Why do I call my label Scabby Robot?

You may be wondering, and you are not alone, why on earth is my label named Scabby Robot??

20 years ago in art school, I decided to major in Industrial Design as I was drawn to the idealism of the early 1800s British/US Industrial Revolution as a mechanism to care for the public. To use mass manufacturing technology (essentially factories) to make accessible, necessary objects like tools and textiles to improve daily life for common people. In 2001 my industrial design school cohort was asked to design gas pumps, headphones, toys, and of course palm sized screen based iPhone-like objects.

During the course of my degree I realized this industrialized corporate commerce system for making, was not a good fit for me. I had imagined I could do design work for the public and avoid a corporate boss, but instead I was learning how to honor a corporate boss. 

I felt sick knowing that the objects that I designed would spend more time in a landfill than in peoples hands. I felt guilty knowing that these objects would be part of a factory system that undermines the needs of overseas local communities, exploiting natural resources and labor in exchange for profit.

On the other hand the intellectual-aesthetic component of design training was even better than I had imagined. Industrial design school taught me how to make arguments for why and how to make aesthetic and pragmatic choices.

I built up my intelligence and my aesthetic skills and I graduated (designing a diaper bag as my thesis). I went on to try out a couple of professional corporate design jobs. Working for a small consultancy was the closest I could find to a good fit yet the paying work was of course for major corporations. No matter how I tried, practicing archetypal industrial design felt fundamentally wrong for me.

One day in my office I saw people playing softball out the window, and I sketched a Softball Robot. You know, a robot designed to play softball. That sketch turned into a series of robot drawings that existed for no other reason than to entertain my pals and me through the robots’ individual ironies. There was a robot designed to chase the ice cream man, there was a robot designed to need an ear trumpet, a robot designed to be scabby, and so on. Their imperfections were central to their designed reasons to exist - and this made me LOL! I’m still laughing actually:)


Detail of Ear Trumpet robot
One of my drawings from 2006


That project lit me up, I felt happy in a new way. No one asked me to compromise. I was using my ‘corporate’ design drawing skills to make something utterly unserious yet meaningful because it was FUN. I was onto something. I was finding a way to make sense of my own contradictions as a designer and to feature them.


A few months later I found myself designing handbags using the same approach. I had a brittle old sewing machine that would squawk and lunge and lurch, go on to sew a few perfect stitches, and then the thread would break. I started to use those fractured stitch lines as points of interest, I centered them and built on them to make a textured detail, something interesting instead of something wrong. Just like my paradoxical robots, and just like me. I was learning that I feel most invigorated when I soften my gaze on a ‘problem’ and use that sophisticated design training to transform it into something warm, elegant and totally unique.

It became clear to me that I wasn’t a failed corporate designer, I was a non-traditional independent designer.

I went ahead and named the business Scabby Robot because who could ever take too seriously a business with a name like that. I can’t think of a name less likely to become a corporation.

More than a decade later I continue to combine my distinct design style with my deep love for textiles to create objects that are worthy of the energy our ecosystem invests in them. I have a boutique line of leather handbags that utilize an heirloom material (leather) designed to last a lifetime or longer. I focus on designing objects I am able to produce myself for a fair wage, I employ a nearly zero waste system to minimize material waste. Scabby Robot keeps me happy and laughing.

Thanks for reading and for co-creating a world where Scabby Robot can exist. None of this would carry on without you.

xo Jill

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