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Heads Full of Lightning

A Look at Some Bright Ideas Lit by Sun Valley’s Young People

(page 3 of 6)

Cynical Optimists

WIZE Design

It wasn’t supposed to have happened this way. Their plan was to take their college degrees and wait out a sluggish economy disguised as ski bums in a remote mountain town, joining the ranks of what they consider a ski town’s “transient youth culture.” When the gloomy economic skies cleared, they’d pack up and move into the “real” world. But things didn’t go as planned.

That’s how 29-year-old Chatham Baker sees it. After struggling as a freelance designer in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, Baker moved back West and persuaded two friends to join him. After Shaun Kelly (a childhood friend) and Michael Ames (a college friend) joined him, they laid out for themselves a path of leisure and part-time jobs.

“We ended up here because the economy was so bad,” says Baker. And, shortly after, the three friends turned what they still consider an ongoing “art project” into a growing hip clothing business.

WIZE Design, Baker says, began as a creative outlet for the three friends to visually express their ideas, which were born mostly on the pages of Baker’s sketchbook, on scatterings of random Post-its® and bounced around on the chairlift rides that took them to the top of Bald Mountain. Those ideas, in turn, became a favorite fashion of that youth culture in the forms of tees, hoodies and pants for the people who value the freedom to choose lifestyle over the comforts of life enjoyed by the status-quo.

And following the fashion of that grassroots business model for which Ketchum is so famous (trading goods and service in lieu of cash), WIZE got its start. Baker says he exchanged graphic design services with the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce to secure sponsorship of the new company at local events, and soon had clothes in local retailers like the Board Bin.

“In some ways we feel obligated to make designs that are provocative,” Baker says. “The galleries have enough decorative art in town. We don’t feel it’s necessary to make clothing or art that matches the couch.”

Now their graffiti-inspired wearable artwork (Baker cites street artists Banksy and Shepard Fairey as inspirations) adorns skateboarders in Northern Idaho and snowboarders in Southern California.

“Most of the time we want everything to look hand drawn, because most of the time it is,” Baker says. “I think being authentic is important. We really believe in what we’re putting out there. We’re not trying to look like we’re having fun, we are having fun. Somehow I hope that gets translated into the designs.”

And while their business grows (they’re planning lines for 2011), they found their dream jobs along the way. Baker is a graphic designer at Smith Optics, Kelly designs for a local architect, and Ames enjoys success as an author and a freelance writer and editor.

“We’ve enjoyed the struggle here—none of us has fallen into anything,” Baker says, meaning they worked tirelessly to find the work that keeps them in the Valley.

But WIZE, he says, allows them a great deal of freedom, too. Says Baker, “We don’t have to follow any rules.” >>>


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