The Exchange | Erin Schmitt of Grey Paw Designs

Deciding on a collar for my Jack Russell Olive has been a strenuous process, a completely self-imposed, strenuous process. My search for Olive's new collar carried on for the better half of the year, and my trigger finger was nowhere near clicking add-to-cart until I recently came across Erin Schmitt (pictured above with her dachshunds Link and Billie Jean) of Grey Paw Designs. The perfect blend of laidback cool, handcrafted design and rugged durability, Grey Paw is the answer to my neurosis for Olive's state-mandated neck necessity. Designed, dyed, cut and sewn in her Portland studio, Erin skillfully handcrafts each item with equal parts artistic ability and precision. And if you're thinking about investing in a Grey Paw collar for man's bff, you're in good company. Free People and Martha Stewart are also fans.

My design career began… at Columbia Sportswear, I had an apparel design internship with the Outdoor Lifestyle team in 2011. Since then I have worked for Bridge & Burn, Black Mfg and Nike.

Designing for iconic labels… got me excited to figure out my own foothold in an over saturated design market.

Grey Paw is… clean, simple and colorful. We take a design approach to pet accessories that appeals to the modern pet owner. In addition to our commitment to design, we also donate a portion of our sales to a rotating list of animal relief organizations each year.

Link was adopted... at 9 months from a foster home in Longview, Washington. I also recently adopted Billie Jean, another doxie who came from the Oregon Dachshund Rescue.

The dogs love... to run freely on the beach on a hot day. Billie will run after her ball and Link will look for birds to chase... the birds always win.

Dressing dogs up for Halloween... do or dont? Do. Link is Chewy and Billie is Yoda.

For inspiration I… visit the aquarium for all the great colors and art museums for ceramic designs. Traveling also plays a big role.

My personal style… is casual tomboy. Most days I wear denim and a striped shirt with my favorite Rachel Comey Mars booties. Black, white, navy, and grey are my staples, mixed with small amounts of color.

Most prized item in my closet… my Comeys.

My favorite American made brands…Pendleton Portland Collection, Steven Alan & AG Jeans.

This fall I’m looking forward to… traveling to various holiday pop-up events, my new fireplace and expanding my line.

My life motto... hmm I have a few, but as far as being a small business owner I would say don't let your doubts and worries hold you back from trying, you'll never know what could have been without taking a chance.

The Exchange | Isabelle Benoit Founder of Bullet Blues

French native Isabelle Benoit's strong military bloodline and ardent appreciation of those who serve their country led to the creation of Bullet Blues. A 2011 trip to the American Cemetery in Normandy where close to 10,000 courageous men were laid to rest deeply resonated with the designer, fueling her desire to honor those that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Symbolizing their bravery and their bullets in battle, Bullet Blues honors those slain heroes through its devotion to domestic production and its employment of skilled American craftsmen.I was born in... France and was 18 years old when I came to the US. I grew up in the South West of France in the Cognac region in a very small village named Bignac. My family's military background... both of my grandfathers were taken prisoner. My father's father was mobilized August 28, 1939. He was taken captive June 23, 1940 in Vaudemont in Les Vosges, France and was a prisoner of war in a Stalag in Altenberg, Germany for 5 years. He was liberated by the US Army just after escaping the camp. He was lucky to have escaped when and where he did. Had he not escaped north, he would've been in what would become East Germany, and would not have been able to come home. My mother's father was taken captive June 8th 1940 in Esquelloy, France and was forced to march to Belgium, then taken to Stalag #17352 in Germany. After 2 years, he was taken back to France and was forced to work for the German army. He made powder for bullets since that had been his job when he was taken prisoner. They both came home and were ok. Every generation of men had to do their military service. My father was sent to fight the war in Algeria. I have many uncles and great uncles who also held jobs in the military. My inspiration comes from... everywhere - nature, cities like Miami (pictured below) and Paris, travel, rock'n'roll, Hollywood, cars - anything and everything.Best career advice I've received... to be honest in everything I do and just deliver the best that I can. Favorite Bullet Blues of the moment... Our new cigarette-skinny style in a light blue wash (pictured below). They feel and look amazing. They're not on the website yet, but they'll be there shortly. My go-to style is... our BB Babe famous boot cut jean in Nuit. A great pair of jeans... is an essential piece of everyone's wardrobe. You can wear them everywhere, dress them up or down, perfect for when you have so much in your closet and still don't know what to wear! They're as important to have as a little black dress. Most prized item in my closet... my gold cross that my grandmother Mamie Simone gave me for my communion. I tend to splurge on... good food, fine wines from around the world and of course good Cognac, my latest addition being Meukow Cognac. Favorite American brand... besides Bullet Blues, I love Nanette Lepore's designs. I also like the brands featured on the Made Collection website since they are all US made. Manufacturing in the US is important because... of the economy of the country and of course, job creation. Manufacturing in the US also provides superior quality and safety of the products. This summer I’m most looking forward to… putting out my new collection of jeans.

