This is Ground: Los Angeles DTLA Start-Up Doubles Down on Local

“The manufacturing energy in downtown LA is palpable right now,” says Mike Macadaan, founder of the fast-growing leather tech accessory brand This is Ground. “It’s a treasure trove of raw material and talented craftsmen.”

This is Ground has seen a remarkable ascent since its Etsy roots in 2013, going from a spontaneous side project to a serious brand so coveted by the tech crowd that it appeared in the online Apple store in under a year. And not only has product design been the key, the execution has also been implemented in with an innovative approach: reinventing the notion of local production.

By partnering with a new start-up factory owned by leather artisans in DTLA, they’ve remained remarkably nimble and exploratory while scaling the business. That means more room for experimentation and flexibility each step of the way, and faster time to market.

This reinvention has also happened fast. In just a little over two weeks, This is Ground’s lightbulb moment — facilitating a factory space to be owned and operated by local craftsmen just across the hall from their office — came to fruition. The Figueroas, a family of leatherworkers whose legacy of refined skill and creativity makes them the perfect fit for the company’s nuanced pieces, is now at the helm of production for This is Ground’s newest release: a compellingly customizable leather organizer called the Mod 2.

From One Taco to 55k Followers

This is Ground began when Mike was asked by a design friend for a creative solution to an all-too-common problem: cords, everywhere. Having just gotten tacos from nearby restaurant Loteria when the inquiry arrived, Mike had a moment of tortilla-induced brilliance: the Cord Taco. It’s a simple concept — a small, folding leather circle that snaps a roll of cords into place for easy travel or a beautifully organized workspace.

“I didn’t realize that it was going to spark this new business,” Mike says. “At the beginning, I was making things by hand. My nights and weekends became about teaching myself a new craft.” Eventually the Cord Taco begat the Cordlupa, the Cordito, and a host of other Instagram-worthy leather goods designed with both functional ease and aesthetic self-expression in mind. “It falls in the middle of functionality and fashion, of organization and technology.” This is Ground — a Bowie-inspired moniker from Mike’s early days as a blimp operator — truly took off.

Nisha Rabiee and Mike Macadaan in the This is Ground design studio.

As This is Ground gained traction it became a priority for both Mike and the company he co-founded, Science Inc. Mike’s background translates intuitively to this work — he’s been using the tech implements that This is Ground’s products house throughout his career, so he knows the nuances of the problems they can present. The company’s approach also gracefully addresses the aesthetic side of tech accessories, as most cases for laptops and tablets on the market aren’t known for being easy on the eyes. Mike says that, “it’s about beautifying what would normally be pretty boring.”

Local Production as We’ve Come to Know It

While This is Ground set out to create beautiful things that solve problems for creative consumers — they’ve ended up doing so on the production level, as well. As the company looked to scale their operation, they were encouraged to explore overseas production. What they found was a clunky process where prototypes are shipped abroad to distant factories divorced from both the designers and the primary customer base. Beyond the impacts of outsourcing on the domestic economy, this was simply an inelegant system that made products slow to market and led to ultimately inferior goods.

Instead, This is Ground doubled-down on local production, leveraging the heritage of expertise that’s been passed down through generations in support of their distinctly contemporary designs. In doing so, This is Ground joined forces with the movement of locality that’s become increasingly important to their customer base — that is photographers, designers, and other creative professionals who care about both personal style and functional utility.

Gerardo Figueroa

And that’s where Gerardo Figueroa comes in. Gerardo started working with leather in Mexico over twenty years ago. Back home, he owned his own business. When he and his wife Patricia permanently moved to the US, he found himself working as an employee for numerous leather companies. As Gerardo trained his son Juan to be his apprentice, he became increasingly interested in opening a leather goods start-up of his own here in the US. In Gerardo, Mike saw an opportunity to put the means of production in the hands of an expert.

Local Production the This is Ground Way

As This is Ground looked to assist Gerardo and his family in starting their own business, Mike first got to know their needs as artisans. He says it became apparent that a few things would have to be in place for the project to feel right: The craftsmen need to own their own business. They also need to be happy — to have it be sustainable for them. Their happiness correlates to the products they build.”

Another important factor, of course, is proximity. “When you’re close to your factory, everyone can be more intimately involved in design and development,” Mike says. “You must be able to sit down at a table together.”

Basically, the factory functions as a small startup embedded within a larger one. This is Ground has taken it upon themselves to facilitate all the nuts and bolts that it takes to make a great factory in a growing neighborhood like DTLA.

