When you think of someone who embodies the West Coast, you probably think of someone like Jimmy Brower. This local maker embodies all that is the West Coast and California — laid back, desert-loving, and unrestricted in his creativity. It may come as a surprise, then, that he not a native Californian. Instead, he grew up in a family of artisans on a farm in rural Southern Illinois, eventually migrating to Oakland 10 years ago and founding the lifestyle brand, West Perro. West Perro is a statement jewelry and home goods brand that connects to its earthly roots and makes a strong case for simplicity.
As for the name, Jimmy’s adventures through the West have not been done alone! His terrier mix, Joey, signifies Jimmy’s move to California a decade ago and has been by his side through it all. Hence, the name West Perro (“perro” is Spanish for dog!) was born, combining his love of his new home and his pup.
West Perro has evolved from simply being an outlet for Jimmy’s creative energy, hand-making items for himself and his close friends, to now boasting a full line of jewelry, wall-hangings, hats, and soon to-be kids and clothing collections that evoke the warm feelings Jimmy gets while spending time in nature. His goods are made from polymer clay, terra cotta, wax, leather, and cotton fibers, each completely handmade and completely unique.
In the storefront-turned-apartment that he shares with his partner in North Oakland, Jimmy has carved out a small space for his workshop/production needs. On the weekends, they pack up and road trip to Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Big Sur, or the Mojave Desert and everything in between- Joey in tow. These landscapes, he says, is where he draws his inspiration for every new piece. Read on below about Jimmy’s inspiration, challenges, and daily life as a small business owner!
Photography by Melissa de Mata.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I’m Jimmy—owner and maker at West Perro, a desert-inspired lifestyle brand. I make jewelry and wall hangings using polymer clays, cotton cording, natural leather, and maple/birch blend wood. I also share some of my favorite things such as the Desert Sun Hat—a natural palm leaf hat, made in Mexico by hand. New adventures include resort-wear and things for baby by West Perro.
When you moved to the Bay Area, what inspired you to start your own business?
I moved to the Bay Area 10 years ago in 2008, after graduating University. Something about the energy, the people and vibe drew me to the West. After 8 years, I began to need a creative outlet, and in 2016, West Perro was born. The need to create and make has always been my passion—from kiddo to adult.
Destinations such as Yosemite, Mt. Shasta, Big Sur, and the Mojave Desert have influenced my creative-self, all within reach from living in the Bay. But my journey in the West was not met alone. One year into my stay, I decided to rescue a dog and share the journey. That’s when I got Joey, a furry, cairn-terrier mix with a beautiful warm blonde and white-toned coat. In 2018, we will celebrate him turning 10 and my 10 years of living in California.
The two combined created West Perro.
Tell us about your studio space.
I love my workshop, because it doubles as my home. For the past few years, my partner and I have lived in an old store front shop, which was converted into a work/live loft in North Oakland. The space in beautiful with high ceilings, an open floor plan, white gallery walls, and the in-tact shop front doors, floor to ceiling windows and surrounding upper windows which allow for SO MUCH natural light. I carved out what was probably a mudroom or laundry room for my workshop, which is currently just enough at the moment. Last year, we were even featured in Apartment Therapy and the tour was magical.
Your ability to use natural materials, combining them to create statement jewelry pieces is what sets West Perro apart. What draws you to earth tones and natural materials in fashion?
Honestly, thinking about materials in fashion wasn’t even a conscious thought when initially designing my first necklace. I remember it—and my intention was not to sell it, but rather to wear it as my own. After receiving a few compliments, I decided to make a few other styles for close friends. From then on, West Perro became a lifestyle brand, because everything I create, I subconsciously make for myself. I think it’s beautiful and full of energy in it’s own right. And then I remember, I’m making it for someone that loves the brand, how I live and believes in my ability to create something special for them or their home.
Growing up in Southern Illinois, riding bikes with my shirt off and running through fields barefoot allowed me to really connect with nature. I’m a summer son—a leo, a fire sign—and that’s where I believe I find my love for warm tones and inviting energy. That root of my life resurrected itself in my adult age, through my love of travel, camping, warm environments and everything that exists in nature.
Where do you seek inspiration for each of your designs?
Inspiration comes from many places. Aesthetically, the desert terrain in my journeys into the Mojave and travels to the Baja California Sur in Mexico tend to influence me the most. The warm color tones, shapes of the landscape with the textures of the sand and stone create an inviting energy that is welcomed by all.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
My typical work day includes an early rise to shine, and I usually take it easy for the first couple of hours. I take some time to process my thoughts, have conversations if they’re on the books, and recalibrate from the previous day. I’m always working on my ability to balance my connection to people with my process of work. After lunch, I’ll begin making the clay shapes that you find in my necklaces, earrings and wall hangings. The process of making these are very meditative for me, so I usually put on some folk/americana playlist and slide into a zone of creating with my hands and fingers. After a few hours of making objects, after they’re ready — I’ll begin working on fulfilling orders for those that want West Perro in their space. Did you ask about the weekend? Well, I’ll tell ya anyways—Damien, Joey and me are always road tripping, off to Joshua Tree for projects and inspiration, out enjoying nature with friends or traveling because we know there’s only one life; and we plan to live it.
What, in your experience, have been the biggest challenges in starting and sustaining your own business?
Ha! Ask me in 1 year. So… West Perro has been growing for two years now, and it hasn’t been until now that I’ve fully invested myself into the brand and owned it as my TRUE work. The challenges are also the successes; connecting with people, managing relationships, conducting meaningful business and investing for the future. All of these things you tend to experience on your own, and each person processes these things differently. But these four things, I feel if I give my heart and soul to, will prove to be my biggest challenge and hopefully my biggest success.
What is it like being a maker in America right now?
It’s a mix of emotions, absolutely. Having to acknowledge, living in this economic and political climate, really pushes us to live differently. Learning about our history and the revolutions that have come and passed, I’m a big believer we are in another revolution; a shop small, local, hand-made and maker-made revolution. And it’s a proud feeling to be a part of such a movement that will change America (and the world) for the better.
What do you love most about your community in Oakland?
The people. There is such a positive force of creativity flowing through the East Bay, it is much like a renaissance. The friends I have made through craft fairs, markets, pop-ups and especially the supporters of the brand, have been overwhelming filled with love. An inverse to big box retailers, us makers and crafters support each other, stand up with each other and fight down competitive motivations because we know there is space in this world for everyone. Whether you’re in Oakland, California or Kansas City, Missouri or Brooklyn, New York, the creative community is strong and fearless. Oakland itself is a bell-weather of this embodiment, giving space to all, supporting the good fight, standing up to adversity and embracing diversity.
Top 5 places you need to visit in Oakland?
1. Joaquin Miller Park, because we love the hikes.
2. Mama’s Royal Cafe, because they’re the best mom + pop breakfast in town
3. Mountain View Cemetery, because you won’t find a more spectacular, panorama view of the entire Bay
4. Mariposa Baking Co., because I’m Gluten Free and there are great benefits to trying it out, on top of being SO delicious
5. Temescal District, because there you’ll find some of the best maker shops and eats in North Oakland