Featured Artisan: Collin Garrity
There’s times when you run across people that are undoubtedly perfectionists. They might not claim this title themselves, but it can be evident from an outsider's perspective, especially when you see a body of their work. Every step is accounted for and no detail is overlooked. There’s a sense of pride of completing a project and knowing that there’s nothing else you can add to it.
This is the case with Collin Garrity. Collin is a Savannah, Georgia native whose recent relocation to St. Louis gave him the opportunity to throw himself completely into his work — which he humbly does in his one-car garage that he retrofitted into a makeshift woodworking shop.
While at first glance, his setup may not be the thing of envy for most, but his story of persistence and hard work has been a progression that anyone can find pride in. Collin, in every sense of the word, is a self-made man. And if you use his own words, he accomplished this by doing things the “right way” by being patient and slowly growing his business one step, one piece of equipment, and one bit of experience at a time.
I had the opportunity to chat with Collin over the phone and gain some insight on his process of running a business, being creative, and his progression as an artisan.
Collin had packed up his woodworking business, which was nestled on the top floor of an abandoned building in Savannah, Georgia. His shop at the time was dark and had no windows to let any light in. So when Collin made the decision to move to St. Louis, MO and relocate his shop into his small one-car garage next to his house, he couldn’t have been happier with adding a few windows.
He describes his current set up with a laugh, “I literally have to run an extension cord from inside my house and out to the garage to get power to run everything.”
This statement epitomizes the natural progression Collin has taken to build his business to where it is now. Instead of taking the route of many small businesses starting out, Collin refused to take on any debt. For him, this gave him flexibility to run his business without the added stress of getting in over his head and let him focus more on his craft. Although taking this approach obviously had it’s drawbacks, “At first, I would only be able to afford a saw, so I could only do those type of jobs for awhile until I could afford something else. Then I would get another tool and focus on the jobs that could utilize, and then it would just build and go from there.”
When looking at Collin’s work, you’d think that he was born to create with his hands. His work sides on simplicity, but that’s where his work shines. Collin has tapped into the elegance that you can only find in simplicity. It’s elegant because everything is refined and polished down to its purest form — it just works. Couple that simplicity with high quality woods and processes, and then you’ve captured what the work of Collin Garrity offers.
Collin got his start in woodworking while going to college in Asheville, NC although it wasn’t his primary interest, “I was actually studying poetry, to be honest. Woodworking wasn’t even on my radar as a profession. My father was a missionary for a non-profit that would take volunteers and teach them how to build homes or schools for the less fortunate or in disaster areas, so from an early age I learned from my dad how to work with my hands and build things. So taking a woodworking class was just something for me to get college credits and have fun, but it quickly became an addiction. I couldn’t get enough of it. That took the majority of my focus over the next 3 years in school and gave me real-world experience since I was building things for the school to use throughout the campus.”
It was outside of college where Collin started to push himself to find new and creative ways to approach and build things, “If you keep putting things together at 90 degree angles, you’ll always end up with a box.” This unique perspective pushes Collin to tackle new ways to create things that we use in every day life. By browsing his website (collingarrity.com), you’ll see his creativity and craftsmanship shine. From the wooden spinning tops that has each side etched with either a “Y” or a “N” (for those of us that struggle with making a decision and would rather have fate decide), to his leather fly swatter that may be more of a decor piece than anything else. “The fly swatter was actually more of a joke, but I quickly realized that you couldn’t find a fly swatter that was nice to look at. That’s when I decided that I would make my own, because I figured I couldn’t be the only person would rather have a nice looking fly swatter.”
Inspiration is found in a lot of different places for Collin, but definitely not within the realm of woodworking, “I can’t find inspiration in wood works because instead of appreciating the work for the beauty it is, I have to critique and analyze the work. It’s almost overwhelming. So for me, I find inspiration in a lot of different things. Anything from paintings to dance, to music, to architecture. There’s a free museum that’s not too far from where I live that I go to quite often. It’s a great way to get motivated and inspired. So when I’m having a bad day, I’ll head down to the museum and appreciate all the beautiful work that’s in there. Because I realize that hopefully one day people are going to have the same experience with my work. It’s what keeps me motivated and moving forward.”
“Everybody has those urges to just call it quits and go sit on the couch,” Collin explains about staying motivated during the hard times, “but I’ve learned to work when I’m not motivated. If I’m not working, I’m not working towards my goals and growing my business. So when I decide to put in those extra hours, I know it’s putting me closer to my dreams of finally going to Europe for Christmas and see my family, and getting to the point where I can have my own building and workshop. Everyone has that one driving force that pushes them to keep going, and those are mine. It doesn’t make it any easier, but at least you know you’re working toward something.” But even his motivation to keep working can affect other areas of his life, “Yeah,” Collin laughs, “I’m still trying to find a good balance with working and socializing, especially since when I moved here and didn’t know anyone, but my girlfriend has done a good job of making sure I’m keeping up with my friends and family, and keeping me sane. It’s easy to put everything into your business and push everything else aside when you’re self employed because you never really feel like you’re off the clock. There’s always something you could be doing.
So what does the future hold for Collin? Well, for a lot of his future goals, rely heavily on his Kickstarter that he’s currently in the middle of running. But with no surprise, Collin has already reached his initial goal and still has more than a month to go to acquire additional funding. And once again, with no surprise, Collin has created yet another product that people are falling in love with by creating a beautifully simplistic product that people could have many uses for.
Now every dollar that Collin raises through his Kickstarter is another dollar that he not only will use for production of his folding table, but will also help him reach his dream of owning his own building and growing his company with more employees.