In collaborating with Gerardo, This is Ground saw an unorthodox way to invent a more personable system. What’s sleeker than a setup in which a designer can walk across the hall to the person actually making their product to discuss a detail? And, since Taco Tuesday is a major weekly event for the company, perhaps over actual tacos, to boot.

Gerardo and Tara Nielsen, Designer for This is Ground, meet in the factory across the hall from the This is Ground design studio.

This light organizational structure has allowed This is Ground to control costs and increase efficiency, without taking on the inventory risks posed by large-scale overseas production. They also get a rapid turnaround ensuring they can rush new products to market. A recent collaboration with Taco Bell saw the company progress from first contact to full production run in less than a week.

“We’re excited to have everything up and running,” Gerardo says. “We already make a great team. We’re really helping each other out.” Gerardo’s son, Juan, is also deeply involved with the new factory. Juan says that, “lots of people are starting to want their leather products made in Downtown LA. If you walk down the street, you’ll see bags, jackets — all sorts of products being made and sold.” What sets this new space apart, though, is that here the artisans actually own the factory. They’re their own bosses, and that changes the game for them, This is Ground, and the people who ultimately incorporate these products into their lives.

On the Horizon

Last May, This is Ground debuted the Mod — a delicious spread of all-in one organizers for laptops, tablets, and phones. The Mod makes room for not only your tech, but your sunglasses, pen or stylus, cash, cards, notebook, and of course for all those tangles of cords. Shifting to a bigger and more complex product was a risk for their brand, and it turned out to be an extremely advantageous one. In the new factory, under the savvy supervision of Gerardo and his family, everyone on board is excited to start production on their newest large organizer, the Mod 2.

The future holds more partnerships with companies like Grado, whose headphones are featured in This is Ground’s product photography, which you can experience through their immaculately gorgeous Instagram. Through social platforms like Instagram, This is Ground is able to communicate directly with customers — a refreshingly transparent and modern alternative to the more impersonal feedback channels companies have used in the past.

The use of embedded technology is in the works, too, which will help keep tablets and laptops both charged on-the-go and much safer from theft. “We’re looking into chips and beacons that, embedded in your Mod, can be tracked through IOS or Android. You’ll be able to monitor battery levels or sudden changes in motion. Of course there’s solar power, too,” Mike says. “We’re definitely on the path towards embedded technology.”

Plans are also in the works for an Apple Watch accessory. Response to new technology is fast due to the intimate proximity of design and production. Rather than getting in touch with a manufacturer thousands of miles — or even tens of miles — away, Mike only needs to head across the hall. “I watched the Apple Watch demo this morning,” Mike said. “I was able to extrapolate all the specs we need for an organizer, and gave those to the designer. She’s at the factory right now. By the end of the day she’ll have sketches, and by tomorrow a prototype.”

This is Ground’s startup-within-a-startup model shows the benefits of taking local production one step further. “For us, it’s about tapping into generations of makers and craftsmen,” says Mike, “It’s inspiring just to look around your neighborhood just to see what’s possible within a ten mile radius of where you live. You’ll find there are some incredible skills, that people are capable of so much.”

Explore in Style: The Weekend Getaway

Just in time for the weekend we’ve collected some exciting packing inspiration for your next getaway. Be it exploring ghost towns in the deserts of Arizona, a whirlwind, gluttonous tour of all the newest food trucks in your area or weekend at sea in Caribbean, the weekend opens up a wealth of possibility for spontaneous trips near or far.

Jamie Bartlett, Blogger and Graphic Designer at A Pair of Pears
For an exploratory weekend road trip up and down the west coast, Jamie packed her Erika Ray-Ban sunglasses, Moleskine sketchbook, Charles pencil case, her grandfather’s vintage Leica camera, hair and beauty accessories, iPhone, earphones, Cord Taco, and H&M hoodie.

Taylor Hoff, photographer and visual merchandizer at Apple Inc.
For a quick trip to Palo Alto, Taylor packed just the essentials: his handmade board, several pairs of Vans, wardrobe basics, some good reads and his iPad. True inspiration for traveling light.

Mike Macadaan, founder and creative director of This is Ground
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Like a boy scout, preparedness is Mike’s strong suit in packing:

I like the idea of being the guy that has a vintage view master or a boomerang just in case. It’s never really the case but with this much random, boredom is never an issue. If you have the space, I recommend using it both wisely and foolishly.

His weekend gear for a boat trip down in San Diego included a Norse Projects cap, Paper Chase Press notebooks, vintage Viewmaster, vintage and AXS Folk Technology shorts, HUF boxers, Stumptown cold brew growler, Vans sneakers, a new TIG prototype for field testing, hair and body essentials from Aesop, Baxter of California and Go 24/7, Ollo clip, Joby GorillaPod, headphones, and of course lots of This is Ground gear.

