Finally, luxury bongs at Summerland Ceramics
Finally, luxury bongs at Summerland Ceramics
WRITTEN BY: ARIELA KOZIN | LEAD IMAGE COURTESY OF STIAN RASMUSSEN
When we think of bongs, we get flashbacks to college. We purchased our first on the Venice Beach boardwalk and it looked like someone made it while they were stoned. It was transparent with a purple design that had the nuance of spilled paint. Our choice was the prettiest of those on the shelves because most had logos like “ROAR” on their trunks in big block letters. Really though, it didn’t matter which one we picked because they were all doomed to turn out the same dirty black-brown after a few sessions. Even when our bong was at its newest, it was never good-looking enough to display at home. Instead, we found a place for it in the hall closet―alongside similarly dingy pipes―until we just gave up all together and started rolling joints.
Liam Kaczmar shares our aversion to the weed industry’s conventional utility selection. And so Liam created his own business called Summerland Ceramics—a Northern California-based operation that makes handcrafted bongs, bowls, and even fragrances for the adult smoker. He said, “I was dumbfounded that I couldn’t find a nice, minimal bong, let alone pipe. Everything available then (~2011) was either super obnoxious or too scientific and technical. Where were the simplistic pieces?” he asked himself.
“I had a collection of old ’70s issues of High Times, and the pieces being advertised in their pages seemed to have this soulful elegant quality that was lost over the years of distasteful import production. I’m a believer in the mentality that if what you truly want does not exist, you have to create it.” His products are so damn pretty that we’re ready to reconsider how we get high.
Read our interview with the founder below.
This isn’t the first time you’ve launched your own business. Could you tell us about your experience with Teenagers in Love and how (if at all) it influenced the business model for Summerland Ceramics?
Teenagers in Love was like a test run to figure out how to do it right the next time―to learn everything that could easily go wrong with running a brand and how to improve the process, as well as realizing, “What do I actually want to spend my time and energy on?” Yeah, it sounds so rad and exciting to start your own thing, but the business stuff is really hard to grasp when you’re a creative person and just want to make stuff. My goal was to always get out of printed ready-made and into cut and sew and custom products asap, which is where the spark for Summerland was set. We had a studio, and the seamstress I was working with was also a ceramicist, so we started to shift gears, set the zone up for ceramics, and finished the first production run of Fruit Fantasy pipes. But in that studio and in booming San Francisco it was really disheartening trying to survive as an “artist,” and I wasn’t in a happy place funds-wise, not to mention creatively. So I took a pretty demanding advertising job and put TNL to sleep and Summerland on the back-burner until I could build some savings and creative insight to do it right.
When we talk to many artists in various mediums, they often mention a collaborative community. Is their a collaborative ceramics community you connect with?
I wouldn’t consider my community solely ceramics, maybe because my interests go way beyond ceramics alone. It’s much more diverse. It’s artists, designers, surfers, yogis, nerds, photographers, filmmakers, ceramicists, musicians, writers, thinkers… It’s a community that collaborates on spirit and manifesting its own desired lifestyle. I think that’s what I connect with.
Who actually manufactures the ceramics? What does your team look like?
I design and prototype in my home studio and production is currently shared between two family-run studios— one in northern California and one in Southern California. Keeping things local to California and being able to support true modern day artisans is a huge value to me. I’d much rather support an artist who inherited their craft through preceded generations than try to run my own studio and fuck up constantly.
How much of your time is devoted to Summerland Ceramics? How do you balance running a rapidly growing business with your work as an art director and director?
I’ve said that whichever pot is hotter in a given day, week, or month gets my attention. It’s about 70% Summerland and 30% film so far this year. I have some really rad things coming out from both avenues that I’m beyond excited for. I’ve been lucky enough that things haven’t fully overlapped yet, but I’ve also really been focusing on Summerland, and not taking a ton of film/AD work unless it really speaks to me creatively. I’m fortunate that Summerland has allowed a bit of a safety net so that I don’t have to survive through corporate gigs that steal my focus and energy.
I'd much rather support an artist who inherited their craft through preceded generations than try to run my own studio and fuck up constantly.
Were there any business models that you studied from the get-go when founding Summerland Ceramics?
I thought a lot about what I either did not want to be doing or could not afford to be doing and how to build a successful brand based on those insights. I’ve observed brands grow from the late 2000’s diy/maker movement, and realized interesting ways to streamline business inspired by the 5 hour workweek mentality. I’d like to make that thought work in the most sustainable and honest way possible.
I’m a lot more inspired by the “business models” of artists than brands. Successful artists are brands in disguise, and I’m an artist (sculptor) disguised as a brand (Summerland). Barry McGee is a big influence. He kills it, is internationally recognized, has ever-evolving work, and international retrospectives, but I still see him surfing in the middle of the week. He also employs and befriends young artists as his assistants which incubates a rad local community. I’d love to follow that example with building up a future staff.
Another big influence is a surfer and shaper, Robin Kegel, who runs this radical brand, Gato Heroi. He is a real visionary in terms of board design, and keeps a very elusive, out there, nature. His mind is always on fire, all over the place with ideas, and his stuff is really sought after. He’s constantly hopping around the world, making his brand work while still doing what he wants to do. He was in this strange Microsoft Windows phone commercial that followed him around, day in the life style, and to tie the story into an ad for the phone, he says, ‘I’m more or less committed to being in obscure geological locations where the reef or the wind or the sand or whatever has worked out just right through nature. That’s an obscure place. That’s where I need to be able to conduct my business—off some reef or off some point of land off of a dirt road—and if I can live in an old van there and have a modern tool to be productive, then I am selling boards in Paris from Morocco in a van–and if that’s going down, then I’m doing what I’m trying to do.’ I value that freedom and seek to be successful with my work in the same regard. No other cell phone ad has spoken to my intuition as deep as that one. As we speak I’m responding to your questions from a beach parking lot waiting for the tide to fill in. I get way more done this way.
In an ideal world, what do you hope for the future of Summerland?
I’m hoping to get on board with some investors, have the opportunity to build up more staff. I’d love to just keep evolving and making more and more products—within the cannabis industry, but also beyond. I’d love for Summerland to be considered a source of well-designed products for sustainable alternative lifestyles— branching out into health and wellness, yoga, apparel, and maybe even surfing. I’ve realized Summerland as a set of tools to transport your mind and lifestyle towards personal utopia. Reaching said utopia is my ultimate goal.
As we speak I'm responding to your questions from a beach parking lot waiting for the tide to fill in. I get way more done this way.