Slow Chicagoans : Pear Tree Preserves + Hewn

The Kirkwoods - Susie and Dieter.

The Kirkwoods - Susie and Dieter.

Ever witness the perfect marriage? Susie and Dieter Kirkwood are not only a married couple, but their passions also blend pretty well - slow food and slow fashion. Susie, of Pear Tree Preserves, crafts small batch preserves made with completely midwestern sourced  produce. Dieter, of Hewn, crafts minimalist bags and garments locally here in Chicago. The parallels between Slow Food and Slow Fashion are so intertwined and consumers are beginning to take notice. Luckily, if this crossover interests you - Susie and Dieter have got you covered! They will be joining forces for a pop-up at Boombox in Wicker Park later this month. (Keep an eye out for info about a opening celebration complete with sparkling jam mocktails.) From July 26th through August 1st, you can shop both of their "slow" wares. And if you're looking for more, there will also be a couple of workshops you can partake in - intro to canning and intro to leather craft, both available for purchase on the Pear Tree website (registration in advance is recommended). Until then, let's get down to it. Susie and Dieter share what makes their processes in both the food and the fashion worlds good, clean and fair.

What would you be doing right now on a typical workday?

Susie : By day I am a freelance graphic designer and I squeeze in Pear Tree wherever it happens to fit. So on any given day I could be sitting in a design meeting one hour then in the kitchen making jam or picking up bushels of fruit the next. I feel very lucky to be able to have that variety in my work.

Dieter : A typical studio day is a mix of designing, making, and research. Currently, it's the afternoon so I'd be working on new designs and prototypes. Sometimes that means drafting patterns on paper, other times working 3 dimesionally with materials. Most of my handbags/carrygoods start with quick form studies made out of whatever rigid material I have on hand and masking tape.

What's the best part about your job? The hardest part?

Susie : The best part about making jam is definitely the actual production. It's fun to make and it's fun to test new flavors. The hardest part for me is when I have to process the fruit (peeling, pitting, cutting), it gets very tedious and really tiring. I think pears and peaches are the worst - they are usually too soft to put through the apple peeler, so it's very time consuming.

Dieter : The best part of what I do is the working exchange between thinking and making. Design is about questioning, applying, and responding. For me, quality design requires understanding of the final use and knowledge of how that design can best be realized. There is no better feeling than sketching out an idea, engineering the best way to make it, then 5 hours later having a prototype in your hands. Executing each step in that process gives a great sense of accomplishment. Hardest part, which is also one of the most important, is in the editing. Since I currently produce all of the items for Hewn, there is a limited amount of resources and time to dedicate to a final design. So some tough decisions need to be made about which key details to focus on and which designs will be produced.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle for Chicago's fashion systems (particularly in regards to "slow" + sustainable fashion) to overcome? How does this relate to any obstacles you are aware of in our food system?

Dieter : Number one would be infrastructure. Chicago lost most of the ancillary business, artisans and craftspeople that are vital to the overall fashion industry through United States policies and trade deals. Also, as with our food system, education is important. Both fashion and the food industry can be a resource intensive endeavor, knowing the real costs of the foods and fashions we as a society purchase can allow consumers to make choices that are better for the environment, others, and most importantly, themselves.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle for Chicago's food systems to overcome?

Susie : I think the problems Chicago has are not unique to the city and I see lots of very passionate efforts to improve things. From the segregation in Chicago contributing to pockets of food deserts to the general disconnect between food and agriculture. We are lucky to have many great organizations addressing these issues with urban gardens for learning and job training and producing fresh food for these areas. I think there needs to be a shift in how people think of food costs. When you are a small producer, you see and experience what goes into producing good, honest products and realize that the cost is sometimes more than people are willing to pay.

What wins - avocado toast vs. artichoke toast?

Susie : I would be very happy if either of these items were placed in front of me.

Dieter : As Susie can attest to, I have a strong and visceral negative reaction to avocado, something about its' texture. So I'm in the artichoke camp.

What do you think should be up for 2016's trendiest food item - kale's successor?

Susie : Good question! Beets? I'm saying beets... only time will tell.

What is your favorite Chicago food related social media account to follow?

Susie : I love Pastoral Cheese's instagram, Cellar Door Provisions has super dreamy food photography, also Spinning J & The Logan Square Farmers Market has been pretty great lately... I could go on and on!

How does your work relate to the Slow Food objectives (good, clean, fair)?

Susie : I relate to these objectives personally and in my business. Pear Tree Preserves uses only locally sourced produce, working seasonally and directly with the farms. It is made with love in small batches by hand and sold locally. I think of it as a collaboration with the midwestern growers. Personally, I have always loved to bake and cook and realize that those things are so much more fun, and rewarding using the best ingredients. We have a couple of chickens in our backyard for fresh eggs and some fruit trees, as well as veggies and herbs in the summer!

Dieter : Being married to a slow food producer and advocate has certainly informed the way I think about fashion and consumption as a whole. My former work in the industry followed the calcified and typical fashion playbook. We designed 2 collections a year, showed during NYC Fashion Week, adhered to the calendar that puts winter coats in stores around August and summer garments in February, and all the while felt a disconnect to the work and wearer. I'm now much more conscious and conscientious of how and why I produce bags and garments, focusing on smaller runs.

What local sources do you employ to create your pieces? Why is it important to you to source local (in fashion, in food, or both)? What sustainable practices do you employ to make your pieces?

Dieter : It's important to think about where and how the products we bring into our lives are produced. More important to sourcing local is sourcing quality (and here I mean quality in the final material along with consideration for the labour practices and resources used). To source local for local sake doesn't make much sense to me, luckily in my experience local and quality often go hand in hand.

The materials I use, which influence the design outcomes, are ones that I can see, touch, experiment, and engage with. So for instance, if I am going to work with leathers it makes sense to find local purveyors, such as Horween, since within 10 minutes I can be in their factory talking with the makers and seeing various options. By building a relationship with the artisans that produce materials, I get a better understanding of their properties, inherent beauty and qualities. This arrangement also has the added benefit of a smaller travel footprint of the materials that go into the final designs.

One of the facets of sustainability I focus on is longevity. By keeping longevity and functionality in mind, my aim is to create season-neutral bags and garments that emphasize permanence, an idea that runs counter to current mainstream industry thinking. "Fast fashion" is ubiquitous in our society and as a result clothes have become increasingly disposable. It is cheaper to manufacture impermanence for a throw away culture than to create garments made to last. This, coupled with the increased pace with which fashion trends are born and die due to social media gives the industry market incentive to create clothing with a limited lifespan. In response, I employ design elements with an expression of simplicity allowing the garments to remain viable as trends come and go. 

Why Chicago? If not Chicago, where?

Susie : I love Chicago, that pretty much says it all. Moving to the midwest from Florida was an adventure that changed my life. I feel right at home here and I am thankful that my son can grow up in such a culturally diverse and beautiful city!

Dieter : Both Susie and I are from Florida, and since moving to Chicago in 2001 have really taken to the cultural vibrancy and creative community of Chicago. There is an appreciation of quality food and design and so many opportunities to learn about and experience both. If not Chicago, then Japan. Japan has such a rich history and breathtaking landscapes.

Hungry for more? 

Keep in touch with Susie's preserve making here :

Website / Facebook / Instagram

And watch Dieter's fashion company, Hewn here :

Website / Instagram