Christine Amorose, blogger at C’est Christine

For a brief weekend getaway to Interlaken Inn with her boyfriend, Christine packed her blue and gold favorites: Nice Laundry socks, Marc Jacobs aviators, sunglasses sleeve, Kate Spade wallet, Everlane top and some beauty products tucked into her gold Tomo pouch.

Christopher Dugas, freelance photographer and mixologist at The Grove in St. Louis
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On his weekend off from hustling as a freelance photog, Christopher can be found exploring his city with a compass, Macbook Pro, Polaroid Land camera, Field Notes and a good read, his iPhone in a RECOVER wood case, Cordito and Top Shelf Flask in tow.

Store Visit with TENOVERSIX

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We stopped by one of our favorite LA boutiques, TENOVERSIX this week to drop off some shiny new products and check out their selection of summer goods. We love their beautifully curated space and forward-thinking selection of clothes, accessories and other goods– and not just because we’re stocked there! We’re in good company with womenswear from APC, Opening Ceremony and Jasmin Shokrian, ceramics by Jessica Hans and Ben Medansky and a fantastic selection of reading material.

The store feels part shop, part gallery space (especially with the beautiful paintings by Lola Rose Thompson up on the walls). If you haven’t been, stop in!

8425 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90069

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Our Knick Knack Nachos, Cord Tacos and Charles Pencil Case on display.

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7 Questions with Justhanni

We first stumbled across the photography of Hanni (aka justhanni) on Instagram where he’s gained a large following for his charismatic VSCO Cam iPhone photography. He tagged our Cord Taco in a photo of his everyday bag and when we checked out his photos, we were immediately charmed by the quote on his profile, “Life is too short to remove USB safely”. Since then, we’ve been following along with his quiet, thoughtful photography from Denmark (and beyond) which has captivated us with its inventive use of symmetry and light.

How do you start your day?
With coffee! On the way to work (I vary between car, metro and bike) I listen to some nice tunes to get me started and catch up with my Instagram feed/comments.


What do you carry in your everyday bag?
Always my Fujifilm X20, extra iPhone charger and two different sets of earphones (neatly wrapped in my TIG products :), sunglasses and a shemagh.


How does Copenhagen inspire your photography?
Copenhagen keeps surprising me and showing me new sides of itself. It’s a city that’s going through a lot of change and it allows for constant inspiration that way. I also love following my fellow Copenhagen Instagramers’ takes on our city – it seems like there’s always new angles and spots to discover.


What do you shoot with when you’re not on your iPhone?
Currently I’m in between DSLR’s, but I’m planning on getting a Canon 6D soon. So at the moment I’m having great fun shooting with my Fujifilm X20.


Your favorite travel destination?
Just one favourite destination? That’s a tough one… I’ve been fortunate enough to visit so many great places. But China really stood out. Being an immensely large country, I was amazed at its diverse milieus and cultures. In just 15 days I experienced hi-tech metropolises, an historic wall, quaint river villages, mystical mountain ranges and tropical environments.


What can’t you live without?


What are you listening to/reading/watching at the moment?
Like the rest of the world, I’m following Game of Thrones right now, but honestly I don’t have much time for TV or reading. Perhaps just for reading Instagram comments, ha! 😉


Follow @justhanni on Instagram.

Our New Studio / Ground Tour

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At the beginning of April, we moved to a new working studio space in the Marion R. Grey building in downtown Los Angeles. Originally in Unit 306 of this 1920’s building named after men’s shirting and necktie producer, Marion Grey, we quickly outgrew the space (as we did only a few months earlier from our founder, Mike Macadaan’s downtown loft) and now occupy Unit 300.

With twice the space, we’ve expanded our fulfillment team and work area, brought in a sewing machine and leather skiver to execute prototyping in house, set up a photo studio and created a small showroom space. Exciting times ahead for This is Ground (and not just because our building lies on the Puente Hills fault line…).

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As always, we have our trusty Goodyear blimp flying overhead.

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Our new space gives us a prime, bird’s eye view of Los Angeles Street in the heart of the Los Angeles fashion district and the rapidly revitalizing Downtown scene. We took a short tour of our surroundings to capture some of the iconic signage and check out fun new spots in the neighborhood.

