We had the good fortune of connecting with Connie Huffa and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Connie, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Work life balance is an interesting and illusive concept, because the premise of balancing something automatically implies something is sacrificed or compromised rather than a natural choice. I’m not going to lie. Finding time to do everything I want to do is challenging. Living in the creative hub LA is or where I grew up in Philadelphia, makes for exponential options when art, science, music, and math are all connected and overlapping. It always seems there are not enough hours in a day or months in a year. But, creative people like me thrive on what others see as pure chaos. A creative life chose me at birth and it’s one that is overscheduled and messy, with a little bit of unpredictability, rather than organized into neat boxes. If I wanted a neat cookie cutter life, I’d live somewhere else. By overscheduled, I don’t mean always running late. On the contrary, I take commitments very seriously, and it would hurt me more than the other person if I let someone down. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I was born totally curious and I genuinely like people and am interested in what motivates, inspires, and grabs attention. There is no way to turn off that thread of life that I’d do anyway, even if no one paid me, and that has definitely happened. Is pondering a good challenging problem, work? Some might call it not turning off. But, how cool is it to figure what others think is impossible? Most times that’s like being paid twice. We invented something in a couple weeks that we didn’t realize that whole teams of people have been trying to do for nearly a decade. When we had small children, here in the Valley, life revolved around them, their needs, their dreams, and mostly getting them and their cellos and books where they needed to be on time. Time was precious and the family unit decided how it spent its resources. Without a second thought, my husband and I moved our small office and our machines to a cramped store front on Ventura Boulevard to be closer to their school, so we could volunteer, be there in emergencies, and he picked them up daily, even though the choice of location meant significantly less space and income. This was a natural choice of choosing what was important to make a happy life, and not necessarily a balance. I took a job out in Moorpark to make ends meet that turned into a fantastic opportunity. Trying to balance anything in LA is like the guy at the circus with dishes spinning on the tops of poles. When everything is working it’s awesome.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
What sets us apart is our business model and our industry is the education process. Our company, Fabdesigns is all about disruption, not doing what everyone else does, flying in the face of convention, and finding the better path. Since 1988, we’ve disrupted manufacturing or apparel and knits through smart design, customized on-demand manufacturing, and 3D knit additive manufacturing with nearly zero waste. In an industry where 98% of apparel manufacturing competes on price, we teach a different way of making products that is not only more efficient and cost-effective, it saves much of the materials that are cut away and thrown into the landfills before consumers actually see the products in the store. This is a tremendous edge in the market and in moral standards for the ethical treatment of our planet. Our goal is cradle to cradle, using recycled materials, and then with mindful engineering, create products that are recyclable again and again. Using our own patent-pending technology, we’re building carbon fiber composite panels for electric vehicles that are performed to the shape of the mold and also have embedded circuits – all made by our machinery and inventive processes. Imagine no cutting of carbon fiber. That means no waste and no indestructible material put into landfills. We’re also working with companies to recycle fiberglass and carbon fiber. Imagine making these indestructible materials sustainable and cradle to cradle. This doing things differently; working with mixing materials and exploring various combinations of textures and color also carries over to my art. If anyone saw my art space, they’d think I was a hoarder. I save all types of plastic films, take out containers, colored bottle tops, and even the small round filters in Keurig pods to use as bits and cut pieces or circular punches of color layered with textures and paint. Every bit of plastic that makes its way into a painting, becomes wanted. But as in our 3D knit projects, where people notice the product first and then only later realize it’s knitted, the paintings are seen as paintings first, and then sometimes people notice the pieces of plastics. The biggest challenge is the time and patience it takes to collect enough plastic parts of the same color or type. The hard lesson that we’ve