Oil/Lumber Unites Japanese Design, Skate Culture, and Blue-Collar Roots in Nashville
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Oil/Lumber Unites Japanese Design, Skate Culture, and Blue-Collar Roots in Nashville

By Jenny Xie
Ethan Summers quit his desk job in 2014 to start a furniture and apparel brand that definitely deserves your attention.

This is a story about a quitter. Born and raised in Ogden, Utah, Ethan Summers felt an irresistible draw to the music, food, and creative folk of Nashville, Tennessee, where he moved for college in 2008. Following graduation, Summers landed a job at a Fortune 500 insurance and investment firm, muscling past thousands of applicants to be in a fast-track management program—but something didn’t feel right.

"It was really hard to balance the corporate side of things with my creative identity," says Summers, who grew up drawing, sewing, screenprinting, woodworking, and working with ceramics. "It felt like I was putting on a tie and being a completely different person during the day."

So, in 2014, Summers made the leap: he put in his notice and founded Oil/Lumber, a now seven-person outfit in Nashville making furniture and unisex clothing that not only looks good, but is designed to tough it out for years to come.

At first, Oil/Lumber solely produced furniture. Drawing from slim, minimalistic Japanese silhouettes, the white oak dining table pairs well with the hardwood stool, which can also be used as a side table.

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Oil/Lumber’s designs are an amalgam of Summers’s lifestyle and heritage. As a young Utahan, he snowboarded in winter and skated in summer; his soccer talents brought him to California and Hawaii, where he fell in love with surfing. Fittingly, the brand’s look is utilitarian and off-the-cuff, though the items would be just as at home in a workshop or an office as in a skate park—it’s all about wearability and durability.

"With every garment we create, I always ask myself the question ‘Is this something my team and I would love to wear?’’ says Summers. "This discipline allows us to keep focus on what got us here."   

The Me-sa coffee table is constructed from American white oak and Richlite, a durable and eco-friendly material made from post-consumer recycled paper. "Our customers trusting us to make a table where they will share so many memories over the years is a huge honor," says Summers.

But the two biggest influences on Oil/Lumber are Japanese and workwear design. "I’m half Japanese, so you see a lot of jackets and unique garments that are my interpretations of pieces I wore growing up with my family," says Summers. "I also fell in love with the perfectionism of furniture in Japanese culture during college. The attention to detail is something we try to instill across all practices within Oil/Lumber." 

In 2016, Summers scored dozens of used industrial sewing machines from old clothing factories, giving rise of Oil/Lumber’s first clothing line. Above are the unisex Claude Jacket and Haori Coat.

"The other half of my heritage comes from blue-collar Chicago," says Summers, who worked on engines with a grandfather who was an Indy car mechanic. "Workwear, to me, is making something that has high-quality, long-lasting fabrics but that doesn’t compromise design."

(Full disclosure: I am now the proud owner of the Claude Jacket, modeled after a classic painter’s coat and made of sturdy Japanese cotton, and can attest to both its functionality and style.) 

Says Summers, "I bounce between the sewing studio and furniture shop downstairs. Sometimes I hop on the line to finish a jacket, and then I’m welding a table downstairs a couple hours later."

For both apparel and furniture, everything is sourced, designed, and produced in-house at Oil/Lumber. Textiles come from the U.S., Japan, and Canada and are chosen with a focus on sustainability, while lumber comes from domestic and local mills.

For Summers, it’s gratifying to be able to set up shop in a place as dynamic—but humble—as Nashville. "We want to be on the national stage, but be based in a place where we work with friends on a daily basis," he says. "Most people think of Nashville as honky tonk and rhinestones, but it’s so much more. Our goal is to show people that we have something to say with our style and approach."

Learn more about Oil/Lumber (@oilandlumber)

Cover image by Kelsey Cherry

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