*Special thanks to sponsor Bullet Blues for this insightful interview!

Questions Answered | Sheena Sood of abacaxi

Last November Sheena Sood (pictured above) journeyed though the desert in Rajasthan, India, weaving in and out of the country's vibrant cities collecting eye-catching textiles as she made her way to Delhi. Five months later abacaxi was born. Inspired by her travels and the gorgeous, vintage textiles she collected throughout her solo soul-searching sojourn, Sheena designed and manufactured her debut line of womenswear distinguished by its bold colors and playful cuts. Having served as her muse, Sheena incorporated the textiles into her New York manufactured collection, ensuring each piece is as unique as its wearer. Shop the entire line here and like abacaxi on Facebook to receive 30 % off your purchase through June 20 by entering code FB30 at checkout. Peep Sheena's inspiring Q&A after the jump.My design career began... with a textile internship at Zac Posen in 2004. I wasn't even studying design at the time. I was a sophomore in college, studying art and literature, so the internship really was an introduction to the fashion industry and I've pretty much been hooked ever since. Designing at fashion powerhouses... has taught me how to work with and manage other people, as well as how to run a team and a fashion company. Starting my own line... is so exciting! I just launched in April of this year and am learning as I go. I'm really looking forward to designing and finishing my next few collections and building the brand. Abacaxi is... the Portugese word for pineapple, and one of my favorite words. I love the way it sounds (uh-bah-ka-shee), the way it is spelled, as well as the fact that in Portugese they say "Queabacaxi" (what a pineapple) instead of "what a pickle." When I travelled up the Northern coast of Brazil about 5 years ago, I also loved the fruit sellers on the beach and the way they yell out "abacaxiiiii" and "acaiiiii" everywhere you go. Pineapples are like a symbol of luck to me, they seem to always bring good things. Those who know me would probably say that I have an obsession with not only pineapples, but with all tropical fruit. It's true! Tropical fruit is totally my jam.For inspiration I...  travel, take photographs, collect photos and other objects, scour the internet and magazines and think about what I would like to be wearing next year. Travel inspires my designs... always. Working with ornate re-purposed fabrics... is something I plan on continuing in my future collections. You will definitely see more of that in future abacaxi styles. My personal style… is pretty eclectic. Most days you'll find me wearing a handful of colors and mixed textures and patterns, but on occasion, you'll catch me wearing all black. I love getting dressed up and wearing sequins, beading and silk, but I also love just wearing a cotton caftan and sandals. I would describe my style as bohemian, lighthearted, adventurous and seductive. Most prized item in my closet… is a heavy, detailed, sterling silver tribal choker that goes down to my belly. I just got it from my mom she bought it in Delhi in the 70's (or 60's?) and I haven't even worn it out yet! Those kind of pieces just don't exist anymore. My favorite American-made brands… are Clover Canyon, Rag & Bone, Upstate and Suno. This summer I'm most looking forward to... my trip to Ladakh, India in July! It's a remote area in the Himalayas that is sure to be inspiring. *Photos c/o of Lauren Baker via abacaxi-nyc.com.

