Andrew Deming and Rachel Gant are the designers behind Yield, a product and furniture design studio they founded in 2012 in San Francisco. A year later, after deciding to throw their full weight behind the business and make it a full-time job, the pair moved the operation to St. Augustine, FL, where it's been steadily growing ever since.
St. Augustine, population 13,000, is an old historic town on the Northeastern coast of the state known for its Spanish colonial architecture and sun-bleached cobblestone streets. There isn't much of a design scene to speak of, apart from the design students at Flagler College—located in a beautiful late 1800s resort hotel—where Deming did his undergrad. But for the two designers it's been a great place to grow a small studio, focus on quality control, and collaborate with local craftsmen. In the three years they've been there, they've taken on four employees and developed a popular line of furniture, housewares, and jewelry that's stocked by retailers across the country.
Priced Out Of San Francisco
The pair started thinking about a move after graduating from California College of the Arts, where Gant studied industrial design, and Deming got his MBA in business and design strategy while simultaneously working for Yves Behar's Fuseproject. They felt supported by the design scene and shops there, but by 2012, the tech industry had already started to change the culture of San Francisco and finding a spacious, affordable studio space proved impossible. So they went south.
"We were considering other cities but realized that throwing ourselves into a small community would give us some inspiration, and even some motivation because there is a level of fear that we're moving out of the thick of things," says Gant. "We had a little extra energy behind us to make sure that it works. There was no back-up plan."
Exploit Local Manufacturing
In St. Augustine they found that manufacturers and resources weren't as tapped, and they could work almost exclusively with local companies. Because the Kennedy Space Center is an hour and a half away in Titusville, Florida, they found several skilled machine shops that typically work with aeronautics clients to help build spacecrafts. These machinists helped produce Yield's new Duotone Furniture line and Geo Rails card holders.
Deming sees the relationship as mutually beneficial: "We benefit from those great materials and their expertise, but we’re also taking these products and exhibiting them in front of a much broader audience than our little town."
Keep In Touch
Maintaining contacts with retailers and designers in other cities is key, he says, but not as difficult as they had feared it might be. They still travel to design shows, many of which are in New York (they were traveling to those from San Francisco anyway). And they make it a point to check in with retailers—who make up the bulk of their clientele—when they're in town.
Otherwise, they interact with their contacts online, which has allowed them to develop a broader consumer base. "Being in the habit of needing to keep in touch with people online has helped our growth be really widespread," says Gant. "We're not focused on just San Francisco retailers, we’re focused on our retailers no matter where they are."
Find Room To Breathe
The pair say that being in a smaller city has given them the studio space so that they can manufacturer smaller products, like handbags and jewelry, in-house. It also allows for a calmer lifestyle—they have time to spend outside and pursue other hobbies. While they admit that a place as small as St. Augustine ("it's basically a college town," says Deming) might be jarring for people moving from a bigger city, they point to places like Richmond, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina, that are mid-sized cities with growing design scenes. In Richmond, the e-commerce site Need Supply has a national presence and produces the magazine Human Being Journal, and friends in Charleston run the creative agency Fuzzco. Even in the short time Deming and Gant have lived in St. Augustine the design scene has grown. Students from the nearby Savannah College of Art and Design have also been moving to St. Augustine (two Yield employees are SCAD grads), and several of their friends run small design businesses there.
Larger brands have not had trouble seeking Deming and Gant out. Last year, Squarespace saw Yield's website and reached out to collaborate on an ad campaign. They created a commercial showing off Yield's popular ceramic French press and copper cups falling in slow motion and put ads up on San Francisco and Boston transit lines. The spot brought in more business and propelled the company to a place where they could start hiring full-time employees. Handing over much of the operation and production duties has freed up Deming and Gant to focus more on design—which is increasingly influenced by their new surroundings. Their new line of planters came about after they bought a house and wanted to decorate it with some of the thick ferns and palms from their backyard. "In funny ways like that I feel like you can see it," says Gant. "There’s more of a tropical touch to our design."
All Photos: courtesy Yield