Even if you're technically a grownup, Legos never stop being fun. But great design does more than make you look good — it starts conversations, and snaps people out of their dreary daily grind. Seeplus's Chris Mueller just wanted to make some cool jewelry out of primary-colored plastic. Then more and more people were asking for pairs, and swapping stories about the Lego empires they created as kids. We talked to him about his line, its inspiration, and what it's really like to sell jewelry on Telegraph Ave.
What's your story? Where are you from, and how did you end up making jewelry in Oakland?
Making jewelry was a glorious accident. I had lost all my dusty cubic zirconias in college and made a pair of LEGO earrings when I found a whole box full of bricks underneath my desk. I had no intention of starting an enterprise, but enough people made requests for more pairs that it justified putting in more effort.
My dad co-founded a cabinet construction company in East Oakland 30 years ago called Mueller Nicholls. I learned entrepreneurship from him, and my earliest memories of Oakland were in his shop that's still located on 2400 Union Street.
My challenge has always been finding a team of people and a set of resources that could help bring my ideas to life. I found most of them in Oakland.
When you’re designing something for seeplus, do you have a mental picture of the sort of person who would wear it?
When I first started designing, I had a clear idea of who I thought would wear it. But that idea got trashed once I started selling. In 2006 I got a vendor's license to sell my products out on Telegraph Avenue. The people who bought from me rarely fit the image I had in mind.
On any given day, a 3rd grade girl might beg her mama to buy earrings, a group of high school kids would huddle around my table and scoop some, all kinds of Berkeley students would cop that heat, on up to elder citas that would lay down duckets to lace the grandkids.
On your website, you say that you picked your first round of designs because they’re a reminder of our shared experiences — everyone played with Legos as kids. How do you think design can bring people together?
Human beings are hardwired to share stories, and they've been bringing people together since there was fire to sit around.In the case of ©+, each person projects their own LEGO-inspired story onto the design and then they quickly recognize that there's a shared experience to reminisce about. No lie, two of my very best friendships started with an interaction about my jewelry.
What’s it like to see someone wearing your stuff on the street? Are you tempted to give them a shout-out?
That's always the best part, and I carry air horns in my bag just so that I can cause a scene. If I see you wearing my stuff, I'm gonna have the whole block thinking it's your quinceanera.
What’s next for you? Any new themes, materials or designs you want to work with next?
I got a few more LEGOs to put out and then it’s on to the next concept. I got this LEGO hoop earring for ladies, and this young Elroy astronaut man pendant that would make NASA sing praises.
What’s your idea of the perfect day in the Town? What would you do, see, eat, hear?
Breakfast with no hog at the crib, bike ride around the lake, lunch at Ike's, some pickup futbol with the Leftwing familia, do some design work, dinner at Burma Superstar, watch FC Barcelona on replay, and par-tay with my kinfolks.
Oakland-based artists and designers are getting lots of love these days. Who else do you think is doing great stuff in the city?