A lot of people call what ERA3 does "hot rodding," as the aftermarket firearms company puts their one-of-a-kind spin on weapons and accessories, creating gear that looks, feels, and functions like nothing else on Earth.
It makes sense then that ERA3's lead designer Jason Hulst comes from the world of hot rodding. Born to a father who cut his teeth in the legendary era of the 50s and 60s SoCal hot rods and eventually owning his own shop (alongside his old man) in Grants Pass, Oregon. To say designing and building cool shit is in Hulst's DNA is an understatement.
So when ERA3's founders Sterling Becklin and Sheri Johnson, tapped Hulst to come on board as their lead designer and third partner, the relationship made perfect sense.
Give me some background about you and how you got involved with ERA3?
My background is in design. I received a graphic design degree from Oregon State, and from there, I moved to California and to pursue a transportation degree from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena in '96. I then accepted a position at Disney creating vehicle designs, then onto their Burbank studios, where I did television animation for nearly a decade.
When you say “vehicle design,” you mean like merchandise for toys and such?
NO, I worked on theme park ride vehicles, I decided to move back to Oregon in 2005. That's when I started a hot rod and custom restoration shop with my dad, who is a product of the fifties hot rod generation. For ten years or so, we created magazine-worthy handcrafted high-end custom hot rods. During that time, we also built several image vehicles for Ford Motor Company along with some projects for Shelby American. And, even today, I still do freelance design work for Disney, design work for automotive aftermarket companies, along with brand design work for various people.
And how did you get involved with ERA3?
Well, Sterling approached me in late 2012 or early 2013. He was looking for somebody to do some design work for a project he had going on for a t-shirt, and one of the guys he ran into here in town said, "Hey, I got this guy for you." So he hooked (Sterling) up with me, and I did a design for him, and, you know, we went our separate ways. We kept in communication for maybe six months to a year, and then one day, he showed up at my shop and said, "Hey dude, I want to talk to you about designing some stuff for this company I'm gonna start."
He explained it was ERA3, how it was going to be gun-centric, and how he wanted to build a brand that had a kind of a Southern California feel. Given my background coming from LA and the fact that Sterling had spent a lot of time in Newport Beach as a kid, we both had a Similar vision.
So we just clicked and hit it off. He proposed this whole plan to me, and We have been working together ever since.
From there Sterling, Sheri and I started having weekly design meetings out of the studio in my house, and we cranked away for nine months to a year, developing everything from logos to a complete brand book.
All of this in Grants Pass in around 2013?
From there, you were off to the races?
Yeah, we all wanted to do something fun and exciting, fresh and new with lots of energy and, more importantly, something different. We finally did our launch, announced the brand, the logos, a few t-shirt and hat designs, built some pretty awesome AR platform rifles along with a few bolt guns, and we've been refining ever since.
Do you have a background with guns? Did you grow up shooting?
You know, not really. I'm kind of a hot rodder, and my background is in design and the automotive industry. It's kind of an interesting twist, not really coming from the gun industry; I bring a fresh perspective on design, parts, and products. Actually, we're currently in the patent-pending process on a few pieces that are influenced by the automotive industry.
What was your learning curve? Did you immerse yourself in that world? Did you become a shooter? Did you take classes?
Yeah, a bit of everything. Hanging out with Sterling and Sheri, those two are kind of the gun aficionados. So hanging out with them along with a few of our friends and customers, also going on charity events, I've learned a lot just by being around it all.
Where does that leave you now? Are you an avid shooter? Or is it just another aspect of your job?
My input and what I bring to the team is my design ability, being able to take Sterling and Sheri's ideas and bring them to reality. So I don't know if I'm what you'd call an "avid" shooter, but I enjoy it. We go on these events, and I'm not the one to take pole position on anything or to teach or train anyone. Still, I like to observe and soak in and listen to as much as I can to guys who are in the field, using these things for protection — learning what we can make lighter or stronger or more efficient and then Sterling will tell me what we can and can't do, what's not possible or what is.
Part of me remaining green in the whole thing has become a benefit in some instances and allows me to be indeed creative and think outside the box to what some would call the norm.
Tell me a bit about the process from bringing an ERA3 product from your mind to reality.
We have on-staff engineers and a full machine shop, so we're immersed in the entire process. We will start with a punch list of wants, then I'll begin with a pencil sketch, and from there, we'll sit down and refine the project. We'll design the look, and once that's approved, we'll bring in the engineer who will noodle on it with me, which seems like forever sometimes. And once that step has been completed, it goes to the machine shop, and we start cutting parts. If it's something unique or something different, we seek patent protection and go through that process. Everything seems like it takes forever because of all these processes, but we really have things moving along nicely.
How much of that process has been trial and error, fucking it up and figuring it out from your mistakes?
Oh god. We have made our fair share of mistakes, and we've learned from all of them. It says it right in our Mission Statement "Develop premium products, challenge all boundaries," can't do that without breaking a few eggs.
Explain to me where you see ERA3’s place in the market is?
We are trying to build a brand that can cross over into multiple industries. Everything we design, everything we create should have a purpose. Not everyone is going to fall in love with what we are doing, but a vast majority will respect the engineering, craftsmanship, and the attention to detail that we put into everything we do.
That attention to detail and craftsmanship also demands a higher price point, and that price point may be out of reach for some. Therefore we continue to build brand awareness with our apparel, our hats, and all the stuff that supports it. But it's all concentric to our machine parts. With an oversaturated market, we have tons of competition, but what distinguishes us from the competition is our attention to design, detail, and execution. To make perfect parts that are as innovative as we can be.
Pertaining to the idea of cultivating a brand, what are you working on now?
Outside of the gun thing, we're developing a line of soft goods. Backpack, duffle, and messenger bags that will have provisions for Level IIIa soft armor and concealment. But it's more of a mainstream look — not normal EDC tactical.
We've also recently developed our urban patent-pending pattern called the "E3D" that we started about three years ago. We have sourced the best in the industry to help us come to the market with printed Cordura, Hydro Dip, and Vinyl applications. It will be offered in four different colorways and available to anyone in the world to do whatever they can do with it, whether it be through raw materials or licensing.
But it’s your proprietary pattern?
Yes, The E3D Pattern is a proprietary "Patent Pending" design, that we started working on in 2016. I took inspiration from a topographical map and the original Dazzle Camouflage of World War I, which consisted of intricate patterns of geometric shapes in contrasting colors, interrupting and intersecting each other. And unlike other forms of conventional camouflage, the intent of E3D is not to conceal, but to confuse. A comparable effect to that created by the patterns found in nature like on a giraffe or zebra.
Is this stuff widely available or just on the website?
So our vinyl is just available on the website. Our printed cordura and our hydro dip film will be available through the manufacturer.
Also, every hat we’re making right now has E3D on it. On the hat, on the brim, under the brim. Whatever. It will be somewhere seen on the hat or on the bags that we’re making. It’s that type of thinking. This is our pattern.
Someone will see it and say, “Oh cool. That’s ERA3.”