We’ve always been interested in the way life, art, and the outdoors intersect for other creatives. The Designed Life is our series of profiles featuring friends and friends-of-friends from across the design community, who sit down with us to talk about the ins and outs of making things, places they go and—of course—what they bring with them.
For this installation of The Designed Life, we'd like to introduce you to someone very special to us: River Junge, otherwise known as The Urban Hippie. River is a silversmith living in South Dakota with her wife and their two dogs, and maybe one of the most intentional life designers we've ever met. She's been along the Topo journey with us for many years and has become a true friend of ours. We sat down to chat about making art through fear, taking big life leaps to pursue fulfillment, and what inspires her. (Spoiler alert: it's everything. Everything inspires her.)
Of all the different ways to be creative, why silversmithing?
Well for me it probably starts with the fact that I have always loved and made jewelry; even from a young age jewelry was something I noticed and enjoyed making. I have always been drawn to sterling silver and preferred it to warmer toned metals. I love the challenge of it, and the design process of turning an idea into a piece of wearable art that will outlive me.
The moment you decided to pursue a creative life was a defining one for you. Can you tell us about it?
It was a breaking point when both my physical and mental health were suffering. I was dealing with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, and I was just generally unhappy with the job I was working at the time which was the root cause of all the suffering. It became a turning point for me when I realized it was now or never, I knew I had a choice to make… stay stuck and unhappy, or listen to that inner voice that was telling me to go for it and live a slower-paced life doing what made me happy. I chose to be happy, and to be myself instead of trying to fit into a box I would never fit in.
What inspires your work?
Almost everything. I am drawn to the details in everything around me. I find a great deal of inspiration from my daily life and the experience of being human. Inspiration can come from anywhere, but often comes from music, poetry, books, mountain living, colors, the seasons, and urban or industrial landscapes.
You mentioned how you tend to obsess over something new that resonates with you and go deep in learning everything you can about it. What are some of those obsessions you've had?
The list is long but a few are: millinery (hat making/re-shaping), bicycle building, raw selvedge denim, style, interior design, color palettes/combinations, sashiko art/repair, photography, and exploring the Black Hills from as many directions as possible. I guess that my love and appreciation of Topo Designs falls into this category as well. 😉 Silversmithing started as one of my obsessions and hasn’t stopped intriguing me yet.
Nature pervades your work, your words, your photos, and your free time. How did you fall in love with it?
I started exploring the Black Hills as a teenager with my friends, going on hikes, long drives, and camping. As I grew up, those adventures continued and I began to notice that being outside in nature was where I felt most at home; the place I was able to think clearly and deeply. It became a place of solace for me that I could come to as my authentic self to re-charge and find clarity. Twenty-five years later I am still in love with this landscape and finding new places to explore here.
What's on your nightstand right now?
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and Jericho Brown’s book of poetry The New Testament.
Most influential book/movie/other media you've encountered?
There have been so many over the years that have impacted me at pivotal moments, but most recently I would have to say it has to be the work of Brandi Carlile. An interview she did talking about her album By the Way I Forgive You was instrumental in helping me see forgiveness in a different way, and really heal some personal old wounds. Both her music and her book (Broken Horses) speak to my life in a way that feels like holding up a mirror and seeing myself clearly.
Any advice for other creative people who haven't found their creative outlet yet, or who know what it is but are afraid to pursue it?
If you are still searching I would say try everything you can that interests you and find the thing that makes you lose track of time, forget to eat, or completely takes your mind off everything else that’s normally bothering you. Just pick something up and start teaching yourself. As for pursuing something you love creatively but being afraid, take the pressure off and do it as if you are your only audience, and yours is the only opinion that matters. The fear is part of the process, it’s always there, but the more you do what you love in the face of fear, the less the voice of fear has power over you in that process.
As you know, The Designed Life series explores our favorite topic: the intersection of life, art and the outdoors. How are these concepts related in your own mind? What do they have to do with how you've designed your life?
These concepts feel so interwoven to me that I really can’t see them as separate anymore. They make a beautiful fabric where all life becomes an act of creativity. Creating spaces that inspire me, creating art that I want to see and wear, creating a simple, slow-paced life that gives me space and time to take care of myself physically and mentally… it’s the art of what I make out of my life. The outdoors becomes the fuel for the creativity, inspiring my work and refilling my creative energy by bringing me back to the present moment and the awareness of my connection to nature.
You're a longtime practitioner of The New Outdoor. What does your practice look like?
Getting outside daily is huge for me, whether it’s walking the dogs with my wife or getting out into the mountains for a hike together. Trail running is a big part of my practice. I try to get out for a trail run 3-4 times a week because I find it essential for my well-being. It resets and grounds me, and gives me the focus I need to get to work in the studio. Mostly for me it’s just about experiencing the joy and witnessing the beauty of the natural world by being out in it as much as possible. How that happens takes many forms.
Favorite Topo product?
The Dirt Pants are a current favorite of mine. I find them versatile for almost anything from working in the studio, to hiking and camping, or a quick unwind on my yoga mat. Aside from being comfortable, they look sharp too. They translate well from work to outdoors, to stepping out for a beer with my wife. This is what I appreciate about all the things Topo makes—there’s not a sacrifice in style for outdoor performance, and I can wear/use the same things in my studio as I would out on the trail or going to a coffee shop.
Huge thanks to River for taking the time to work with us on this, for her support over the years, and for her daily reminders to take ourselves off of autopilot and live life on purpose. Check out her incredible work on Instagram at @the.urbanhippie or on her website The Urban Hippie Studio.