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Passport Oregon And Its Bold Quest To Close The Urban-Rural Divide

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Kevin Frazier, the founder and ED of Passport Oregon, never met someone with a degree in ‘Problem Solving’ or a Masters in ‘Moving Past Ideation.’ But soon after he graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.S. in Economics an opportunity to build, refine, and hone those skills quickly appeared. Eleven months later, he is now the Executive Director of a growing nonprofit, Passport Oregon. We sat down with Kevin to learn more about his journey and the mission for Passport Oregon.

How did the concept for Passport Oregon come to be?

When I started Passport Oregon, I didn’t know the first thing about establishing a nonprofit. I didn’t let that stop me from taking action. Why? Because I knew that if I didn’t act, Omar and kids like him across our state would continue to spend their weekends inside, evenings online, and free time doing something familiar, regular, and all together un-outdoorsy.

That bugged me. It nagged me when I went hiking and only saw people that looked like me. It frustrated me when I perused my Facebook feed, full of people adventuring throughout the state. It filled my thoughts as ads about Oregon’s outdoors played on the TV. Omar showed me the Nature Gap in our state. I needed to figure out how to construct a bridge across this burgeoning divide.29951608324_de94e54d41_k

You mention Omar, who is he, and how did your interaction with him lead to an enhanced focus around the Passport concept?

Who is Omar? For two years, I mentored Omar at his school, Spencer Butte Middle School in Eugene. Our weekly gatherings over PB&Js usually sparked conversations about grades, girls, and the Giants – his favorite baseball team. Eventually, I started to ask him about his weekend plans. They didn’t vary much. He played Call of Duty, walked to the arcade seven blocks down the street, and saw the occasional movie. Week after week, I queried him. Week after week, only the titles of the games and names of the movies changed. Week after week, I grew more and more despondent.

I told my roommate, Kyle, about my concerns. Over a patio beer – a weekly ritual during which we drank one of Oregon’s fantastic brews on our patio – he told me to channel my curiosity. If I thought there was a problem, then I should find a solution or help someone who already has found an answer.

With Kyle’s wind at my sails and Basecamp S’more Stout inducing confidence, I embarked on a weekend assignment to study the Nature Gap Adhering to my collegiate habits, I treated this inquiry like a good student would – as a formal opportunity to implement the scientific method. This homework would soon become so much more.

The ‘Scientific Method’ does not sound like the typical entrepreneurial process, expand on how you followed this method to determine the need and opportunity

So, first, I outlined my questions: Is Omar’s indoor-intensive schedule and relatively small radius of exploration the exception or the norm? If the latter, why, and what strategies can be used to remedy the chasm between Oregonians and their outdoors?

The background research came next. I uncovered loads of literature on the Nature Gap, Nature Deficiency Disorder (NDD), and Vitamin N (short for nature). Authors such as Richard Louv introduced me to all of this jargon and more. Like an onion, each chapter read and term googled peeled off another layer of the larger puzzle, until I was left with facts and figures pertaining to Oregonians like Omar. Thankfully, people from across the nation and the Pacific Northwest were aware of NDD and shockingly low levels of Vitamin N in our communities and, even more, our schools.

But, I did not find any foundation, organization or individual addressing my largest qualm with Omar’s rare excursions: not only was he not getting outside, he was also not seeing all that Oregon has to offer. Ski trips to Mt. Hood, learning to surf at Seaside, wake boarding at Wallowa Lake, hiking Smith Rock, and gazing into the endless blue of Crater Lake had an indelible impression on me as a child. Each trip outside of my own Shire exposed me to an unfamiliar setting.30198783224_0d235a6268_k-1

How did your outdoor experiences affect you, and how did these experiences shape the initial Passport Oregon mission?

I encountered new people with views far different than my own and perspectives as varied as our state’s regions. I exercised my brain and body through learning new skills and failing and face planting regularly. Although I was pleased organizations were connecting students with the parks within their neighborhood, I wanted to go a step further and connect these youngsters with all of Oregon’s natural wonders – the coast, the Gorge, Mt. Hood, Smith Rock, the Painted Hills, Wallowa Lake, and Crater Lake – while also introducing them to the economic, cultural, and historic significance of these sites.

