Many things take cues from the melting pot of Californian and Mexican culture, from food to music, textiles, and the list goes on.
Growing up in San Diego, in the thick of this cutlural cross-section, Liz Clark fully understood the subtleties and beauty in both. Her youth was spent making trips to her family’s native Baja, Mexico, and drawing inspiration from the color, craft, and people that call this region home.
Although now based in San Francisco, that connection has carried Clark into her career and come full-circle for the young entrepreneur. Her brand Nipomo is the combination of her love for design, modern product and the preservation of historical tradition, art, and craft.
“After studying product design and working for an outdoor gear brand I decided I wanted to change it up and get back to what I loved,” says Clark. “I wanted to work with people in Mexico and share some of that color and culture that I loved but was sometimes not appreciated or misrepresented.”
Clark— teaming up with her mother, Elizabeth, whose family resides in Baja—has brought her brand to life over the past five years. The name, she explains, originated from a small coastal town, Nipomo, that stuck with her during brainstorm sessions while making the lengthy drive from San Francisco to San Diego.
Speaking to a modern outdoor enthusiast, the brand has evolved leaps and bounds since its inception. At its core, though, it is a family affair—from the hand-made straps Clark’s mother crafts in Nipomo’s San Diego studio, to the hand-woven blankets, bags and now sandals that are produced by a family-run business in an artisan city in the heart of Mexico. Clark works from her design and development studio in San Francisco, drawing inspirational cues from its diverse landscape and culture.
The name ‘Nipomo’ itself—an Indian word meaning “foot of the hill”— also holds significant meaning because of the region’s strong family and multi-cultural ties.
“I did some research on the town and it turns out it served as a trading post between northern and southern California,” Clark explains. “Its founder, William G. Dana and his wife Maria Josefa Carrillo raised 13 children there, all of whom learned both English and Spanish, as well as the native language of the Chumash indians. They lived their lives celebrating the union of different cultures and preserving the local history.”
We caught up with Clark to hear more about Nipomo’s origins, it’s direction within the outdoor community, and what’s next.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How long did the creative process take from idea to finished product?
For the blanket strap design, it took a few iterations of playing around with leather that I got at the local scrap craft store, in order to get something I liked. Finding the right raw materials and suppliers took a couple tries to get right and the design we have now is the third iteration of the strap. It has evolved through small tweaks and different logo stamps over the course of probably a year and a half.
The blanket designs start from an inspiration board for color or pattern and evolve into small sketches with some color blocking, to a computer drawing with the final color ways laid out. Once we send those to the weavers it might take one or two samples—and a few weeks— to get a blanket we are happy with and the weavers are happy to make.
Talk about the design and production process – how do you source ideas for the blankets? How did you connect with the family-run business in Mexico that produces these?
My mom and I started searching for people to work with, specifically for textiles. It took some trial and error but we now work closely with a family in Tijuana who has been working with weavers from a small town near Puebla, in central Mexico, for the last 30 years. Through their partnership we are able to collaborate with the skilled artisans down there and create our color-ways as well as designs. We have been able to meet the weavers and see the process first hand from spinning the yarn to the final weaving.
Discuss why you landed on the name Nipomo? What personal significance does it hold for you?
The name comes from a town on the central coast named, Nipomo. I have lived up in the Bay Area for the last ten years and have driven down to San Diego to visit my family countless times. On these long drives I tend to do a lot of brainstorming and the name Nipomo stuck in my mind. I did some research on the town and it turns out it served as a trading post between northern and southern California. Its founder, William G. Dana and his wife Maria Josefa Carrillo raised 13 children there, all of whom learned both English and Spanish, as well as tehe native language of the Chumash indians. They lived their lives celebrating the union of different cultures and preserving the local history. The name Nipomo is also an indian word meaning “foot of the hill,” which seemed highly relevant to starting my own business from the bottom of the hill.
Nipomo is carried by a wide range of retailers with different consumer audiences—what is your criteria for opening shop doors and how would you describe the brand’s ethos in relation to the retail partners you currently live in?
We have been so fortunate to be included in such a wide range of retailers. We love that our goods can fit into shops catered toward home goods as well as outdoor gear shops. As a smaller brand, it is important to have a good relationship with our retailers. Being in open communication with buyers about what is selling and what they would like to see helps us curate our line. As far as criteria for who we accept as a retail partner, we take a look at other brands they carry, their general shop vibe, and make sure we aren’t in any other shops in the same neighborhood.
What does your distribution look like? Are some products limited edition, and how do you decide which ones within the line you replenish?
To be honest, I think we are still working out a good system for how we phase out color ways and products. Right now we are doing a Spring and Fall release for our blankets with a sprinkling of other goods in there throughtout the year. We are still learning what works and what doesn’t but it really helps to work with great retailers that give us feedback.
You recently partnered with The Outpost for its Joshua Tree event. Within the outdoor industry, what additional opportunities for growth do you see for your brand?
The Outpost was a great opportunity to meet other brands, photographers, and generally great people! I think the outdoor industry is appealing to us because of the community of people we’ve been able to meet and partner with. Another main motivation for making the blankets we make was that I was using them outside all the time and I wanted to share that. Our goods are great for casual campers, surfers, and picnickers alike – so finding more retailers catering to that audience is the next step!
The viseras, basket totes, and lunch squares also seem like potential areas of growth. Do you plan to expand on these categories, or others, in the near future?
Yes, we are so excited to be able to curate more goods and partner with other makers in Mexico to create a more cohesive line for beach and park life. We just launched our newest product, leather sandals that are handmade in Mexico.
Any other exciting projects or collaborations in the works that you can share?
Nothing we can share just yet but be on the lookout for something fun we might be launching in Japan next year ;)
Any final words?
Thanks for following along with our story. We hope to be able to share more of our design and creation process this year.