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Visiting Tamar Wider's Mission design studio for The 2 Bandits and Camp requires a trek up three flights of winding, industrial stairs. Nevertheless, it's worth the hike. The building is cold, sparse, and concrete, but stepping into Tamar's headquarters is like entering a bandit's dream. Light fills every corner of the room, which is divided into two territories for the two brands. A steer skull and horns is the singular crossover between them.
The jewelry team sits to the left. The new Camp collection, a clothing brand that makes nostalgia for summer camp days sexy, fills the right. Camp designer and production manager Hayley Johnson occupies the back corner. Naturally, Tamar's desk holds down the fort, front and center, straddling the two sides. She's the Texan with NYC design chops who calls SF home—and also one of her best decisions. "I can do everything [for my brands] in SF," Tamar tells us. "I'm so happy I'm here."
Tamar's interest in jewelry began in gemology. Her father owns a diamond company, but she quickly tired of the profession and left for NYC to study jewelry design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She started The 2 Bandits while she was still in school, naming the brand for the film "The Last Waltz." (The documentary, about The Band, was Tamar's obsession in her late teens.) The inspiration for the jewelry designs came from her Southwestern roots, and every collection has started from a personal story.
With The 2 Bandits already up and running, Tamar moved out West in 2009 with her now husband and business partner Greg Kaye. But it took a few years for the brand to gain traction. The catalyst was the Holiday 2012 lookbook. "It went viral," Tamar explains. Opportunities for Tamar and her Western-inspired designs haven't stopped since. She credits her growing team as the main reason for the brand's continuing success. "[The brand is] almost at the point [where I'm] just designing," Tamar notes. "Then I can do my dream projects. I pinch myself a lot."
A few of those projects on the horizon are collaborations with people and brands not in the jewelry and fashion industries. Tamar's ultimate goal for The 2 Bandits is to evolve into a modern, American heritage household name, similar to brands like Ralph Lauren, Levi's, and Pendleton. As part of that effort, she reveals that she doesn't follow trends when designing her jewelry collections. Instead, the process is organic and builds off the base collection that she describes as classic and timeless. The 2 Bandits releases seasonal collections three times a year and Tamar is always designing, combining her travels with her childhood memories and her experience with stones like opal and onyx.
Camp is an entirely different experience for Tamar. The clothing brand branched out from Tamar's and Greg's shared nostalgia for childhood summer camp. "Camp reinvents the wheels from the 1970s," Tamar explains. She launched a collection last year and realized a few mistakes along the way before she re-launched on November 18 of this year. "Urban Outfitters contacted us that very day to buy the collection," Tamar reveals. "And the online shop sold out." That's how she knew she nailed the concept. But instead of designing the clothes on her own, Tamar describes the styles ("I'm more the Creative Director") to Hayley who in turn sketches options for Tamar to select.
For now, Tamar keeps the two brands separate, save for the shared studio space. "I don't think the Bandit goes to summer camp," she muses. Then again, for those of us who remember Camp Anawanna, it's not far outside the realm of possible for Melody to have worn fringe and this Teepee Cuff studded with turquoise stones. And it's that sort of thought exactly that makes Tamar's two brands fun, different, and accessible.
There isn't just one type of girl who can wear either brand (although there may be a larger range of Bandits than Campers). Tamar credits that flexibility to living and designing in SF. "If I was in the [NYC] scene, I think it would be different," she explains. "[Designing] wouldn't be as nice or as fun." So the next time you're wandering through the Mission —the side that hustles and bustles— keep your eyes fixed upward: You might just see this Bandit's/Camper's den where Tamar and her teams are hard at work, (but still having fun) designing and crafting delightful things.
· The 2 Bandits [Official Site]
· Camp [Official Site]
· All Your Home for the Holidays Emotions, Told Through Jewelry [Racked SF]