learned over the years is that big brands don’t always walk the walk, when they talk the talk about sustainability, and only a small fragment of their business is sustainable for marketing purposes. The bottom line is the bottom lie. Nothing has changed with us as creative people of Fabdesigns in 32, except the world has caught up with our philosophies, and the audience is a new generation of people who are demanding the same change we’ve been bringing for over 3 decades. There is an awakening happening, especially during this shutdown time with Covid, where each person in the world finds themselves in need of figuring out what contributions they can make in the trash they discard. How can we each find usable materials in what would go to waste? In my art, even small parts can find a place.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Usually, when friends or family visit, they come with a wish list of places for us to drive them to and back. If left to us, we’d likely choose places other than The Chinese Theater, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica Pier, and Disneyland. We live in the Valley, so if I didn’t make them breakfast, we’d head to Jinky’s in Sherman Oaks or More than Waffles to start the day, then head to Malibu beach and park for free on PCH near the Adamson House, and rent stand up paddleboards or just relax and watch the action on surfer’s beach for a few hours. Cross Creek is probably a better place to stargaze than out of towners know. Lunch is at Marmalade or fresh seafood at Malibu Seafood up to coast a bit. We’d likely drive up Kanan to show them around our studio in Agoura Hills, before heading over to the Village in Woodland Hills to walk around, shop, or get a mani-pedi at Sugar Nails. Freshen up at home, and maybe head to DTLA to a nice place for cocktails and music, like the Standard, where the bar is awesome and the roof is perfect for seeing the city lights. My friends love art and great design. So, Day two is likely a trip to Pasadena, for a visit to graduate exhibitions at Art Center for an hour or two and choice of a hike through the Huntington or Norton Simon to see my favorite Van Gogh, David and Goliath, and some amazing Rodin sculptures. Dinner in Pasadena is The original Tops or Chiquita Bonita, their choice. Day three we hit the thrift stores and vintage shops on Magnolia in Burbank and grab the best empanadas, horchata, and lentil soup at World Empanadas. It’s A Wrap on Magnolia has some of the best fashions straight from movie sets that you can buy at steep discounts. The fun is checking the labels to see which of your favorite shows they came from. After sorting through racks of real Hollywood clothing, we pick up Italian gelato and European groceries at Pinnochio’s and head home with our thrift treasures. Day four is a DTLA walking tour, starting with a day pass at NoHo station where we grab the redline to Pershing Square. Highlights on the DTLA walking tour are the Biltmore, and the LA Library building, for a couple of hours, then we grab the gold line to Little Tokyo and grab lunch at Zencu. My friends love everything Japan, including Kinokuniya bookstore in Little Tokyo in Weller Court to find the latest and hard to find in Anime. Next are Sante Alley and the fabric district. My creative friends come prepared to walk for block after block to find buttons, zippers, trims, thread, leather, fleece, and $ 1-yard fabrics in warehouses filled from floor to ceiling with rolls and rolls of every type of fabric imaginable. Loot in hand we lug everything back to the valley. Spicy Lime Thai or Streets of India on Ventura Boulevard, are both choices options for dinner. Day 5, I cave in and take them to Hollywood Boulevard. I pick up VIP tickets at El Capitan and we walk around pointing at the sidewalk until its time for the show. The organist and preshow are something they’ve never seen before and they can’t believe the tight seats or the art deco finishes. A Sunday at Ghirardelli afterward and we’re ready to hit some of the stores on Hollywood Boulevard like Iguana Vintage and Adele’s of Hollywood. Dinner is something special, the Magic Castle. I had to know a magician to get the tickets. Dinner is the best steak we’ve ever had in our lives, but that’s not half of it. My friends are treated to a journey through room after room of acts and magic tricks. Some of the best magicians in the world have performed here and the walls are filled with posters of past and present from Doug Henning to David Copperfield. Day six is a drive to Long Beach, past the Queen Mary, and to Catalina Express for a relaxing ride to Avalon. On the way, we see dolphins in the Pacific and bright orange Garibaldi fish by the Avalon docks, Our morning is spent in wet suits and scuba gear with Dive Catalina. El Galleon or Antonios Pizza are inexpensive but tasty options for late lunch before we hop on the ferry back to Long Beach. My friends are usually exhausted at this point, don’t want to pack, and instead want to move to Los Angeles.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