My love for Oregon and its people drove me to move to the next steps in the scientific method – developing 30198749844_2bfde8d435_za hypothesis and testing with an experiment. Here’s the hypothesis: if a nonprofit empowered students to travel across the state, meet its people, and learn its history, then they would later make nature a norm in their lives and, as a result of having a stronger sense of place and vastly expanded horizons, contribute to closing other gaps in our society such as the urban-rural divide.

Surely, no science professor would have accepted such a broad, open-ended hypothesis. Thankfully, I didn’t need any professor’s approval. Instead, I simply needed people to help me execute an experiment – start a nonprofit called Passport Oregon with a clear mission: Exploration for All. Passport Oregon would form cohorts of students that would embark on regular trips around the state. Trips would include a different parent on each trip, perspectives from all Oregonians, and facilitate exposure to the unknown and unbelievable. This experiment induced the trying times, chaos, and wicked problems I mentioned earlier.

Starting a nonprofit is similar to starting any business, so once the experiment was concluding, how did you go about the organizational formation?

For a chemistry question, you call chemists. When launching a rocket, you dial up rocket scientists. Who do you convene when you start a nonprofit or, more broadly, when trying to address any novel, complex, and entrenched problem? Earlier, I said that no book could completely ready you for inciting change. However, I have learned that one book is a necessary condition for a successful experiment – a phonebook or at least the 21st century equivalent, Siri. I called people in the public and private sectors, had coffee with educators and entrepreneurs, spoke to executive directors and volunteers, and skyped friends who share my affinity for a particular Robert F. Kennedy quote: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

We jointly asked, “Why not break down the barriers to nature? Why not leverage the love so many hold for our environment to propel students out of Portland and across Oregon?” During each call, I listened intently. I listened, asked lots of questions and took notes. Each conversation shaped the settled-upon solution: a school principal told me about the importance of engaging and interactive content wherever we took the students; an elected official introduced me to members of Oregon’s Native American tribes that would happily introduce our students to their stories, culture, and challenges; other nonprofit leaders informed me of the dos and don’ts of the trade and connected me with others who ran organizations with overlapping aims; and, of course, my parents, family, and friends gave me tips and leads to follow.

Running an experiment requires the right equipment. Ideally, your tools and materials will be perfectly suited for the ensuing steps. In this ideal world, you could purchase the finest implements and not worry for a second about the cost. That’s not possible when starting a nonprofit, especially one that is all volunteer based. From my aforementioned chats, I started compiling a list of folks that would want to join me in closing this gap. If they indicated interest, my first question was, “If you could do anything for Passport Oregon, what would it be?” This question reflects my belief that people work best and work happiest when doing something they love, when they feel challenged, and “in the zone.” This was yet another example of listening – compiling as much information as possible so that those who did opt to volunteer their already limited free time would see their involvement with Passport not as draining, but as inspiring.30466512332_8cf3f9e1a2_k-1

How did you put together your team and organize the first official Passport Oregon trip?

Slowly, but surely, we built a team and readied our first trip. Our background research and extensive networking connected us with a principal of a school with a high rate of NDD. When we met with him and his leadership, we were open about the fact that we did not have all the answers, but would meticulously solicit feedback from them, the students, and their parents to refine and improve our efforts to make Oregon an even more wonderful place. In the same way, we prioritized meeting the parents and the students before we commenced with their cohort. We outlined our plans, answered a myriad of questions, and took the first steps toward making nature a habit in their homes. We did not shy away from labeling this initial group of explorers an experiment. Our honesty facilitated greater communication and shortened the time period between an issue being raised and a response being implemented.

A case in point: Our first trip (what could also be labeled as our first experiment) to Trillium Lake and Mt. Hood was a typical fall day in the Oregon Cascades: wet, windy, and with woefully limited visibility. Our video and photos attest to the misty conditions. Even from Timberline Lodge, we couldn’t see the cloud-enveloped peak. Outfitted in running shoes and winter sweaters, our students, like the paths we trekked on, absorbed quite a lot of water. In short, they were not dressed for the occasion. Although we had asked parents to ensure their explorer had gear for less than great weather, our team recognized that our assumption – that all Oregonians magically have Columbia Sportswear gear tucked in their closest – was ill advised. Thankfully, the wet weather only damped the cohort’s sweaters and not their spirits. We think the hot chocolates at Huckleberry Inn in Government Camp may have helped as well.

What did that first trip teach you?

