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  • Fitted to the Industry

    Ryan "Ruga" Connolly is not your average CEO and Grassroots California is not your normal clothing line. Raised on the outskirts of Detroit, Ryan headed west after high school to earn his degree at the University of Colorado. During his time there he fell in love with the city but still heeded the siren's call of California upon receiving his degree. Once arriving in California Ruga first went to work in the corporate culture of real estate finance.

    As with many coastal Californians Ryan fell in love with the ocean, surfing, and the vibrant culture found at the beach, as well as in many of the beach communities. While enjoying his chosen past time Ruga suffered a severe skull injury - fractures in three spots - that caused him to seek and use alternative treatments for the recovery and chronic pain. With this new perspective on the healing properties of the plant he took a hard look around the real estate industry and saw a lot of his colleagues making a huge profit off of this healing movement and realized he desperately needed to change focus and find a new passion that more closely aligned with the counter culture.

    At this point Ryan decided he wanted to make a difference more than a dollar and, after receiving his end of an $11 million dollar real estate deal, left the finance industry to begin work on a film documenting the burgeoning California cannabis scene and culture. While beginning work on making his film a reality he used friends as a sounding board and think tank to develop funding ideas and raise awareness about the culture in general, that is where the seed that would grow to become Grassroots California was planted.

    In 2009 Ruga launched the progressive clothing company known as Grassroots California and since then has quickly come to be one of the most recognizable brands of hats in the game. Beyond his clothing line Ryan was also instrumental in starting the 710 Cup, a competition for herbal concentrates that ran until 2015. Between these ventures he has worked with counter culture legends like Jerry Garcia, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Method Man, Griz, and many others. His company is also incredibly well known for working directly with many different glass artists and companies to create some of the most cutting-edge headwear on the planet - Embroidered, silk interiors, hologram bills, and more!

    Grassroots California is now an established brand with followers worldwide. Beyond being carried at all Illuzion Glass Gallery locations and illuzionglassgalleries.com they can be found in all fifty states and twenty other countries around the globe. Last year they put another trophy on their wall by successfully opening two permanent locations in Denver, CO, and Chicago, IL, as well as a successful pop up store in Barcelona, Spain. Ryan Connolly and his atypical company are definitely spreading the gospel of our culture across the globe and into the cultural mainstream - we cannot wait to see what this design-a-day company has in store during upcoming years!

  • American Glass vs. Import

    Welcome to the hot button issue of the functional art market, the debate is now entering almost old enough to drive a vehicle in many states. This is an emotional issue for many companies and artists because, quite literally, competing with import glass is taking food out of their employees and families mouths. The arguments are actually fairly disparate - Quality, working conditions, legality, and respect for original designs or brands - but it all comes down to this: Which of them is actually better for the collector and consumer?

    Let’s start with what many industry analysts agree is the jumping off point for independent artists and American production companies truly fighting imported merchandise - Operation Pipe Dreams goes into action on February 24, 2003. Early that morning agents, operating under the direction of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, raided hundreds of different locations around the country and arrested fifty-five different people. In short order, with the prosecution of Tommy Chong as well as other well-known American pipe manufacturers, glass shops and distributors across the country went underground, online, or flat out of business. At this point everyone in America immediately stopped buying, or needing, functional glass art. At this point smoke shops across the country began looking literally ANYWHERE to satisfy the demands of their customer base and previously overlooked importers started making frantic calls to factories in China, India, Pakistan, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

    So let’s get into the arguments, for and against, huh?  It breaks down like this: The only pro for import glass is price. Ta da. It seems like such a simple answer but it really is the truth, you buy import glass if you cannot afford anything better or if you break glass like it is spun sugar. Why is American glass more expensive?  The quick and dirty answer is that the American government does not subsidize manufacturing or handicraft but the Chinese, specifically, do and it keeps the labor prices MUCH lower. You are also paying for the cost of living in the United States - health care, rent, materials, and all of the same bills everyone living there deals with. No one ever likes hearing it stated so bluntly so we can break the two main arguments down, too.

    Quality - American production companies, and almost all well-known solo artists, spend thousands of dollars and man hours doing iterative prototyping (they make it again and again until they cannot improve it any further or are satisfied) single pieces of work. Import glass is manufactured under the mantra of “Make it faster, make it cheaper” and it shows in every aspect of the work. Lower quality supplies, thinly worked glass, bad welds and joints, no thought to durability - These are the hallmarks of imported functional production glass.

    Working Conditions - Following their mantra of the most work for the least money, import glass manufacturers pay incredibly low wages and have minimal safety equipment or training. This means that there is a very real human cost to imported glass that is rarely discussed by the customer. Beyond the safety hazards many of these companies do far more than just make smoking devices, this also means that cross-contamination of materials is a reality. Would you buy a piece of plumbing from Flint, MI, to take home and use with your friends and loved ones? This is the ONE area where United States Federal guidelines mean we are all better off working here.

    Over the ten years since the founding of Illuzion Glass Galleries we have been proud to contribute to the resurgence of the American functional art glass scene, even as more import glass showed up on the market and forced prices ever higher. We continue to be proud to support American companies and solo artists because they treat glassblowing as the intricate and innovative art form that it is - Overseas this medium is not treated as an art but as a manufacturing job, where designs are copied instead of created. By purchasing American glass you are contributing to the legacy of American craftsmanship as well as helping to earn functional glass art respect within the broader art community.


     

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