When I was 22, I was working in New York as a junior fashion designer for a prominent label, and my company sent me to training classes to learn a different type of machinery. This Is when I mean Bruce, a sarcastic young training instructor from England, who no one could stump, not even the older engineers, who’d been in the industry for decades. Bruce shared so much with these people that wasn’t anywhere in books. He was patient with questions I thought were obvious. There were no silly questions, and he was extremely generous with his time for all of these people who came from all over North America. I could not believe how much Bruce knew, and was shocked when I found out he was about the same age as I was. After two weeks’ group training on CAD and coding machines with Bruce, all the students went our separate ways. For me, that meant my company was sending me to Uruguay for two months. I arrived in Montevideo, with only a few words of Spanish and what Bruce taught me. I finished all the designs one factory had waiting for me in an afternoon. The owner of the NY company was thrilled and gave me a bonus. On the way back to the hotel, I had to share, I picked up two dozen postcards and stamps to write to my parents and family. I had one left and wrote a thank you note to Bruce. At home, no one had received any cards. Uruguay had 9 postal strikes in the 2 months I was there. A couple months later, on a cold and snowy day, the train that carried me daily from Philadelphia to New York wasn’t running, even with engineers throwing lit newspapers on the switches to defrost them. I couldn’t get into the NY office. I got a call from Bruce. He thanked me for the postcard. He said that I was the only student in the three years he was teaching that ever said a thank you. He also said that the NY machine company was expanding to Los Angeles and would I be interested in applying for a job there? Long story short I ended up interviewing with everyone except Bruce at the NY company. They offered me a job on Long Island but I flew myself to see their job in Los Angeles. The moment I stepped off the plane, I knew I belonged in LA. When I arrived, Bruce, being the gentleman that he is, met me and took me on a tour of Los Angeles. Artists will get what I mean when I say that the light here in LA, is so different from anywhere else in the US. The purples, pinks, and golds; there is rich color in the sunlight and how it reflects on everything. The east coast is more blues, greens, and yellows. Oregon and Washington are deeper blues and greens and of course lots of grays. This is hard to explain to people who don’t live here or who just think it’s just sunny here every day. But, if you look at the art of the impressionists and how light plays in pigment on their canvases, it makes perfect sense. I had to make LA my home. Bruce and I hit it off as work buddies, and after 6 months of successfully building the knit textile industry in downtown LA, we started dating. The company immediately fired me, which is another long story that involves his H1-B visa that the NY company tried to revoke, but in spite of several roadblocks, we were married a few months later. If it weren’t for Bruce’s example in generosity in paying knowledge forward, patience, and encouragement to all his students, I would be a completely different person. He’s been a great Dad to our two girls, now young professional women, who grew up here in Los Angeles. Bruce taught me patience and how to mentor. I’ve have gained a lot of the niche technical knowledge to make my art and designs come to life and also pay that knowledge forward to help others make their dreams tangible around the world, but especially here in Los Angeles, through the Make it In LA project. Knowing Bruce has changed my perspective on many things including mentoring others because it’s the right thing to do for each other as human beings; help make each other better. The more knowledge we give, the more we get back. I’ve learned so much in the 33 years Bruce and I have been work colleagues, business partners, and marriage partners. Even though we spend 24/7 together, I’m still amazed at the depth and breadth of his brilliance and his sense of responsibility for making things efficient and without waste for our planet. We both learn something new every single day. His mind and the technology that we built together over 33 years are behind many things that he doesn’t get credit for, (nor royalties), like being the sole inventor of the Flyknit shoes sold by Nike, which save 63% of the post-production trash that would normally go into landfills. Multiply that by millions of shoes. Chances are you’re wearing, driving, sitting on, or playing with something that we’ve touched. His name is on more than 100 patents from aerospace to footwear. He is definitely the wind beneath my wings and for so many other people and industries.
All photos by Connie Huffa or Bruce Huffa. ANPIC Shoe Show Photo by ANPIC Mexico