Questions Answered: Shana Luther of Shana Luther Handbags

{Shana Luther pictured right with the William Tote}Handbags are essential to a woman's wardrobe and as designer Shana Luther puts it, "If you have to carry one, why not make it an awesome design?" Her passion for designing fashion accessories began the moment she looped her first piece of thread through a needle. Years later upon graduating from Pratt Institute in 2000 she founded SML (her initials), a small company specializing in handmade leather and fabric handbags. Until 2012 Shana meticulously sketched and sewed each one of her designs by hand out of her Brooklyn studio. The recent expansion of her line into Shana Luther Handbags brought with it additional manufacturing capabilities, which Shana was adamant about keeping domestic. All of her materials are locally sourced and all of the manufacturers she uses are based in the US. Her commitment to American-made even garnered the attention of one very high-profile American-made enthusiast, Martha Stewart, who chose Shana's line as a finalist in the 2012 Martha Stewart American Made Awards.Name: Shana Luther Hometown: Pennsylvania Moved to Brooklyn in: Fall of 1995 Job title: Owner and designer of Shana Luther Handbags Established in: 2012 My design career began… when I was walking down the street one day and I noticed a great handbag in a little boutique here in Brooklyn. Having always been interested in handbags, I was incredibly inspired by it and I knew I could make something like it myself with even better materials. I'm a graduate of Fashion Design from Pratt Institute, so I knew the fundamentals of design and construction. I went to work drafting the pattern, making the prototype and then finally the actual bag with my own spin on it. From there a small business of handmade bags was born but after several years of hand producing your own designs, you begin to want more. I always knew I wanted to outsource my manufacturing so I took the leap in 2012 and launched Shana Luther Handbags after finding a good fit with a local manufacturer. Manufacturing in the US is… extremely important to me and I always knew I wanted to do it here. NYC is world renowned for its incredible fashion manufacturing and garment district so why not take advantage of that? Not only does manufacturing here give designers more quality control, but it also supports our local economy. I'm able to drop into my manufacturer and actually check the progress and see how the bags are being made. That is invaluable to me. I think that US consumers are becoming more aware of where their products are being made and I'm proud to have a product with the Made in America stamp. Being selected as a finalist for the Martha Stewart American Made Awards was... very thrilling! I have to say, I was not expecting to be chosen as one of the finalists. I was incredibly honored and knew that it was a slim chance for me to be one of the top ten from all of the amazing craftsmen, designers, cooks and artists that were amongst the chosen. Even though I didn't make it to the top ten, it was great being recognized by none other than Martha herself! In terms of inspiration… I'm inspired by so many things and many designers can attest to that, I'm sure. I'm always inspired by colors and textures but most recently, I'm loving vintage furniture and muscle cars for their beautiful shapes and lines. My current handbag of choice is… the William Tote. I've been carrying it all fall and winter and it's been wonderful for holding all my gear. The William Tote never runs out of room!{William Tote pictured above in camel} My personal style… I love dressing up like many women do but my everyday style is rather casual - skinny cargos, cute blouses, great boots, plenty of unique jewelry and of course one of my bags! My favorite American-made brands are… I have a pair of Frye boots and love that they are made here and will last a lifetime! Nanette Lepore is also amongst my favorites - not only for her designs but for her determination in bringing awareness to NYC's shrinking garment district. I also love Jason Wu's design aesthetic and love that he also produces here in the US. Buying American-made is important because… it supports our economy and local work forces. If more people buy American made products it will only create more awareness and because of that, more companies will begin producing here. The Best Valentine's Day Gift I've ever received... the first Valentine's Day I spent with my now husband, he brought me a box of Jacque Torres chocolates, which are made here in NYC. Torres's artisan chocolate is made with no artificial flavors or preservatives and each one is unique and amazingly delicious. My husband has turned this into a tradition and I'm a lucky gal to get these chocolates every year since our first Valentine's Day spent together. I look forward to those each February and of course spending time with my amazing husband!

