Once they’re fully moved into their new production studio, Studebaker Metals will have a mural on the wall with the company’s unofficial slogan: “Slow is Fast.”
Every piece Studebaker makes is forged — with fire, hammer and anvil — which takes more time than mass production. But the process makes their cuffs, rings, keyhooks and other items indestructible. That’s rather a nice metaphor for the new location of their shop: Braddock. The Mon Valley town has become a symbol of hard work, emerging from the ashes in a new, fascinating shape, much like the pieces of metal in Studebaker’s workshop.
“Everything we make is heirloom quality,” says company co-owner Alyssa Catalano. Her husband, Michael Studebaker, is the metalsmith, who crafts everything by hand. He studied metalworking as an elective in college and fell in love with the process.
Studebaker likes to make objects that are a part of every day, like combs, keychains and razors. And every piece made at Studebaker Metals is stamped with the word “Pittsburgh” which, as he explains in a website video, is not only out of pride for his Pittsburgh roots but also a reference to “the way tools used to be made.”
When the couple met, Catalano, whose background is in merchandising for fashion retailers like Urban Outfitters and ModCloth, quickly saw the potential to turn Studebaker’s love of the craft into a full-fledged company.
She had worked as a jewelry buyer for Urban Outfitters and was involved in product design. So she got to see the metal casting process that made cheaper, mass-produced jewelry.
“I looked at the pieces he was making and the process, and I said ‘this is a business. Let’s do this,’” Catalano says.
The couple started the company out of his dad’s basement in East Pittsburgh. But after receiving a large order, they realized they needed a bigger space. They found a space in a Wilkinsburg warehouse but kept searching for their ideal location. After buying a house in North Braddock, they heard the Free Press building on Braddock Avenue was being renovated.
The 28,000-square-foot building, one of the most prominent in Braddock, seemed like a perfect fit. Studebaker and Catalano liked the vibe of the building and the industrial feel of Braddock. The $1.65 million renovation includes retail space on the ground floor and apartments on its upper level.
“We weren’t really looking for a retail space, but this space allowed us to have that, plus it gives us a separate workshop,” Catalano says. The storefront is elevated, with an observation window to the workshop below, so customers and visitors can watch the metalsmithing as it happens.
At the Free Press building’s ribbon cutting ceremony last week, Studebaker said the building’s renovation was “a testament to what can happen when a strong community is rallied around strong leadership.”
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who proudly wears a Studebaker ring, has helped convince the couple they made the right call, Catalano adds.
“What other mayor would stop by, when there’s no one else around, just to see how you’re doing, and ask if you need to borrow his truck,” Catalano says. “He’s been great; the entire community has been really welcoming.”
And Catalano says, they’re preparing a “Braddock” stamp for future pieces made in the new space.
The future plans for Studebaker will involve home goods, she adds, and since they do so many custom-order wedding rings, they’re considering a wedding line as well.
Catalano says she likes the personal nature of some of Studebaker Metals’ custom pieces, like medical ID bracelets with names custom-stamped into them, or wedding rings with custom inscriptions.
“It feels like you become a little part of their history,” she says. “And it feels good to sell a piece that’s valuable and that will last forever.”