Emilja is in charge of producing the thing you all go crazy for—THE MUG! Keep reading to learn about our awesome “mug operations lead”—from her journey at East Fork to her thoughts on different kinds of motorcycles.So you’re from Grand Rapids, Michigan but you’ve been in Asheville since 2008, right? When and how did you decide to move down here to Asheville? Does it ever annoy you when people complain about the weather here, knowing what it can be like in Michigan?
I graduated from college in 2006 and moved to Raleigh to do a year of Americorps. I had friends there who would come to Asheville for the weekend, and after tagging along a few times, I fell in love with it pretty quickly. It was a very different place then, grungier and with far fewer jobs, but I loved the mountains and the artistic & political communities. I moved here at the beginning of 2008, when my year of Americorps was over, and though I moved away a couple times, I always came back!
When people complain about the weather, I just laugh. It's fun to light-heartedly tease people, "You think THIS is snow?!" But it's very real that Asheville lacks the infrastructure to handle much more than a flurry. And to be honest, I've definitely gotten a little soft after so many years of mild winters!
What do you do for East Fork? What does your day look like? Has that changed a lot since you started at the company?
I originally started on the RAM team, trimming and operating the presses, but transitioned to the jigger team pretty quickly, because they needed the help, especially with mugs. In December I became the jigger team lead, but we quickly realized that with mug demand growing, and the team growing along with it, it made sense for it to be a separate department. So now my title is "Mug Operations Lead"! My day is about 60% making mugs, and 40% meetings, scheduling, training, and brainstorming process improvements. I really love what I do, I like working with my hands but also handling logistics and going to meetings. I basically view my role as making sure that my team is set up for success every day, so they can come in and do their work smoothly and efficiently.
You worked as a barista for a long time, and now you make mugs for coffee. Have you ever thought there is a kind of poetry in this progression? Can I assume you’re a big coffee fan?
Haha, definitely! I love coffee! I'm drinking it right now! I liked being a barista because I got to provide people with a good start to their day, or an afternoon pick-me-up, but I grew out of customer service. So now I still get to be a part of that, just from further in the background! I love seeing people post pictures on Instagram, enjoying their morning coffee from an East Fork mug, knowing that I had a part in making that mug, and therefore contributing to that special morning ritual.
You’re a motorcycler. I just looked up what styles of bikes there are, knowing nothing about the sport. There’s the cruiser, the power cruiser, the brat, the bobber, the brat-bob?? What style of motorcycle do you have? Do you think the style of the bike says a lot about a person?
Hahaha! Yes, it's true, there are so many different types of motorcycles! Mine is a cruiser, an '02 Harley Sportster 1200. I've had it for a little over two years, and I absolutely love it. Before that, for three years, I had an '82 Honda CM450, which was a more classic vintage style bike. I loved that one too, but I was very ready for a more powerful engine, since I love going on moto trips, and it's easier with a bigger bike.
Different types of people are definitely attracted to different types of bikes - the kind of person who rides a sport bike is probably going to be pretty different from someone who rides a chopper. But at the end of the day, what we all have in common is that we love motorcycles, and that's a pretty easy thing to bond over whether you're on an adventure touring bike or a cafe racer. People ride motorcycles because they love it, it's a passion, and that passion transcends the specifics.
You make jewelry, right? What kind of tools do you use to do that?
I do! I've been making work under the name Dark Cove Designs since 2015. I make two distinct types of jewelry, one is brass cutouts, and the other is electroforming. For the brass pieces it's pretty simple - I use a jeweler's saw, which is like a small and very precise hacksaw, to cut the shape. I sand the edges with a dremel, and sometimes hammer a texture onto them, and that's about it.
The electroforming is more interesting - it's an electrochemical process, where an item is fully or partially plated in copper. I mostly work with stones and crystals. I glue a ring onto the stone, then cover the area where I want copper to form with conductive paint. From there, it's suspended in an acid solution, with a large coil of copper wire around it. A power source is connected to both the wire and the jewelry piece, positive and negative respectively, and when it's turned on, the copper particles slowly move from the wire to the item being electroformed. After 24 hours or more, enough copper has collected to solidly encase a portion of the stone, and the ring, so it looks like it's been dipped in copper. It's very fun, and very cool - the perfect mix of artist & mad scientist.
What are your 5 favorite things?
Alright, I'm going to choose to define "things" a little loosely, mostly so I can include my dog in this, haha! So in rough order:
1) My dog, Hazel, an 11-year old blue pit. I adopted her from the Baltimore city shelter when she was 3, and she's the light of my life.
2) My motorcycle.
3) My art pens. I've been doing illustration work in various forms (comics, design commissions, floral illustration, etc.) and I use my rotring isographs for everything.
4) My houseplants. At last count I had about 100 of them, they're in every room of my house and they bring me so much joy.
5) My house! My roommate and I got tired of dealing with the renting market in this town (it's a nightmare!) so we decided to buy a house together last fall. It's out in Canton, where it's a lot cheaper, and it's been so fun to have a space to really make our own.