Meet Your Maker: Burton & Levy

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Burton & Levy is a line of beautifully crafted combs hand made in Detroit, MI by Jason Burton. My favorite thing about Burton & Levy is represented in this quote from their website, “the Doyle arrives lightly buffed with conservationist’s wax, which will give way with use. Your comb will develop gold and brown tones in patterns unique to you.” This is what handmade does! It takes a simple, throw away, cheaply made product and makes it meaningful again; makes it valuable, interesting, and beautiful. Who would have thought you could get excited about a comb? But trust me, these combs are something to get excited about- not to mention the exquisite packaging.

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1| How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about crafting/art?

I start by saying “I’m a metalsmith and a designer.” When we get around to talking about the combs I make, the surprise doesn’t come from what I make, but how I make them. “Metal? By hand? You do the packaging, too?” Most people are accustomed to thinking of a comb as a cheap, replaceable object. They’re surprised to see it rendered as something beautiful and durable, something they can cherish.

2| Why do you make/design things?

I make things to satisfy my curiosity and to feel connected with the world around me. I think this is a need we all share! While I’m drawing designs, someone else is repairing a car, baking their favorite cake, or planning a garden bed – creating something.

I think people see the care and passion I put in this uncomplicated thing, a beautiful beard comb, and that resonates with their own daily passions for making. That’s why I make – to share that connection.

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3| What makes a beard comb different from a regular comb?

A beard comb is shorter than a standard comb, so it’s easier to move around the face than a normal hair comb (no more weird pokes in the nose or awkward motion under the chin.) The teeth are fine for neat styling all types of hair. They work great with beard balms, oils, and waxes – just clean with warm soapy water or rubbing alcohol. And Burton & Levy combs are metal so they won’t break and travel well! Any beardsman knows to keep a comb on hand for touchups during the day!

And, by coincidence, I just published a blog about how to choose the style of comb that best suits your whiskers!

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4| What do you love about your job?

It’s great when a customer loves my products, of course, but the best part of my job is building a community through my business. My customers feel they’ve bought a personal treasure, not just a product. My retail clients have a sense that we’re really collaborating to help both our businesses prosper. When it comes to product partnerships, I get to work with other craft businesses, and help them reach their goals while reaching mine. This work is good work!

5| Was being a working artist always your plan or was there an “aha” moment?

I think “working artist” is actually a title made of two roles: artist and businessperson.  I’ve been making things my whole life, so you might say the “artist” part of my life is an avocation; even if my art never left my studio, I’d still be making it.

Starting a business around my art, though, came from an “aha moment”. My product debut was in 2014 at a beard and mustache competition in Portland, Oregon. The competitors – with some of the most amazing whiskers you’ve ever seen – enjoyed my unique products. They loved the unusually fine materials, and they told me it was a pleasure talking to and buying from the designer. It was a much richer experience than just grabbing a plain comb off a drug store shelf. I became hooked on recreating that experience for customer after customer, and I started my business to do just that.

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6| How do you work, and where?

I keep a studio in a large, repurposed industrial complex in Detroit. I organize my work space to accommodate a mixture of structured tasks and exploratory projects. When I start my day, I want to get momentum going, so I put on some music and handle methodical tasks like comb finishing, package construction, or packaging orders. New ideas seem to come to me faster during the afternoons, so after dropping shipments at the post office, I can dig into sketching and prototyping the new designs and product collaborations that are always simmering.

7| If you could swap lives with another artist, who would that person be?

Cartoonist/writer/painter Lynda Barry… Except I don’t want to swap with her, I want to be in the same room with her! Her work is so funny and honest and familiar. I’d love to work with her or just chat and share stories.

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8| What makes a handmade object valuable?

What really makes a handmade object valuable is how much you love having it in your life. If you buy something for the market value but feel ambivalent about the thing itself, you’re investing your money, but not yourself.

So, how to help someone love a thing I’ve made? That’s an age-old question! Beautiful materials can be one way. Careful finishing can be one way. Fine detail and a distinctive, personal story also contribute. All these qualities together speak for the artist: “I put my care and attention into making this for you.”

9| Using that definition, what’s the most valuable object you own?

I have a wool felt hat that my mom decorated with hand stitching. She wore it every day through the Michigan winter (I’m in the process of stitching some repairs, myself!) and used to wear every day.

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10| “The Doyle arrives lightly buffed with conservationist’s wax, which will give way with use. Your comb will develop gold and brown tones in patterns unique to you.” That’s cool! What an amazing heirloom this would make. I guess this isn’t a question. Comments?

I really hope the man who carries a Doyle comb with him loves how unique it becomes over time.  I hope he imagines passing it on to a son, a friend, someone he cares about, to take part in a tradition.

11| Tell us one true thing about yourself that people don’t believe when you tell them.

Burton &  Levy is a one-man business! Burton is my Dad’s family name, and Levy is my mom’s, so I’m Burton and Levy. All the product styles are inspired by, and named after, family members, past and present. When it comes to Burton & Levy goods, I’m the designer, prototyper, production manager, packager, and shipping coordinator (marketing director and sales manager, too.)

12| Give us three more non-crafting-related details about you or your life.

I’m a big horticulture nerd – when I travel to new cities, I try to pay a visit to the local conservatory.

My favorite food: blueberry pancakes.

I’m just learning how to downhill ski (this is my second season) and I LOVE IT.

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13| Any new comb styles or products in the works?

Our (really) awesome fragrance, Odin, created in collaboration with another Detroit company, Sfumato Fragrance, is now out in retail stores and will be offered on our website soon.

As for combs, I’m working on a few new styles, including combs for highly textured hair. These projects are still under wraps, but follow our blog for updates!

14| What’s the best thing about owning your own creative business?

Learning how to be a good boss, and a good employer. Recognizing that we work to live, not live to work.

If these handcrafted combs strike your fancy, be sure to follow Burton & Levy on instagram, Twitter or Facebook, @burtonandlevy. You can shop them here at Homespun of course, or on their website burtonandlevy.com or their Etsy shop.

 

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