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blog (9 of 23)The Orpheum Theater 

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Acne Studios & ilcaffé

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Lighter Than Air

In my early 20’s I travelled the USA with an advertising blimp. I spent two years of Americana insanity moving from motel to hotel every week covering sporting events and pumping lots of helium. While most of my time was spent on the ground, I did a fair amount of communication with the blimp pilots and even flew the ship here and there. Each time I called the ship from my VHF radio, I would always address the pilots with “560 Alpha Bravo. This is Ground.”

Since I was in a constant state of packing, unpacking and repacking for the entirety of the tour, I quickly learned how to organize and stow my most valuable gear. I was living out of suitcases, action packers and just about every other type of carrying case you could imagine. Aside from all that I learned about operating a blimp tour, I also became extremely efficient in the art of organizing, packing and protecting. My obsession with organization was part of the inspiration behind my very first cord taco.

Because of the tour, “This is Ground” is a very personal greeting to me but that’s not the only reason it became the name of my business. I’m also a huge David Bowie fan, and “This is Ground” is part of one of his most famous songs, Space Oddity.

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule
If you dare

So that’s how the name, This is Ground came about. Although I’m consistently inspired by the meaning others find in the name.

Recently, in an interview with a blogger I was told that he had found an alternative meaning to This is Ground. As a writer, he thought the name was referring to how our products grounded individuals in their craft.

He had seen our Leatherback Writer 2 and it instinctively moved him to pick up his pen. The idea that our products connected and grounded him to being a writer really resonated with him, and I was inspired by his interpretation of our name. I think it’s really special when something you’ve helped create conjures up emotional connections in people.

– Mike Macadaan

Meet Nisha


Meet the newest member of the team at This is Ground, Nisha. Nisha hails from Amsterdam and is a graduate from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute in menswear design. In her new role at This is Ground as Product Designer, she has lent her minimal menswear aesthetic to all the new pieces we’re working on and whips up a mean, professional quality prototype in just a few hours. Today we followed her around as she sourced leather, bought a skiver and worked on our newest prototype. We asked her some questions along the way.


C: How do you start your day?
N: I wake up, do some yoga stretches and greet the sun, take a shower and have my breakfast.

C: What made you pursue design?
N: Well I had to choose something! [laughs] No, I always had a major appreciation for the quality and craftsmanship behind good design, be it clothes, accessories or architecture and I wanted to explore that notion in my education. The personal expression that is possible through clothing also interested me and led me to studying menswear.

C: And what made you want to work with leather?
N: Even as a young kid messing around I used leather for small projects. In my collections for school I liked to use leather as finishing and details for garments because I liked the look and feel of the material. I think it really elevates a piece. I mean, sometimes I wear leather pants and [a leather] top– I just love leather!

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C: So who are some designers that inspire your work?
N: Let me think… Ann Demeulemeester. Helmut Lang. Comme des Garçons. But I’m also inspired a lot by my surroundings. For example, Los Angeles. It’s a new city to me and the people, the culture and especially the architecture of DTLA are so inspiring to me.

C: How would you compare LA to Amsterdam?
N: Well, I really like the pampering culture here. People like to spend money and enjoy life which I think is the most important thing in life, to enjoy yourself. In Amsterdam there’s not so much of that. People are very stingy and like to say they’re being frugal when really they’re just greedy [laughs].

What else? Everyone has a dog here. And no one smokes! Cigarettes anyway.

Everyone in LA is crazy. I’ve never seen so many lunatics in my life but that’s what I like and I feel normal here.


C: Did you enjoy growing up in the Netherlands?
N: Yeah, I think it was a great place to grow up. Obviously I can’t compare it with anywhere else but it’s really a city where you can do what you want. You have access to opportunities in whatever field you are interested in. Also the people are very down to earth which was good to grow up around. I might get swept up in things if I wasn’t down to earth.

C: What kind of things did you want to be as a kid?
N: For a while I wanted to own a shop where you could get anything. I was very skinny and would carry around a big, big bag twice my size full of everything I might need. I was super prepared. One time as a kid my family and I got stuck on the road and we needed a wrench and low and behold I had one in my bag! But what I wanted to be changed constantly. One week a Egyptologist, the next a painter…

C: Lastly, a few quick questions: What are you reading right now?
N: Strangeland by Tracey Emin. It’s a memoir by the artist, reflecting on her past and present as an English artist of Turkish decent. Really interesting.

C: What are you listening to at the moment?
N: A mix of old and new things. As always, The Doors and the Clash. I also listen to a lot of Nine Inch Nails but I try not to advertise that too much.


C: What are your goals for 2014?
N: My main goal this year was to visit the States and live in LA. I just wanted to explore the world and myself. And now I’m here! I also need to get my driver’s license this year.