Less is More: Furniture Design Alum Turned Entrepreneur Launches Minimalist Slipper Design

Posted January 8, 2018 in Alumni, Furniture Design

Ryan Pieper (‘03, BFA Furniture Design) wants you to slip into something more comfortable in 2018. The Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) alumnus has reimagined the traditional house slipper with a minimalist aesthetic, and customers are already lining up.

After a successful Kickstarter launch, including garnering the site’s coveted “Project We Love” designation, Pieper’s Sparrow Slippers are ready to hit the market. Made from natural wool felt and durable leather, the slippers are intended to be worn around the house as well as when traveling. “No fuss, no frills” construction compliment eco-friendly materials, comfort, and durability.

Slippers positioned on a white badkgroundimage courtesy of Ryan Pieper

What started as a way to repurpose felt scraps from a previous project into Christmas gifts for family and friends quickly grew into something more. The positive feedback Pieper received encouraged the independent furniture designer to make his first foray into entrepreneurship.

Reflecting back on his time at KCAD, Pieper emphasizes how the Furniture Program’s competitive environment and access to resources prepared him to face the challenges of designing and launching his own product. The crux, however, was how his professors encouraged him to keep experimenting with materials and techniques. Pieper not only claims this as a “major factor” in his early design development, but stresses that experimentation overall is “crucial to any design education.”

“You need to get messy and have a lot of failures, but something will eventually stick,” he says. “Trust me.”

The design of Sparrow Slippers echoes Pieper’s often-experimental furniture designs, which typically feature unconventional construction techniques and natural materials.

“I enjoy the focus being on the connection between two materials,” he says, “To me, a unique or experimental joint is the best ornamentation a product could have.”

View of someone's feet with a pair of slippers on themimage courtesy of Ryan Pieper

The Sparrow name comes from what Pieper describes as “an absolute ‘that’s it!’ moment.” One day, while working on the idea, he rescued a baby bird from the pavement outside of his studio and noticed something interesting.

“I realized that the bird’s feathers shared the same color palette as the material for the slippers, and the un-sewn felt pattern looked like a bird in flight,” he says.

As an entrepreneur, Pieper had to not only design and brand his product, but consider how and where it would be produced as well. The wool felt and leather used in each pair of Sparrow Slippers is sourced from New Mexico and Colorado, respectively, and the slippers will be manufactured in Madison Heights, Mich., a business model Pieper refused to compromise on. While the primary benefits of this approach include ensuring transparency and a quality assembly process, Pieper believes that designers should be aware of the impact of their work.

Man sitting at sewing machine constructing a pair of slippersPieper constructs a pair of Sparrow Slippers (image courtesy of Ryan Pieper) 

“Who is making the final product? Where are those materials coming from? Who is profiting? These are questions designers and makers need to be asking because it’s important to understand how their involvement in industry affects the surrounding community.”

Sparrow Slippers come in various unisex sizing and are currently available for pre-order. Visit ryanpieper.com for more information.  

See more of Ryan Pieper’s work at ryanpieper.com.

Learn more about KCAD’s Furniture Design program