Miwak Junior is the Los Angeles-based design company creating unexpected functional art to connect users with community and nature. Originators of a fine art approach to cannabis design, Miwak Junior introduced minimalist pipes that transcend commentary on stigma to honor the plant’s ritualistic roots. The refinement of aesthetic set a trend within the newly-legal cannabis space, positioning Miwak Junior as a culture-defining brand of the post-Prohibition era. Responsibly made by hand in California, Miwak Junior pipes are fired in reduction, in a gas kiln at an extremely high fire temperature. The heat renders the pipes especially sturdy, and the reduction process creates an ever-changing array of finishes which make each piece one-of-a-kind. With a hollow interior providing a large chamber for smoke, and a hand-finished exterior for a smooth feel in the palm, the “undeniably chic design” (VOGUE) begets superior smoking functionality. Miwak Junior has also been featured in Rolling Stone, Elle, GQ, goop.com, HBO’s HIGH MAINTENANCE, and in exclusive collaboration with designer Kelly Wearstler. Here we talk to husband and wide duo Sebastian and Alice about the brand ethos and what’s inspiring them right now.
So you snuck a pipe into the kiln. Tell us all about the Miwak Junior origin story:
SEBASTIAN: After sneaking that forbidden mini pipe into the Glendale City College kiln undetected (the design was so discreet they didn’t notice it was a pipe, which they didn’t allow), I took several ceramic hand building classes with Biliana Popova who I admire so much as an artist and as a teacher, and I was then mostly making sculptures for Aquariums, that you can see in our website as well. Then she did a ceramic casting class, and that is when the current pipe was born, in 2012. The original pipe from the Glendale city college was solid with just a straight hole to the bowl, so the smoking action was very poor. Being able to make the pipe fully hollow, which only the casting process allows, was the big breakthrough in the design, as it allows for a big hollow chamber for the smoke, which makes the pipe hit very smooth and effective. I did about five different shape tweaks until I got the perfect balance of distance between the mouth hole and the bowl (to avoid burning your nose), the right positioning of the carb hole, the feel in the hand and the right use of glazes, only in the bowl for a minimal look. We think of it as a mini Zen sculpture that also happens to be very functional. I did this on my own for a couple of years in a very small scale, just friends wanted them, and then friends of friends, and then we did the Echo Park craft fair where we started expanding into stores and selling to the general public. That is when my wife Alice joined the team bringing on her amazing communication skills (she is also a writer and performer), and she became our company voice, which is very funny and warm and very honest as well.
ALICE: There was an undeniable energy generated by the beauty and efficacy of Sebastian’s design. People were seeking out these pipes. I was an actor; I was used to hustling my ass off and nothing happening. But this project felt like it maybe had some magic on it, and I wanted to see if I could somehow help that magic grow and evolve.
Tell us about your materials, finishes and process:
SEBASTIAN: We work with Cone 10 porcelain and stoneware clays. Cones are a way to measure temperature and time inside the kilns, and cone 10 is around 2350F and is usually the highest temperature in artistic ceramic practices. We fire our pipes in gas kilns doing a reduction process, that basically starves the kiln out of oxygen, which makes the clay and the glazes react in unique ways between each other and makes each pipe have a unique and ever-changing look. We love the character that this process gives to the finish of the pipes, which makes each pipe a truly one of a kind. Also firing at this highest temperature makes the clay fully vitrified, so it is easy to fully clean compared to electric kiln fired pipes. Most of the industry works with electric kilns witch gives you and identical consistent look, and we might do some pieces in electric kilns in the future, but a big part of our unique look is the gas kiln reduction firing, plus we like the highest density and less porosity of the clay you get at 2350F. We love making one-of-a-kind pipes, where we get to play with underglazes, wax resist designs witch allow you to make unique glaze design shapes, also we love to experiment with mason stain colors that you add to porcelain clays to get new colors, and then mixing these colors to achieve marbling effects is also super fun.