Needless to say, our first trip/experiment revealed some errors, opportunities, and successes. Our proactive pursuit of finding these shortcomings meant that we started planning how we could do better on the drive back to Portland. With our next trip already on the horizon and more inclement conditions surely ahead, we knew that better preparing our students for Oregon’s notoriously surprising and significant showers meant quickly reaching out to that same web of kindred souls that helped the project get off the ground. By the next trip, each student donned a Tested Tough Columbia Sportswear jacket, which made the gusty conditions in the Gorge feel like a light Portland breeze.

How many trips have you done to this point?

Six trips (Mt. Hood, the Gorge, Cannon Beach, Mt. Pisgah, , and a service day in Portland), 210 hours of kids exploring nature, and 42 hot chocolates later, Passport Oregon has an initial answer to our hypothesis – it is correct. Per their teacher’s reports, the students look forward to each trip, fastidiously analyze the itinerary for the coming adventure as soon as it is available, and frequently share their stories with classmates.

30583150135_84ac3d8991_zLikewise, the parents that have joined us regularly ask to come along again as soon as possible. While we are pleased with these initial results, we are not yet satisfied.

Passport Oregon is looking forward to a 2017 filled with even more exploration, empowerment, and education. In March, we will launch two new cohorts that will embark on their tour of Oregon. Approximately three months later, another new set of cohorts will begin their time venturing around the state. These explorers will kickoff a new round of experiments. We will be ready, prepared to assess how we can do better, and continue to make exploration for all possible for all.

The organization is still young, but how has what you’ve done to this point helped to shape how you see it evolving?

We’ve already encountered new obstacles to Portlanders and Oregonians getting outside: parents and families commonly don’t have the time to plan for a day in the outdoors – mapping out locations, finding affordable meals, and determining the best gas and rest stops; and, the rising costs of going on an adventure – park fees, gas, food, and admission to places like museums. Accordingly, we are launching two additional experiments in 2017.

The first is simply making our trip itineraries publicly available on our website. To track their usage, we ask that those who use the sample trips as a foundation for their own hike, trek, or exploration send us a picture of their time in the wild. Second, in the coming year we will introduce our Adventure Fund. This resource will be available to all Passport Oregon families. The fund will enable families with financial difficulties to apply to have the cost of their excursion entirely covered, just as their child’s trips are covered currently through Passport Oregon. Again, all we ask is that those who utilize the fund send us a photo of their expedition. Stay tuned for more details on the Adventure Fund and how you can reinforce this essential effort to reduce disparities in access to nature.

Also,  we are still listening – if anyone has suggestions, ideas, or comments, please send me an email at kevin@passportoregon.org.  We are always looking for volunteers, and those  interested in Passport Oregon volunteer opportunities can shoot ariel@passportoregon.org an email to learn about the variety of volunteer roles we have available. Finally, please check out our website passportoregon.org and spread the word – Oregon’s outdoors must be available and accessible.

You can find Passport Oregon on its website, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Little Boxes celebrates the vibrant Portland small business community with its black friday/small biz saturday promotion

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Editor’s Note: We profiled Little Boxes last year, and once again this annual Portland small business promotional event and prize raffle, featuring over 200 local and independent merchants, will take place on November 25th & 26th , 2016. You can find out more and download their app on their website, and you can also follow them on Twitter and on Facebook. Built Oregon is happy to be one of the sponsors of this event, and we’re reprising our 2015 profile below. 

It was early November 2011. Portland jewelry makers Betsy Cross and Will Cervarich were only 3 months removed from opening their first Betsy & Iya brick and mortar retail location in the northwest part of the city, on 24th and Thurman.

It had been a hectic and exhausting 3 months for this couple, who before opening the store had built a thriving wholesale business in Portland making and distributing their handcrafted jewelry to more than 100 locations around the country, and not surprisingly, Cross ended up getting ill and got her first day off at home in a long, long time.

She decided to camp out on her couch and watch TV. That was a decision that changed Cross & Cervarich’s lives.

As Cross explains, “There were already commercials happening for promoting Thanksgiving and Black Friday. And instead of just spacing out like you normally do with commercials that you don’t care about, I got mad. I thought, ‘What is it with Black Friday that every year, it gets worse and worse?’ It’s like, ‘Completely kill yourself to buy the best presents ever at the cheapest prices by staying up all night or waking up at four in the morning…’ ”

The anger generated a big question.

