From timepiece to design piece: An East Passyunk vision lands in MoMA store.

Posted: May 20, 2014

The paper came off the display windows of Analog Watch Co. over the weekend as one of East Passyunk's newest businesses made its official debut with an open house Saturday.

But as far as "a huge dream" coming true for owner Lorenzo Buffa, that happened a few days earlier, when two styles of Analog's Carpenter wristwatch debuted in a space revered by designers: the Museum of Modern Art's Design Store and its website.

"As a product designer, in terms of notoriety I can't think of anything better," an exuberant Buffa said during an interview at his 700-square-foot shop at Moore Street and East Passyunk Avenue, formerly a yoga studio.

A "barometer of contemporary design trends" is how the MoMA store was recently described by Fast Company, a media firm that follows progressive business leaders and trends.

That the MoMA Design Store chose to carry Buffa's wooden, non-digital watch is, in itself, recognition of a trend - that Kickstarter crowdfunding has become "this important new way for design to come into being," said Alexandra Glaser, product manager of personal accessories for the MoMA store.

In recognition of that, the MoMA Design Store "scoured Kickstarter for months" in search of products that would pass muster with the museum's curators and meet the store's criteria. Those are items of good design that solve a problem and involve interesting manufacturing techniques and materials, Glaser said.

In all, 24 products from 20 international designers were selected for the Kickstarter@MoMAStore initiative, making them eligible for sale at MoMAStore.org and, for some, including Buffa's watches, in MoMA's three New York stores and a store in Tokyo. About nine million people a year visit one of the stores or the website.

The news is even better for Buffa: Two styles of his watches will have an extended MoMA stay beyond the June 16 Kickstarter@MoMAStore end date. They will remain as part of the museum store's fall/holiday line through the end of the year.

"We see great potential in them already," Glaser said. "We really loved the fact that it was kind of rustic-looking but at the same time made in such a modern way."

The Analog Carpenter watch, priced at $149, is believed to be the first soft-strapped watch made of natural wood. Others' bands have been made of links. The Analog bands are a combination of soft wood and leather, said Buffa, who would not disclose his wood source for competitive reasons.

His Kickstarter campaign from Oct. 11 to Nov. 11 proved that the watches have appeal, raising $76,000 and attracting 900 orders.

Sixteen months ago, Buffa, now 27, was a graduate of the University of the Arts - and cleaning toilets for a janitorial company. Which is to say he had all the motivation he needed to try to commercialize his school project, the wooden watches.

Buffa was about a month from launching his Kickstarter campaign when he secured a $6,000 grant from the University of the Arts' Corzo Center for the Creative Economy. He took a number of business-preparation workshops there, followed by eight weeks in an accelerator program run by Good Co. Ventures.

Neil Kleinman, director of the Corzo Center, lauded Buffa's ability to not only see his creative work as art but also to be "sensitive to the notion there's an audience out there" - a paying audience.

"Now he's in MoMA," Kleinman marveled. "Even if this thing fails, he's learned so much that it just takes my breath away. It just excites me."

Part of Buffa's learning process involved concluding that he could not manufacture his watches in the United States and remain in business, unless he priced them at $400 to $500 each.

Minimum-order requirements by U.S. manufacturers are too cost-prohibitive, Buffa said. So the watches are made in China, where many of the watch parts he needs also are, Buffa notes.

"I struggle with the China thing," he said.

After all, Buffa produces a video blog, Hands On, to showcase Philadelphia manufacturers, and features them on his website, www.analogwatchco.com.

Where he can, he is using local businesses. Service Die Cutting & Packaging Corp. makes his boxes.

"There's a funny feeling when I say, 'Oh, they're made overseas.' The maker community kind of loses some respect," Buffa said. "I'm trying to win those people back."


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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