Made in Colorado: Ukeleles, Crayons and More
Creative designs from local makers
Merle O'Brien was doing yoga when inspiration struck. In a downward dog pose, she looked at her mat, made of non-biodegradable PVC. A mat manufacturer sent her scraps for prototype bags in 2008. "I don't even know how to sew," O'Brien says. "I used duct tape and a plastic bag for a handle and tried to make a diaper bag."
But she figured it out, initially selling one-off bags at the Aspen Saturday Market. In 2010, she started sourcing overstock mats to make outdoor-oriented bags. "That's when I decided I was going to become a manufacturer," O'Brien says. Top sellers today are cross-body bags, totes and water-bottle holders.
Home sewers in Boulder County make OlovesM's bags from largely domestic materials. "It's not easy, but our thread is USA-made, and some of our buckles are USA-made," O'Brien says.
$20 to $60 retail. Made by OlovesM, Aspen, www.olovesm.com
Rebecca Lewin's Pine Needle Bowls
A psychiatrist and volunteer at the Four Mile Historic Park in Denver, Lewin began crafting bowls from fallen pine needles in 2008. "I was looking for a historically congruent craft," she says. "It was done by Native Americans in places where they had long pine needles but no seagrass."
Lewin boils, cleans and coils the needles with wax linen thread, then bakes them with paraffin to make the bowls food-safe. Modern practitioners of the craft, based largely in the Southeast, employ both classic traditions and contemporary styles. Lewin considers her bowls a happy medium.
The longer the pine needle, the better. Lewin sourced her materials from local parks before finding a goldmine in a customer's backyard. When her customer moved, "I had to knock on the door," she laughs. "Who's going to say no to someone raking up their pine needles for free?"
$8 to $60 retail. Made by Rebecca Lewin, Denver. Available at Caboodle Gifts (1507 S. Holly St.) and Four Mile Historic Park (715 S. Forest St.) in Denver.
Beau Hannam Guitars & Ukuleles
Using the finest woods and time-tested craftsmanship, Beau Hannam makes high-end guitars and ukuleles in his Western Slope woodshop. Hannam's luthiery career began in his native Australia in 2003, and he moved to the U.S. in 2013.
Hannam says the luthiery craft came naturally to him from the start. It's all about "understanding and working with wood, and working in solitude," he says. "It takes a certain kind of person to be calmly with themselves all day."
Each instrument requires about 100 hours of meticulous work. "Turning a tree into a perfect shiny instrument takes patience and time," Hannam says, noting that the Zheng'an International Guitar Industry Park in China produces 13,700 guitars a day. "I make 12 instruments a year. That is rare — and valuable."
Guitars $8,000 and up; ukuleles $4,000 and up. Made by Beau Hannam, Grand Junction, www.beauhannamguitars.com
LuAnn Foty started Crazy Crayons in Oregon in 1995 and later moved the crayon-recycling operation to Lake City, Colorado. In 2018, she sold the company to an Arvada-based couple, Atiila and Kim Martonosi. "We were looking for a business," Atiila says. The target: an eco-friendly manufacturer. "It was just a perfect fit for us."
A nationwide program has schools across the country mailing crayon nubs that are recycled into new crayons. When summer break starts, the shipments spike. "In June, we get hundreds of pounds of crayons from around the U.S.," Kim says.
After the crayons are separated by color, they're melted in a kettle into blocks, which later become new crayons shaped like letters, earthworms, and even Statues of Liberty. Crazy Crayons also makes custom shapes for various clients.
» 1.25 for a single crayon to $20 for a 28-pack. Made by Crazy Crayons, Arvada, www.crazycrayons.com