10805674_732905163466667_3671726183326341710_n“I felt a real sense of empowerment to focus on the shops that had given us so much support and business throughout the years”, Cross added. “I’d been in Portland for a long time. How come there’s nothing existing already for these kinds of shops? Why isn’t there a focus? We’re not going to be able to put our shops 50% off, or 40% off. But we don’t have to. Why? Because we have great shops, with a different experience.”

That night, Cervarich came home to hear a new idea for a group retail event on Black Friday.

Cross recalled, “Will came home and I said, ‘What do you think?’ And sometimes in our business relationship, one of us will have an idea and the other one will say, ‘Oh, that’s not a good idea. No way we can pull that off.’ ”

This time, he says ‘That’s genius’, and gets on the computer and immediately comes up with the raffle part of it.”

They also immediately emailed a few of their friends in their retail network to test the idea. “People wrote us back that night” Cross noted, “and said, ‘That’s a great idea and I’m in. So tell us what we need to do’ “

The event also needed a name. Cross recalls, “We were obviously thinking about ‘big box’ stores. And what is different (with the smaller stores)? What is special about gift giving? Little, special boxes wrapped in a particular way. That’s something that smaller shops are really good at.”

So it would be called “Little Boxes”, and something transformative was born.

Betsy Cross & Will Cervarich and their Betsy & Iya Retail Store in PDX

A different way to shop Black Friday

Just a few weeks later, the pair pulled off the first Little Boxes, pulling together the retail network, promoting the event all over town and in the press, and distributing paper booklets that recorded raffle entries for cool prizes to all who visited the 100 stores on that Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

It was a huge success. Cross added “We had shops telling us that they previously had horrible days on Black Friday, because people didn’t think to shop there. They put their energy into the bigger stores.”

And it had the added benefit of being a community experience, something actually enjoyable on a typically hyperactive shopping day. Cervarich notes, “Our whole idea is that shopping, especially on these two days where you’ve just spent time with family being thankful, and celebrating a year with family, shouldn’t about rushing to the store and getting coffeed up, and killing yourself to shop.”

In 2012 they did Little Boxes again, with an even larger network of stores, nearly 200. They also added the ability to gain extra raffle entries by buying merchandise at the stores – the more the person shopped at Little Boxes stores, the more chances they had to win.

The raffle is the big draw. Notes Cross, “It creates a light, fun-filled, game aspect. And I think our main thing was always not just the importance of supporting local, which is an important movement and an important part of our economy, but that our main messaging would be that our shops are just something special, and something different than the alternative shopping experience on Black Friday, especially.”

LB_Budd-+-Finn03By 2013 they topped 200 stores and added an iPhone app to make it easier for customers to find the stores and tally their raffle entries. Last year they tweaked the app with more features, and had even a few more stories participating, and now, in 2015, they are introducing an Android version of the app.

Through the years, Cervarich and Cross have made sure the messaging and tone of the event has was not about being negative about the big box experience on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. It’s meant to be an additive experience. Says Cervarich, “It’s always been important to us to stay positive. Our messaging never is negative on the big box stores.”

An act of leadership in an environment of trust

And, the couple has always made it clear that big profits were never, and still are not, the aim of Little Boxes. Cervarich notes, “It wasn’t about making money off of this idea. It was about doing something that we felt was going to be good for our shop, of course, but also going to be good for Portland shops. Especially shops that we had worked with (and continue to work with) for a number of years”

These two entrepreneurs were uniquely positioned to create this event because there are few other makers in Portland that have the kind of reach of the Betsy & Iya retail distribution network. And by being inspired, almost by divine providence, by a bad Black Friday TV commercial, they answered the call to pull that network (and many other retailers) together under a common banner, to generate a big local economic benefit that otherwise wouldn’t have existed without it.

It was an act of leadership, supported by a communal sense of trust. Says Cervarich, “There is an innate sense of trust (in the Little Boxes network), so when we came to a shop-owner, they weren’t being solicited by somebody who was only doing ads, or only doing something where it was taking money. We had worked with them, so we had a personal relationship, and we also were on their side.

