Made in Houston
By Megha Tejpal, Photos by Kennon Evett
H-Town is known far and wide for making spaceships and tacos, and how cool is that? Rockets and Tex-Mex aside, however, a range of other audacious objects, proprietary products and otherwise stupendous stuff is developed, dreamed up and done well, here in Houston. Here’s a portfolio of items, from tiny little carrier ships and carbon fibers to great big diamond necklaces, concocted and created in our own backyard. Grab a taco, read on, and be proud of your city.
Jake Eshelman of Side Project Skateboards hand-makes boards in three designs, including this classic cruiser that combines recovered walnut and maple and is finished off with two coats of varnish. It sells for $395, online only. With sustainability in mind, the boards are made in a Bellaire wood shop where much of the discarded wood is sourced — courtesy of Eshelman’s father-in-law and woodwork mentor, who himself rode wooden skateboards around Houston in the ’60s — and are fastened with leather risers in lieu of commonplace plastic. Like an artist would sign a painting, Eshelman laser-etches his company logo on the bottom of each one.
LOUNGE CHAIR The Caden Lounge Chair is the first of eight pieces produced for the Jillian O’Neill Collection by Houston interior designer Jillian O’Neill, who says the line represents her “entire career in design.” O’Neill uses high quality materials — solid wood and exotic marbles sourced from various vendors around town — and strives for “classic modernity” throughout the collection. Incorporating handcrafted metals from various local metal shops, the Caden is made to the designer’s exacting specs by a family-owned, private-label manufacturer in the Heights. It retails for $4,200.
RETINOPATHY GLASSES An ambitious group of female Rice students calling itself the Eye See You See team has created this prototype for inexpensive snap-together glasses. The specs are meant to be an educational tool doctors can use in the field, especially in developing countries and other low-resource settings, to show the effects of diabetics on eyesight. Untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness. Constructed within the university’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, the students made use of paint, laser etching and even nail polish to make their glasses, which are not yet available for sale.
CARBON FIBER About 10 years ago, working with their Rice teacher — Matteo Pasquali, professor of chemistry and nano-engineering — a group of students developed a new kind of synthetic fiber with a multitude of applications ranging from medical devices to aerospace. What’s so great about these fibers, technically known as carbon nanotubes? They conduct electricity just like metal, but they’re far lighter, more flexible, more corrosion-resistant and more compatible with the natural environment. The group formed a company called DexMat and incorporated in Houston last year.
DIAMOND AND SAPPHIRE NECKLACE The Zadok Collection diamond and sapphire necklace is designed and manufactured in-house at the Zadok family’s Galleria area boutique. Assembled by Jonathan Zadok, a seventh-generation jeweler, with 30.5 carats of Ceylon sapphires mined from Sri Lanka and 14.06 carats of round diamonds — sourced directly from cutters around the globe —the necklace is set in 18k white gold. The family is too polite to throw around the price tag, but a safe estimate would put the value well into six figures.
SUSTAINABLE CLUTCH The nonprofit Magpies & Peacocks’ Carpetbagger line of handbags, developed in partnership with the Laura U. Interior Design firm, is fashioned from post-consumer textiles and high-end carpet samples. This bag, which sells for $198, features up-cycled exotic leather in a blend of silver and gray with hints of bronze. The resourceful Carbetbagger collection also makes use of leather scraps, reclaimed belts and repurposed hardware. Magpies & Peacocks is in EaDo.
BESPOKE SHIRT Hamilton’s bespoke shirts, like this blue poplin one, which sells for $245, are cut and sewn by hand — without the use of any modern technology, such as computer-aided imaging or online measuring — at a factory in Uptown. It’s one of the last old-school operations of its kind in the nation. The business has been family-owned since it launched in 1883, with four generations of Hamiltons personally overseeing the pattern makers, fabric cutters and seamstresses. Customers, who are welcome to watch the shirt-making magic, may choose from more than 600 Italian fabrics.
MODEL SHIP This model of a ship that’s yet to be built, made of plastic and fiberglass with painstaking precision, is no toy. This 50-pound energy carrier took USM — a second-generation, 60-year-old, family-run business specializing in engineering, designing and manufacturing scale models using cutting-edge fabrication technologies and robotics — six weeks to create and costs $17,000. This 1:250-scale facsimile has a stainless-steel paint finish on its hull and is given the illusion of movement through water by 300 LED lights controlled by a touch screen. USM’s clients, who need scale models of everything from airplane cockpits to offshore oil rigs for a range of purposes, include major corporations, the military and NASA.