Dorene at Mountan Jam Glass might think she’s just selling cool pipes. But in the light of the massive trends that surround (yet fail to envelop) her business, she may actually be the remnant of a growing resistance. Granted, that may sound a touch like a conspiracy theory, or even a little too soaked in the syrup of a certain SciFi/Fantasy epic, but there is some truth to consider lying beneath that bombastic appeal.
The world economy is becoming an increasingly mechanized one. Price point and efficiency have now trumped quality and satisfaction as the primary considerations in the production of our goods. Lifeless, homogenized, mass-fabricated gadgets have replaced the offerings of the artisanal trade, leaving the true artists and craftsmen at the unemployment line. Meanwhile, the modest-but-fair earnings of their former trades are siphoned to the top, carried on the backs of third world sweat shop workers performing a pale shadow of the job they used to do. Accumulation of wealth is not only the bottom line, but the only line, and is achieved through corner cutting, planned obsolescence and a continual devaluing and deemphasizing of the brilliance of the individual. All the while, the average consumer sees none of this, instead distracted by the illusion of choice and the unsustainable abundance that characterizes the age. Who cares if it breaks? China’s pumping out millions of them for pennies every day. Just grab another. Pay no attention to the landfill behind the curtain. The pipe world, though a movement of the artisan at its very core, is no exception to this trend. Glass factories are now the norm. They pump out replica after replica in assembly-line fashion, reducing their workers to a cog in a machine as they reduce the sacred device they produce to a widget whose value is measured in pennies.
Thankfully, there are still exceptions; companies out there who still find value beyond that which can be quantified on an annual report. In the world of pipes, Mountain Jam Glass is a shining example of that exception, one whose existence is becoming more novel by the day.
“We have very, very high standards,” Dorene says, explaining what differentiates their glass. “I’m selling these to people and I don’t want them to be disappointed. I would be disappointed if I got a crooked bowl. Treat people how you want to be treated is what I always say. Give them what you would want.” Within her words, there is the first inkling of the underlying values that fuel their departure from the business norms. She’s selling the glass to people; not to consumers, not to the market, but to people. She recognizes the human element in commerce, something that is too easily lost within the aforementioned trends of today’s climate. It’s not just the end customer whom she values, it’s also those who create the product she sells.
Mountain Jam Glass isn’t another glass factory or even another glass production facility. You could call the business a distributor, but truthfully, it’s more of a collective, not in the traditional sense that it’s owned by its employees, but that it is the commercial center of an independent network of individual glass artists and artisans in and around the thriving glass community of Eugene, Oregon.
“All of our glass comes from individual artists,” Dorene emphasizes. “They have their own space they working and they bring it here.”
For the artists involved, that means a mechanism by which they can achieve sustainable and dependable success without giving up their independence or creative freedom. For the people buying the glass to take home and use, that means unprecedented access to artisanal quality glass at a fair price and the knowledge that every purchase supports an artist rather than a sweat shop. It’s barely a step away from picking out a piece on an artist’s blanket at a Phish lot.
Obviously, the products we’re talking about here are American made, which denotes a higher price tag, but for the user, that jump in price is far exceeded by the jump in quality. We’ve already discussed surface points, i.e., the aesthetic value of a work of art versus a commodity, the supporting of an American artist, etc. But there are also the lesser known factors often lost on the average person just looking for a pipe. For one, with imports, there’s no certainty as to how it was made, what chemicals were used during the process, etc. There’s also the annealing process, which is often skipped in factories overseas. Annealing is a specific cooling process that allows freshly heated glass to achieve room temperature without stress cracks. This not only means that your piece will last significantly longer; it also means that you aren’t inhaling random chips of glass and god-knows what kind of residue left behind in the factory every time you smoke.
“It’s just cheap and crappy glass,” Dorene remarks of the imports, a dismissive shrug audible at the edges of her voice. “Usually, there are small fractures through it.” From her experience, though, there’s really no reason for bitterness. The import may seem to have taken over the market, but she knows there will always be a need for the quality domestic product she offers.
“We’ve had our issues through the years with battling it, but it always comes back around to the quality thing. People have too many pipes that have broken, so they’ll go back to a quality piece that will last them a long time. It’s kind of an ebb and a flow thing. It’s scary when it first starts but then you realize that at some point, it’s going to change and go back. They just don’t have the quality that we have in U.S. glass.”
Started in a garage in 2000 as a family business by Georgia transplants who wanted to start a new life in Eugene, Oregon, Mountain Jam Glass is now an institution in the smoke shop industry, a force for good to be reckoned with that pushes back against the corporate mechanization of the era with the sustaining strength of the individual. The model has worked with unprecedented success, too. Having worked with GrassCity since 2002, they are one of the website’s largest and longest running glass providers, proving once again that people want more out of their buying experience than just a price point. Dorene sums it up even better.
“We’ve been dedicated for over 15 years to try to put quality pipes in peoples’ hands, to make them happy. We want to give them something they can have for a long time. We try to have good customer service. If there are ever any problems, we always want to help people out. We just want to support the local glassblowers in our scene and push their products out there to the world for people to see because it’s such good quality products. Eugene was the home of first class pipes so we want to represent Eugene with a good quality product for people and make them happy.”