1475786_732905446799972_2431213108730702047_n“And so I think that really helped our credibility. And people felt like, ‘Okay, well, these guys get it. It’s a promotion where it’s coming from the inside out.’ ”

The unique sense of collaboration and cooperation that distinguishes both Portland entrepreneurs and consumers also plays a huge role. Cervarich notes, “I give a lot of credit to Portland. If not in Portland, where else (could it have been successful)?

“Portland shoppers, they get it already. And so we just needed to give them a little push of a reason to go out on Black Friday. And that sense of community has been a huge reason why Little Boxes has become successful.”

And yes, Cross isn’t angry any longer. “It’s brought a ton of joy to our lives in the shop, and just the sheer excitement that we see on shoppers’ faces”, says Cross. “We’ve had a few people say, ‘I never even knew your shop existed and now I’m coming every year. I’m going to participate in Little Boxes every year’ “

You can find out more and download their app on their website,

FoodWorx: Re-thinking how (and why) you eat

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When people travel, usually uppermost in their minds is what they plan to see — landmark buildings, famous attractions, perhaps well-known works of art. Food is, for many, a secondary consideration of travel. They may want to eat well, but it is not always the main focus of a trip.

That is, unless they fall into a rapidly growing category called food travel. Food travel is the concept that says no matter where you go, you need to eat and drink. So why not enjoy a unique, local food experience and make a memory of it?

That philosophy is why Erik Wolf founded the World Food Travel Association, a Portland-based organization that he leads as Executive Director.

“There are people who travel to go to museums, there are people who travel for shopping, and there are people who travel to New York and London for theater,” Wolf says. “Well, I’m one of those people that travels for food. I end up in grocery stores. I end up in restaurants. I end up on food tours. I end up in food factories.”

The Post-it Note® brainstorm that blended two passions

Erik Wolf

Erik Wolf

Wolf already knew himself to be a “foodie.” Once, after a 15-hour flight to Singapore, rather than immediately collapse on his hotel bed, he noticed a large grocery store across the street and made a beeline for it.

“Jet lag didn’t matter. I was like a kid in a new amusement park. I was going around and seeing the different brands for sale, the different fruits on offer, all the unusual beverages. It was fascinating.”

At that point, however, it wasn’t necessarily a way to make a living. Wolf was working in the tech world in San Francisco. Then in 2001, he “smelled a layoff” and decided to uproot his life and start anew. He moved to Portland, Oregon, found an apartment, and put giant Post-It Notes on the walls to write down his passions and brainstorm a new career.

“What do I like doing? Where do I have connections? What am I good at? And it always came back to food and travel.”

Wolf decided to create a non-profit organization that blended his two passions.

“I wrote a white paper about Culinary Tourism to prove the value to our emerging industry and its potential economic impact. It was a popular paper that was sent around the world more times than I can remember.”

Within two years, he had formed a non-profit association: the International Culinary Tourism Association, which was re-branded as the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) in 2012. Since its inception as an education and trade resource, WFTA has grown to become the world’s leading authority on culinary tourism. It has published culinary travel guides, research on food and beverage tourism, produced dozens of events and conducted seminars to help food-related businesses get the word out to travelers.

A different form of sightseeing

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So what exactly is food travel? It is about helping travelers learn about and explore a local area’s food and beverage culture. That does not necessarily mean meals costing hundreds of dollars per person in a fancy restaurant. According to the WFTA, that kind of customer represents less than ten percent of the overall dining market. And since roughly 25 percent of any travel budget is spent on food, Wolf saw promoting local food and drink as a way to boost local economies and enhance the travelers’ experience.

It was an area of tourism promotion that was still ripe for development. The traditional focus of most tourism offices was on lodging and attractions. At best, there might be a small brochure naming a few restaurants, with no way of telling if those places had paid for the privilege of being listed. Chain restaurants were plentiful.

“When we talk to tourism offices now, often we have to reeducate them. Because they think: ‘Oh, we want the gourmet traveler’ or ‘We should be promoting our 150 cuisines!’ ”

Instead, Wolf says the best thing tourism offices can do is ‘plant the seed’ for good local dining, whether it’s the food cart/street vendor scene, or an area’s famous Key Lime pie. At first, it was an uphill battle. Then the recession of 2007 hit. Tourist offices closed, or their budgets were severely slashed. To cope, they began to look for different things to promote. The WFTA was already poised to help them discover how to package and promote local food cultures to travelers.

Not that all travelers are willing to go outside their comfort zone.

