Benjamin Ferencz of Fairends
Words and Photographs by Ryan Fish
“A designer needs to find obscure sources to reference, otherwise everyone knows what you’ve been reading and everyone’s work looks the same”, Ben Ferencz says as he leans back in his home office, looking out the window to a row of snow-capped peaks. He’s referring to his collection of popular magazines stacked in his closet, ranging from Numéro to Kinfolk, from Free & Easy to Lucky Peach; these are the publications that everyone knows about. So in the world of graphic design and branding, where the most remote inspirations often lead to the most visceral imagery, Ben’s ace-in-the-hole is the very place he’s chosen to settle down: a rural town equidistant from Missoula and Flathead Lake.
His wife is a farmer, and although Ben got his start in NY, they’ve returned to Montana to raise their children in a homestead at the base of the Mission Mountains. Outside, Ben takes me past the future site of their greenhouse, through their barn (hay on the top level and a cow on the bottom level), along the fence line of their farm land, and then to a small guest house (wood stove, 3 rooms, perfect hideaway for a visiting friend or writer). It’s Ben’s penchant to make products that fill needs in his own lifestyle, first as co-creator of Freeman Transport where he created portable commuter bicycles, and now as creator of Fairends, a company dedicated to making hats that fit well and break in nicely with outdoor use, a hat that makes sense for his own surroundings.
So let’s talk hats. The Fairends line uses the bright colors can be found around Ben’s farm, bright blues and red and plain white; Fairends is not beholden to the drab colors associated with leather and waxed canvas. And the fabric patterns continue to inspire, too, first with the polka-dot and striped fabrics, then the dead-stock tweed hat made especially for Secret Forts, and now these brightly colored hats made from fabric originating in Ghana. As far as construction, Ben has utilized both a standard ball-cap construction in which the pieces of fabric flow away from the top of the hat, and a construction that he calls a “camp hat”, made from five rectangular pieces of fabric joined together, creating a sort of half-circle when seen from the profile angle. The latest Ghana Camp Caps feature wide, flat bills which really shows a progression in Ben’s line; it combines the crispness of the street ball cap with the wild looseness of his camp hat.
Where did you get your start?
“I am a graphic designer by trade. Although as my friend Jin Pak says, it’s a young persons sport and now I do a lot more branding and marketing work. I got my first real job as a junior designer at Base Design in NY. Learned tons from that experience…especially from Vincent Sahli. Working with those guys was the best school ever.”
Where are you looking for inspiration these days? What’s on your radar?
“The farm is on my radar. I’m in the middle of putting up a greenhouse that will be filled with peppers for our hot sauce. i’m inspired by my wife. the hardest working person I know. The most amazing mother and the best friend. And i’m really inspired by all the fantastic people I am working with at the moment. All amazing in different ways. From farmers, to fathers and mothers, to designers and artists.”
You’re flanked by the Mission mountains. It’s an incredible spot. How did you end up here?
“I moved to Montana to be close to the mountains and haven’t turned back, except for a small hiatus to India and New York for 3 years. FairEnds is focused on making the small things you use a lot, nice. We celebrate friendship and look forward to the adventure. We appreciate what we have.”