ALICE: I enjoy anything to do with communicating, be it general customer service, Instagram, the newsletter. I love to have fun; I want others to have fun around me. I love to entertain an audience. Sometimes I pretend this whole enterprise is performance art, and I’m a character called ‘The Weedpipe Saleswoman.’ I love meeting the people who get us. I love meeting people from all walks of life. I want to make a person feel good whether they buy something from us or not.
5 things inspiring your creation process right now:
Mayan art and all other pre-columbian cultures (Sebastian)
Hundertwasser (Austrian/New Zeland artist) (Sebastian)
Eduardo Chillida (Sebastian)
Perceiving life as an experimental comedy (Alice)
Beyond your sculptures, your main products are pipes. Can you talk to us a little bit about the ritual of smoking and what things can make it a special experience:
SEBASTIAN: Smoking can bring you a new perspective on things. You are sometime able to “see” or “feel" other things that were hidden by the sometimes fast and complex world we live in. It can be a moment to take a pause and get some bird-eye view on things. Pipes in ancient cultures where ritualistic objects, they were important objects. So when I made this pipe I wanted to be an object that had that ritualistic weight and importance to it. I wanted it to be something you enjoy grabbing and touching and looking at it, but i also wanted it to be very minimal and simple.
ALICE: I like a sativa-dominant hybrid for most everything in life. Gives my brain just the right amount of ‘how ya doin’ without the edge. Me, I love the plant. Sebastian has always had a fascination with it, too. In terms of having legit weed love, you could say Miwak Junior really walks the talk. You feel it in our functionality. There’s no mention of stigma. We’re setting a positive vibe for your hang; we want you to appreciate and enjoy the moment.
If there was a song to describe your brand it would be:
SEBASTIAN: "Prophecy Theme" by Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Roger Eno. Used in the Movie Dune when the hero takes this big scary psychedelic trip to be able to “see” further into the future. It is a very relaxing and spiritual song to me that is certainly in the “Ritual” mood.
ALICE: “Oogum Boogum Song” by Brenton Wood. A woman’s certain je ne sais quoi casts a charming, danceable spell.
You’re based in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Tell us how it inspires you?
SEBASTIAN: This Neighborhood and L.A. has changed a lot since we got here in 2002, but through the years we have always seen a lot of youth around here and I love their energy. We love these young millennials and is fun to get to talk to them in the local bars, it feels uplifting somehow and they are very supportive of what we do. We are also very lucky to have Elysian Park and the Echo Park Lake to go walk and connect with the city and the community.
Do you ever feel run-down creatively? How do you manage stress and balance wellness?
ALICE: I smoke weed. Another stressbuster is hanging out with easygoing people. Often at the same time. My soul place is Elysian Park. I love to hike alone or with a friend and go tell our troubles on the mountain. The palm trees, the grassy hill overlooking the city. Picking up the sound of a Mariachi trumpet in the distance serenading a barbecue…
Who are your heroes and why?
SEBASTIAN: I really love Hundertwasser. I heard about him when I was around 18 through a book that my dad bought me. I love how he was very conscious about nature conservation, and how he proposed many architectural ideas to build buildings while preserving nature’s footprint. I also just really love his paintings and prints and the way he approached life in general.
What’s the best gift you ever received?
SEBASTIAN: A painting from my Chilean artist friend Andres Heinsen.
ALICE: One Christmas my sister-in-law gave me a remote-controlled fart machine. It had a speaker and a remote. You could plant the speaker places and then use the remote from pretty damn far away, come to think of it. The remote had a clip on it and you could wear it like a beeper. You have to understand, we lived in a very small and boring southern town. This was entertainment. We brought it to the Christmas Eve party. Everybody was trying to steal it from me, because the comedic possibilities were too dazzling to bear.
What’s the most cherished object in your home?
ALICE: I used to bartend in New York at this French place and this fun-loving Japanese painter named Hiro Yokose used to eat dinner there every night. When I left for LA, he gave me a small encaustic painting. It’s my New York parting gift/trophy of an era.
SEBASTIAN: Minimoog Synthesizer