“You will not convince all people to try local food. Some people do all-inclusive packages and that’s fine for them. But then, there’s a level of consumer that does care about where things come from—how food is made and where it’s sourced.”

FoodWorx and the impact of food

Those people are the target markets for the food and beverage tourism industry. The numbers are growing each year. The WFTA expanded its services with lectures and a one-day conference called FoodWorx that explores all issues food-related.

ew photo 13“There are all these food and drink events. Most are great but there’s more to discuss than just sitting there and eating fancy foods and drinking expensive wines. We want to know, what did it take to get that to you? Who was involved in the production of that food? How much fuel was spent to get it to you? And help consumers realize how food impacts their everyday lives.”

FoodWorx 2016 is the fourth annual conference and is expected to attract about 450 people to hear nine speakers and two panels discuss a variety of food issues.

“We take food and combine it with another industry. Whether it’s food and industry, food and tourism, food and technology, food and music, food and health. And then we find an expert to talk about that. Local food and drink samples pepper the day’s talks.”

Who attends?

“It runs the gamut. You get concerned citizens, teachers, retirees, students, journalists and everyday people. You get foodies, restaurant owners, winery people. Plus, a lot of food and drink manufacturers, who come to learn about new industry trends. People travel from all over the world to attend.”

This year’s FoodWorx will be held Saturday, February 20 2016 at the Smith Memorial Union at Portland State University. Live streaming will be available for delegates who cannot attend in person. The forum has become so popular that other cities including Barcelona and Bilbao in Spain want to host their own local FoodWorx, as does Jakarta, Indonesia.

More impact, more innovation

When Wolf founded WTFA, the local food movement was truly in its infancy. Oddly enough, the tragedy of 9-11 had a big impact on people’s interest in food.

“It made people go back in and think about what’s comfortable—family and food. And the local food movement just mushroomed tremendously after 9-11. While he acknowledges that the WFTA can’t take the credit for the local food movement, he does believe that the WFTA was the early trendsetter in promoting food as attraction.”

EW photo 1Wolf says many people talk about the profound impact that the WFTA has had on the world’s tourism industry. “It’s fulfilling to know that we were there at the table, ushering in professionals, helping them to see the potential of promoting food and drink as attractions. And now, as our organization is 14 years old, we have to continue to reinvent ourselves, not rest on our laurels, (and) make sure we’re continuing to innovate, make sure that we’re bringing new and relevant products to market.”

Where does Wolf want this all to lead?

“World domination!”

But in all seriousness, Wolf sees almost unlimited potential for Food Travel. The WFTA has a new annual publication coming out in 2016, titled: Food Trekking in Cascadia. It focuses on the food and drink culture of our Cascadian region. While he may have started out thinking of the overseas traveler’s food experience, Wolf is adamant you don’t have to be a world traveler to be a food tourist. For some, it may mean just heading across town to a new neighborhood to try a new café or pub or wine bar.

Wolf is a firm believer that good food is everywhere—if you know where to look. His life’s mission is to show you where.

Many thanks to KC Cowan for her help and support on this piece

For more information on FoodWorx 2016, visit http://www.FoodWorxConference.com, or find them on Twitter or Facebook .  Built Oregon is one of the marketing sponsors of this event. 

Where is the fashion? A look into Portland’s apparel scene and where it’s headed

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This story was written by our high school intern, Akhil Kambhammettu. Akhil is a junior at Jesuit High School and beyond this story, will be acting as our student Built Oregon reporter over the next year. 

Streetwear is hard to define.

Everyone has their own interpretation of what it means, but the one thing we do know is the streetwear industry is booming. With brands like Obey and Stussy growing into multi-million dollar companies within a few years, the door is open for smaller brands to be successful.

Portland is known for its alternative and dynamic culture, but what about its fashion scene? As a teenager, clothing and style is an indispensable part of my identity. From jogger chinos to the trending elongated tees, I’m always looking for new designs and styles to stand out. That is why I created Blue Market. Blue Market is not only an online marketplace for designers to upload their clothing lines for the public, but we also help designers who don’t have the resources and knowledge to create sophisticated designs and establish themselves as independent designers. There is a lot of hidden talent in the Portland area that just needs a little push to share their art with the public.

11406924_1115754201773204_729951032786562650_nI got the chance to meet with a couple clothing designers and local retailers to get a sense of where the Portland fashion scene is headed.

