Meet the Maker: Mike French of Red Rabbit Trading Co
Artisanal, craft, handmade, call it what you will. When something is made by hand using antiquated methods and vintage tools or machinery, it’s often hard to beat in terms of quality, feel and uniqueness. Of course, this wholeheartedly applies to denim. A Japanese selvedge fabric woven on an old shuttle machine or cotton yarns dyed in natural indigo by the hands of a craftsman (or woman) is widely regarded as ‘top tier’ in the denim world. And with good reason – these methods and processes are not automated or robotic, they take time (often years or decades) to grasp and even longer to perfect. They historic and steeped in tradition.
Obviously, this doesn’t just apply to denim. From coffee to quilts, there’s a whole host of arenas in which similar handmade methods can be found. Seeing a resurgence in recent years with a move away from mass manufacturing and an increased admiration for the independent, artisanal craft is arguably at an all time high. One such man who has been quietly leading the charge is Mike French of Red Rabbit Trading Co. If you’re at all interested in product aligned to the denim world, it’s likely you’ll have come across Mike’s brand on your travels. Red Rabbit Trading Co. specialize in the production of jewelry inspired by the rich history of the American Southwest and all items are made by Mike in his studio in Texas.
From iconic feather pendants to wrist cuffs adorned with arrows and thunderbird motifs, Mike’s work is instantly recognizable and steeped in decades of craft which has been passed down through generations. With the added glow of turquoise stones and antique trade beads, Red Rabbit Trading Co. has developed a reputation as one of the best in the business.
In conjunction with Red Rabbit Trading Co. items now available via UK-based online retailer MARRKT, we decided to sit down with Mike and talk about his journey to-date. Mike’s clarity and insight is both inspiring and humbling, so read on to find out more about the journey of this Texas gem. When we asked Lewis Hull, Founder of MARKKT, why partnering with Red Rabbit Trading Co. was such a logical step, he told us;
“I had worked with Mike on annual pop-ups at The Real McCoys London store a few years back. The events were always well attended and Mike would sell a bunch of one-off pieces alongside his regular items. Fast forward a couple of years and we recently had some pre-owned Red Rabbit pieces through Marrkt, which lasted about 6 minutes on the site when launched. It made sense to drop Mike a note about getting a proper selection of stock in place. It’s been selling fantastically well for us”.
Be sure to mark your calendar for the virtual pop up taking place with Mike on Thursday 20th May via MARRKT, during which you can book an individual appointment to chat with Mike, who’s going to be selling some one-off vintage pieces from Navajo rugs to vintage jewelery. Mike has become well known for his traveling ‘trunk show’ in which he travels to Europe and Japan with a stock of unique vintage pieces and Red Rabbit wares, setting up shop at well known stores across the globe to interact with customers.
“We decided to take things one step further and since Mike can’t travel to his usual pop-up haunts, we’ll be hosting an online pop-up showcasing one-offs, vintage pieces, camp blankets and other curio. Fans are invited to join a zoom enabled ‘Meet the Maker’ chat between 6 and 8 pm to recreate the interaction typical of a pop-up”.
What we really like about Red Rabbit Trading Co. is it’s versatility. There’s something for everyone. Whether you want to channel a full-on ranch hand or trading post vibe, or just add a casual touch of American to an outfit, there’s something which will tick the right box(es). The perfect compliment to some well worn denim and a rugged pair of work boots, it’s fair to say we’re a fan. Read on to hear Mike’s story firsthand and be sure to check out the selection of Red Rabbit Trading Co. on MARRKT, as well as following along on Instagram here and here.
Hey, my name is Mike French and I live in Lockhart, Texas. I’m 40 years old and have been making jewelry for about six years.
I started making jewelry by wanting a few of the vintage Mexican biker rings that I’d seen online. And when I went to purchase one, I found that they were substantially more expensive than I had expected. So, having an industrious mindset I did some research and found that I could purchase all the tools to make the rings (or similar designs) for the same price as purchasing two rings. In doing some online research for references to make biker rings, I also came across some popular Fred Harvey southwestern motifs and imagery. Generally when you think of southwestern jewelery, it conjures up images of turquoise and coral alongside pictures from the 60s and 70s – very Jim Morrison hippie. And with those images in mind, I was never really drawn to southwestern turquoise jewelry. Not until I saw the earlier, more primitive and more graphic styles.
Most of the jewelry that I’m drawn to as far as imagery and layouts is concerned, is primarily pre-1955 which was sold to tourists from the East Coast that were traveling to the newly opened-up Southwest area of the US via train. From the 1860s to 1900 as the jewelry styles in the local peoples progressed, they capitalized on the new tourist market by making more buyer friendly designs with more graphic imagery. This tends to lend itself to a style called ‘Fred Harvey’ era jewelry. Which in a nutshell is 1910 to 1950 style jewelry that features images which are very clean and very graphic. You’ll find iconography like Thunderbirds and crossed arrows in this style of jewelery, which weren’t generally used by the peoples trading within themselves – it’s more of a commodity for the tourist type of thing. Thinner silver adorned with local turquoise was also popular during this time.
As I’m primarily self taught, a lot of research was done via YouTube videos, plus a lot of trial and error. I was lucky enough early in my career to learn from one of the best silversmiths in the country named Jesse Robbins out of Prescott, Arizona. Prescott has a weird vortex of great jewelry makers in a small Arizona mountain town. I was lucky to be given the time of day by them and helped out substantially by that group. Jesse has helped me through the years and has been a great support. He’s an amazing silversmith and historian. Those experiences combined with a lot of online research and reading of old texts have kind of meshed up my style.
Each piece of our jewelry is handmade by me, in our small workshop in Lockhart, Texas. As far as materials and processes go, we really try to use as many traditional techniques as possible. I think it can be felt in the jewelry. We have been lucky enough to establish relationships with historical trading posts, in order to buy turquoise directly from the source and we were taught traditional tufa casting methods for pouring silver bars. Then forging and filing to the desired shape and design etc.
We do have a small selection of vintage pieces that we look back on for inspiration. But our largest collection is from one of our favorite artists Jock Favour, as well as a small selection from Tom Dewitt and Jesse Robbins. I love collecting and supporting living artists just as much as sourcing vintage pieces.
As far as what’s next for Red Rabbit, we are just very excited to be able to continue making jewelry that we’re proud of and that people love. We are so thankful for the continued support from all of our vendors and our retail collectors. We hope to do more clothing and we have a few collaborations coming up. We’re looking forward to delving into textiles and designing clothing a little bit more in the future. With the current state of the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t wait to get back out to do shows and pop-up events so we can see all of our customers around the world again. We are so honored to have the opportunity to work with MARRKT too, and we’re excited for our collaborative relationship together for the future.