes a lot of planning and I have to be on my toes, but I like staying busy and having something to do. I sometimes have to leave class to take an order and I've pulled a few overnighters but you've got to do what you've got to do. However, when it comes down to it, I choose school over work when possible.
What are you thoughts on the current state of design in Michigan?
There are a lot of good things coming out of Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Flint. I think they are going to be the design and manufacturer frontrunners for the country. There are a lot of hungry people in the state and there are many who are ready to do cool manufacturing and design.
Why is the brand value of "Made in Michigan" an important concept for you?
I've grown up in Michigan and my dad is a business owner. We saw the economic problems and the many jobs that went over seas. So many Americans lost so much. It's important for people to see companies that are made in Michigan, stay in Michigan. Our goal is to bring the manufacturing and design element back to the economy. The state needs the manufacturing backbone back again.
What's on the horizon for Keef Company?
We just sold our 1000th hat and I want to have our 5000th sold by the summer. I'm looking to hire a couple of people. I would really like to get all of my fabrics made organically in America, which would push the company toward a more sustainable business plan.
You could've taken your design talents anywhere. Why Stamps?
I love that I get to stay in Michigan. It's my home. It's so rare for an arts school to be located on a campus that provides the opportunity to explore so many other fields. It's the perfect place for an entrepreneur in the design field.
What do you want people to know?
People don't know how bad clothing manufacturing is for the environment. It's the second biggest polluting industry in the world. As nice as it is to have cheaper clothing options, there's a reason they're so cheap. The labor is cheap, they take environmental shortcuts and the clothes will not last.
Keef Company wants to be the first company to 'walk the walk' and show people that it's possible to run a clothing company that doesn't have devastating consequences.