Jae Fields’ One Man Show

First, I met with Wookie Fields, founder of Jae Fields, a local Portland streetwear brand. Working out of a small studio on NW 5th and Couch, Wookie is a one man show and handles everything, including sales, branding, marketing, patterning, and designing. “The idea behind Jae Fields is to bring quality and premium apparel with the right fabric for the right occasions”. His collection includes a wide variety of elongated tees, quality denim and joggers; all of which I have a weak spot for. But what sets him apart is the durable and stretchy fabric he uses in his t-shirts that contribute to his standard of “versatility and functionality”. Creating high quality yet wearable apparel at a reasonable price point allows Jae Fields to stand out in the streetwear industry.

1610974_1137211819627442_505780576469448928_nWhen asked about the current Portland streetwear scene, Wookie says, “There isn’t one, and that’s what makes us so unique”. I asked Wookie what he likes about being in Portland, and he explains “everyone supports each other”. Connections are very important in the fashion industry, and in Portland there is a lot of support from both the public and fellow designers; however, there is no organized support structure for designers. This is apparent at Portland Fashion Week, one of the most popular fashion weeks in the U.S, where the connections and community are still going through some growing pains.

“It is really hard to get to know [the designers]. They make, present, and they’re done”. If Portland Fashion Week were to leverage their connections and popularity, a lot of local designers like Wookie would benefit. When asked about the future of the streetwear industry, Wookie simply says “Staying alive”. To elaborate, the streetwear industry is becoming saturated with more and more brands, some with potential, and some going nowhere. “It’s so easy to start a brand, but not many people have the knowledge to keep the company going (where the “staying alive” part comes in). It’s going to be more about the story you tell and who wears it. Not what you sell but how you sell it.” By the looks of it, Wookie has both under his belt.

Bridge & Burn keeps it simple

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.27.30 PMNext I met with Erik Prowell, founder of Bridge & Burn, a Portland based outerwear apparel brand with a focus on simplicity. Erik was born and raised in Bend, Oregon, so the northwest style can definitely be seen in his clothing. Erik started his clothing venture while creating graphic T-shirts, where he met a local manufacturer that opened the opportunity for him to start his brand, Bridge & Burn.

The inspiration behind Bridge & Burn was to create simple, clean, and timeless outerwear. From their wide collection of plaid shirts to their khaki windbreakers, Bridge & Burn combines a comfortable feel with an Oregon aesthetic. When asked about starting a brand in Portland, Erik explains, “[Portland] is the most supportive community. I mean everyone is willing to help each other.” Just as Wookie had mentioned, there is a lot of support from the design community and local boutiques.

With retail connections and support from brands he met during trade shows, Erik was easily able to get into many retailers, and transition smoothly into the market. Although there are many talented and supportive designers in Portland, Erik sees a lack of proper infrastructure for these designers to create and produce streetwear products, as he still struggles to find a reliable local manufacturer. The future of Portland apparel is really to create a solid foundation and support system for aspiring designers, so the Portland fashion scene can grow.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.25.43 PMSo what are the next steps for Bridge & Burn? “I’m just trying to build a really solid team… and slowly grow the company.” Bridge & Burn started out small with only five jackets for men and five for women, but has slowly expanded their line to include T-shirts and pants. With warmer weather becoming more common as well, Bridge & Burn has been expanding out of just raincoats and windbreakers.

Erik offers a little advice for young designers like myself: “At the end of the day you just really have to believe in yourself, and it’s not easy at all. You have to believe in your vision and hustle.”

After all this digging and research, one theme stays common throughout: The Portland fashion scene is growing. There are a lot of small shops and boutiques out there, but there is also a lot of hidden talent to be explored. The only way that talent can be unlocked is if they have enough support and resources. Established brands in the area need to engage up and coming designers, and the rest of us need to show our support for small brands by following them on social media, sharing with friends, and maybe even buying their clothing. As teens, fashion and style are part of who we are, but we also have the power and responsibility to create trends and support new ideas and clothing. If we stay on this path, Portland will be the future of the fashion industry and the place to be for creatives and designers from around the country.

For more information on Jae Fields. visit www.jaefields.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter and instagram.

For more information on Bridge & Burn visit www.bridgeandburn.com or follow them on instagram, Pinterest, and twitter.

