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Natural Selection

Natural Selection

New graduate Jake Sienkiewycz 15 ID/PH brings his love for the outdoors and everything he learned at RISD to his work at Vermont-based outdoor equipment startup Finn Utility.

From Sienkiewycz’s thesis project, RIVERS AND FLIES.

New graduate Jake Sienkiewycz 15 ID/PH grew up in the woods of Vermont and discovered early on that he enjoyed working with his hands. “I was always helping my dad out in his workshop and got into fly-fishing when I was about 10,” he says. “I learned how to tie flies and the obsession grew from there.”

Last summer that obsession led Sienkiewycz to Vermont-based outdoor equipment company Finn Utility, a one-man operation launched by fellow fishing enthusiast Ryan McDonald. “My mom read an article about Ryan in our local newspaper,” he explains. “I was working on a studio project called Journeyman Jack that had the same vibe and used the exact same canvas material, so I gave him a call and told him I was looking for work for the summer.”

The two outdoorsy designers immediately hit it off and have been working together ever since. Now that Sienkiewycz has graduated and can channel all of his energy into the business, they’re planning to slowly expand their product line to include travel accessories, backpacks and medicine bags. “But the mood of the brand won’t change,” he says. “It’s all about nostalgia for traditional goods and the solitude of fishing.”

Earning dual degrees in Industrial Design and Photography, Sienkiewycz has developed the perfect blend of skills to design goods embodying that mood and to create images that “tell the story Finn wants to tell.” As his photography portfolio shows, his camera has long been his fishing and hiking companion, with many of the images in his senior thesis project – on our changing relationship with the natural world – shot along the streams he frequented as a kid. Photography Critic Thad Russell MFA 06 PH, a fellow Vermonter, and Department Head Eva Sutton, who felt a strong affinity for the work based on her own childhood experiences in the mountains of Germany, offered critical support in helping him articulate his voice through the work.

But Sienkiewycz is quick to add that at Finn, the primary focus is on materiality. “The materials convey the story and people buy the products because of the way they feel,” he explains. Committed to sustainable design and production, he and McDonald are working together to source local materials and develop relationships with manufacturers based in New England.

As for practical business skills, Sienkiewycz looks forward to learning more on the job but notes that the Business Principles: Design and Entrepreneurship ID studio taught by Critic Bill Foulkes offered a valuable introduction. “I would highly recommend that class,” he says. “We went through a series of real-world case studies about companies like Starbucks and PepsiCo and used business principals to understand the problems they were having and come up with creative solutions. I learned about financials, planning, risk . . . background knowledge that is really helpful going into a young startup.”

Would Sienkiewycz recommend RISD to young makers thinking about their next step? “When I was in high school, I visited a lot of New England colleges within driving distance of home,” he recalls. “The thing that sold me on RISD is the work ethic. I visited on a Friday afternoon, and people were still working like crazy in their studios. That kind of shared drive is really motivating.”

Simone Solondz

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