Local. Sustainable. Natural. Utilitarian. Stylish.
These are all words I would use to sum up Jill Epstein’s creations for Camper General Store, and it’s certainly where the future of design is heading. Jill has developed a knack for breathing new life into found materials, like military canvas and selvedge denim from Japan, and transforming them into modern-day home goods and the most adorable baby moccs you’ve ever laid eyes on. All of her products can be found in the sweet spot between a celebration of history and reimagining of the future.
Inspired by trips out in nature with her family’s VW Camper, Jill takes us on her journey from teaching on the east coast, to her exploration of nature on the west coast. It’s all about enjoying the simple things these days– family, community, the outdoors, and making magic with her hands.
Can you tell us about your background and how you got into designing?
My background is in photography and fine art which led to teaching at Pratt, Pace and other east coast institutions. Being an adjunct professor was rough. I loved the teaching, but the travel time and jumping between schools was tiring. I followed my photo/film background and went into producing photo shoots on the advertising side. I did this for many years, but yearned to go back to using my hands and slowing down my producer brain. I happened upon 20 bolts of 1970's denim at a friend's garage sale, left advertising and bought a 1964 Santa Fe Camper all at once. The idea was to gut the camper and make a general store/tea house. Well, the denim Home line took off and I needed more space, but the name stuck! I see textile making and printing as a derivation from my years of developing images in the darkroom, and it all feels like it's come full circle.
I love that your designs are all handmade and hand-distressed using quality, sustainable materials. It feels like there's a genuine connection and story behind them. Can you talk about some of your favorite materials and how you source them?
My favorite materials to use are simple, un-dyed utility fabrics as a starting point. I like the blank canvas where I can play and create marks and patterns. I also love textiles that have a history, hence the use of military fabrics. The combination of up-cycling a fabric and exhibiting its history is the sweet spot.
Your products range from bags to home goods to the most adorable baby moccs! What often inspires your designs? Where do you look for inspiration when you need it?
My biggest inspiration is nature and that usually comes from our travels on the road in our VW Camper. Our moon moccs originated from looking up at the moon nightly on a summer road trip. Every night, the moon appeared different due to the clouds. When we got home, I started playing with katazome (dyeing fabrics using a resist paste) as a method to create a moon that would be different each time. I use a paste to block print the circle onto the fabric. It then gets dipped several times into the indigo bath. Once the perfect shade is achieved, I scrub the paste off with a brush and the moon is revealed. Each is unique. None are perfect and that makes me happy.
Speaking of your Camper that also inspired the brand name, what's the best road trip you've taken it on, and why? Is there anywhere you're still dying to go?
Our name was inspired originally by the camper I purchased off Craigslist that I gutted to turn into a general store and tea house. Simultaneously, we started taking 3-week road trips in our VW Camper each summer and the feeling of the brand continued on these trips as an investigation into nature, community, family and design.
The best road trip is always the most recent one. I'm actually writing this from one of our trips. I'm looking out on the lagoon that touches the ocean in northern California. We are propped up right next to the sand, and my husky is cuddled next to me as I type. I went for a kayak ride in the early morning and let the boat glide naturally along the current, so I could listen to the cacophony of birds in their natural habitat. I also happened upon a family of river otters playing on a tree that fell into the lagoon. Our kayak holds 1 adult and 2 kiddos, so we take turns exploring the lagoon with our boys. It's pretty awesome. I only wish I could get our husky onto the boat, but she's not a fan of water.
We really would love to take the camper up to Alaska. The only issue is that our ride only goes 60 MPH and that could take some time. We're looking into ferry solutions for upcoming summers.
What can we look forward to next from Camper General Store?
My favorite part of owning my own business is my ability to play. There's always something new brewing. We'll be doing more workshops starting with a day of dying cochineal and community building on August 27th at our studio. We are about to launch a collaboration with a friend's brand of naturally dyed baby hats. We've been playing around with naturally dyed teepees for quite a while. We also hope to bring back some of our original boho style and cross body bags for adults. Oh, and there's a coffee project we've been discussing. Mostly, I love to experiment and collaborate with other artisans.
Complete the statements.
Right now I'm obsessed with:
My most prized possession is:
My VW Camper
My superpower is:
Being able to talk to anyone
My drink of choice is:
Words of advice:
Do less. Slow down. (I try to remind myself of that daily as it doesn't come easy to me.)