Follow Shana Luther Handbags on Twitter, facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

Q&A Michael McWilliams founder of digz apparel

Most pieces of clothing hold more sentimental value than monetary worth. They can tie us to certain moments or experiences, which explains why we all own at least one item of clothing that has endured years of rugged wear & tear. digz apparel gets it. They want to be the brand on the label of your worn out tee and beat-up boardshorts. Each item in the line is designed to outlast conventional wear because digz knows no matter how frayed your clothes become, you will always have a place for the ones that mean the most. Founded on his brother Tim's legacy, Michael McWilliams launched the digz Kickstarter campaign in December. Funding for the line ends today (back digz here), but the remaining hours will not determine the fate of its Los Angeles production, digz apparel surpassed its $40,000 goal Monday. Why is it important to manufacture your line in the U.S.? It’s important to us to support jobs here in the states and develop longterm working relationships with the people that bring our products to life. We value the closeness and communication that comes along with that. The closer we can be to our products throughout the process of their creation the better. We have a lot on our hands as a start-up and too much gets lost in the shuffle when it’s so far out of reach.

What led to digz's conception? Being bold enough to ask the question,“What more can we do?” We started the Timbofund eight years ago after my brother Tim passed away, as a means of supporting those who struggle the same way that he did from Traumatic Brain injuries. Our experience with the foundation has given us all a taste of what it means to help people in a big way. We all recognized a spirit that was infused in all the good that came from such a tragic loss. I believe we wanted a more creative way of experiencing that spirit--that’s when digz was born.

What was your day job prior to conceptualizing digz? I was a musician and played and sang in a band called Carlon (my brother’s middle name). I worked in restaurants when we weren’t in the studio or on the road. Sometime during our evolution as a band, the idea of digz started to come into play and pretty soon my love for fashion took hold. I still play and write and miss performing, but the creative process is still a major part of what I do.

Was fashion always an obvious choice in looking for a way to extend your brother’s legacy outside of the Timbofund? Not fashion per se. We were a family of surfers, so selling a pair of boardshorts and finding a way for some of that sale to go back to the foundation was intriguing. But mostly, it was a bar stool conversation we had before working up enough nerve to try. The idea evolved very organically and through meeting the right people and putting ourselves out there we stopped seeing the obstacles and began to see possibilities.

How does the line pay homage to Tim’s life story? The line itself is infused with all sorts subtleties that embody his story. Whether it be his lucky number 32 or the ellipsis that runs down the chest of an angel he drew when he was 6 years old. It was really important to us that we found ways to tie all these elements into the line as well as the entire digz apparel experience.

{Michael had the angel Tim drew made and stuffed for his son; a picture of Tim and Michael from childhood; Tim's native-print blanket}

Your line focuses a lot on the sentimental value of clothing, what items in your wardrobe make you the most nostalgic? I have a few of my brothers old Pocket T’s (pictured on Michael above). They were a staple of his and he wore them almost every day. I also have some of his work shirts that are smothered in grease stains, cigarette burns and other wears and tears. I’ve lost a few things over the years so I try and acknowledge their impermanence but I keep a close eye on what I still have and hope I can keep them long enough to pass them down to my own son.

What have been the greatest benefits/challenges of using Kickstarter? Connecting with new people has easily been the greatest benefit. Not only through the campaign itself but the work I’ve done to meet up with new people and tell them about what we are doing. It reminds me how valuable every day is and how important it is to stay inspired.

The web makes it so easy to make contact with people but you still have to do the work to engage them beyond that. You don’t want to force your project at people but you do want them to take a couple of minutes and watch your video. There are certainly challenges in doing a Kickstarter but they are completely outweighed by the opportunity that the site gives you that you wouldn't otherwise have. It’s an exciting time to be a creative person.

Has there been a single hardest moment throughout this process? I haven’t spent much of the past eight years grieving. Mostly, I've been filling up all the spaces with projects and life and had very little reflection. For some reason in the past two months, a window has opened and I’ve begun to feel again. The emotions have been flooding out, in ways I never thought they would. It has been personally challenging to juggle giving the project what it needs and allowing space for everything else. For years it has been my inclination to work as much as possible and ignore the rest but I’m tired of doing that, so I’m really trying to focus on that balance right now because there is so much good coming from all of it.

{Tim and Michael; Tim; Tim's American-made CASE pocket knife}