Meet Jermain Todd, owner and craftsman of the St. Louis-based Mwanzi Co. From the sounds of it, he's certainly one of the busiest makers we know. He creates green and sustainable cabinetry for Greenhaus Cabinets® and the custom furniture brand FeRRUM™. On top of that, he fashions completely custom interior furnishings for residential and commercial clients using local, reclaimed, and repurposed materials. We spoke with Jermain about his work and his process. Here's what he had to say.
I started my business when…I started my business in 2005, but it was not until 2009 that I was able to have my very own wood shop. That period of time was very difficult because I was trying to figure out how to run a business while running it, learning as I went-one obstacle at a time. I didn't have a lot of money and didn't have anybody that I knew who could drop $10K in my bank account, so it was a slow, painful crawl to that moment in 2009.
The reason I started doing what I do is…I quickly realized that I got more emotional satisfaction-and ultimately a greater sense of control over my business-when I sold things that I made, right here, in my studio.
The thing I love most about working with wood is…Just how beautiful wood looks to me. I think wood looks so sexy. I'm a wood geek. Many times I just stare at a board and admire all the features that were created so organically, so naturally, aware that no two boards are alike-anywhere on planet and at any time in history. And the amount of history they've witnessed blows me away. Sometimes I walk under trees and wonder about all the people, things, and events that this tree has had happen underneath its branches.
My first job was…
My first paid job was as a paper boy for a local newspaper at the age of 13.
My main sources of inspiration are…Hot and quiet showers each morning. That's when the ideas for many of the things I will create that day develop.
The most challenging thing about my work is…Managing my time and prioritizing. In order for me to meet my many deadlines, I have to decide what's most important for me to deal with on an hourly basis each day. And when you make something custom from scratch, so many things can go wrong that you may not have encountered before-you need the time to deal with it.
My favorite part of the process is…The moment with you can see the piece take just enough shape that you can now envision the completed piece form in your mind. Makes me smile every time!
What makes my works eco-friendly is…The raw materials and finishes that I use. I only use wood that was harvested from trees that grew in my state-but mostly my city, or FSC-certified wood, or reclaimed, or repurposed wood. I also only use recycled steel and only use low-VOC topcoat finishes.
Other materials I would like to master are…Aluminum. I want to start making/welding furniture out of aluminum.
My all-time favorite tool is…
My Festool Kapex compound miter saw.
My biggest DIY success is…
Whatever project I've just completed.
To find out more about Jermain's work, visit Mwanzi.com and take a look at his feature in Once Films' critically acclaimed Spotlight Series.