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Chelsea Green + James Minola   partners / co-founders, Grain 

B FA 0 7 + M I D 0 7 / I N D U S T R I A L D E S I G N

TRUE GRIT

It’s not the first time that a chance meeting at RISD has led to a partnership in both business and life. But for James Minola and Chelsea Green, the alliance seems almost destined: Both grew up in southern California, both had family living on an island in the Puget Sound and both shared the ambition to make a positive impact through design. James and Chelsea now live and work in a 1901 farmhouse on Bainbridge Island — 35 minutes by ferry from Seattle — where they run Grain, the socially conscious product design studio they founded the year after graduating. They also keep five chickens and make their own wine. The daughter of entrepreneurs, Chelsea didn’t plan to follow in her parents’ footsteps. “Not having a regular paycheck kind of frightened me, and I didn’t think I would ever want to do that,” says the designer, who earned a graduate degree at RISD after graduating from Pratt and working for several years.

In 2002, just as she landed an enviable first job at a luxury architecture firm, James was still searching for the right kind of design education. He had left the mechanical engineering program at the University of Washington and was looking for a way to develop his skills as a craftsman. “In terms of choosing an art or design school instead of a more traditional path, I had actually tried the traditional path and discovered it wasn’t the right fit,” James says. “But engineering

school showed me that what I thought I liked about engineering was actually something else.”

When their paths finally crossed at RISD — during a Wintersession course in Guatemala — James and Chelsea soon began thinking about starting a business that reflected their fair-trade, eco-minded values. “They’re so emblematic of the collaboration and exploration that my course Bridging Cultures Through Design was all about,” says Mimi Robinson [BFA 81/Painting], the San Francisco-based designer who led the travel/ study experience. “They’re remarkably talented and have wonderful ideas, but it’s really their stick-to-it-iveness and their ability to adapt that are their hallmark.” An ability to adapt enabled James and Chelsea to build a viable business in the midst of a deep recession. Their very first product — a PVC-free recyclable shower curtain — may not have been the splashiest launch, but it spoke to their ideals, was affordable to make and remains a top seller. More recently, their Bound line of textile-wrapped mirrors has been featured everywhere from Apartment Therapy to Elle Decoration UK and their fair-trade collaborations with Guatemalan artisans caught the eye of a buyer for Anthropologie, one of more than 100 retailers and shops across the country and abroad that now carry their products.

“In Guatemala, we could quickly see how all the things we knew and were learning could be applied to making a positive impact on local craftspeople,” Chelsea explains. “It just lit a fire under us in terms of thinking about new ways to work.”

Profile for Rhode Island School of Design

Working: Diverse outcomes of a RISD Education  

(Updated Fall 2015) Making a creative living means doing what you love to do. This publication explores the many ways alumni of Rhode Island...

Working: Diverse outcomes of a RISD Education  

(Updated Fall 2015) Making a creative living means doing what you love to do. This publication explores the many ways alumni of Rhode Island...

Profile for risd