To stay updated with my company, Blue Market,  follow us on instagram and twitter.

 

 

 

Embracing the business of vacations

Inn at Haystack Rock

Some people thrive in the corporate world. Antoine Simmons was one of those people.

Working as a middle manager at Intel in mergers and acquisitions, life was good. Antoine had also started to dabble in real estate—buying fixer-uppers here and there on the side, and then turning them for a profit. He and his wife Rocio had also started their family, and by the year 2000 they had two children, Chantal and Rachel, with one more, Elias, on the way, but change was in the air.

As his workload shifted, it became more and more evident that Intel was in the middle of some changes as the company started offering severance packages to employees who wanted to leave. It was then that Antoine recognized an opportunity to strip off his identity of a corporate man living in a corporate world, and venture into an industry he knew little about.

“The writing was on the wall. It came to a point that I had to make a decision, so I finally took off the golden handcuffs of Intel.”

His next life would be as a hotelier.

An organized upbringing

Antoine’s parents were both teachers and owned 10 acres at the edge of Knotts Berry Farm in Cypress, California. The family raised chickens, pigs, turkeys and rabbits, as well as nurtured a small orchard. There, they taught their five boys and three girls the value of a dollar, that hard work was something to be proud of, that horsing around was something you did in the ‘horsing-around room,’ and that—if you put your mind to it—you could become all you wanted to become and more.

“My dad pushed hard. My mom set goals. They were strict and they were organized,” said Antoine. “In high school you are trying to figure out who you are. Trying to find happiness, but it’s kind of artificial. Soon you realize that home is what is real, it’s unconditional.

“My mom was the hardest working person I’ve ever known. She had a monthly planner and she knew who would be doing the dishes and who would be making potatoes a month in advance. She built us a horsing-around room outside of the house for my brothers and me to wrestle in.”

Growing up Antoine worked side by side with his dad and siblings. During the summer, he and his brothers helped his dad build apartments on their property.

“We learned how to work. It was amazing if you look at all the experience we got growing up. When I grew up I knew I wanted to be just like my dad.” Antoine said, as he held back the tears that welled up in his eyes. “I think I am, I think I’m growing up to be like him.”

“My dad is 85, and my mom is in her late 70’s and they still garden and have an orchard.”

After Antoine graduated from high school his parents moved to Hillsboro. He headed off to Utah, where he quickly became a ski bum. He also spent a couple of years in Florida on a mission with the Church of Latter Day Saints, before coming back to Oregon. He has his Master’s in Business at George Fox University in Newberg.

Once he graduated he settled down in Hillsboro where he began working at Intel, the company where he would eventually meet his wife, Rocio.

Antoine didn’t know it at the time. But retiring with a gold watch and a pat on the back was not to be in the cards.

Leaving the corporate nest

On a trip to Cannon Beach Antoine and Rocio stumbled across a house that was in dire need of someone to pull it back from the brink of disrepair. After some research they learned the owner of the home also owned the Blue Gull Inn across the street. They were “absentee owners,” and they wanted to sell both the house and the inn.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.56.40 AMBy May of 2000 Antoine and Rocio became the proud new owners of that home as well as the Blue Gull Inn, and then took over the management of it in July of the same year.

They were now hoteliers.

As anyone who has left the corporate world to strike out on their own knows, this is not a decision to take lightly. It is a decision that has to be made more by inspiration than reality. One that stands to result in utter disappointment as easily as complete satisfaction. A decision such as this is completely life-changing, and once made, the corporate world becomes an ever fading part of one’s past. Something that helped them along the way, but in no way defining who they have the potential of becoming.

“This is where the work began,” said Antoine.

“When we took over, all the reservations were done by hand. There was a big book with all the dates and all the rooms, it was crazy. We cleaned all of the rooms and brought the inn to the modern age with online booking.”

“The first time someone booked online was amazing.”

A flare for function

The husband and wife team soon began managing other properties in addition to their own, and in 2004 they created a new name, Haystack Lodgings, to encompass their entire business. They managed six motels in Cannon beach, including Ocean Spray Inn, Sand Trap, Sand Castle, and Sunset Inn, as well as 15 vacation homes.

Antoine and Rocio bought the Inn at Haystack Rock, and in 2011, they signed the papers to purchase the Inn at the Prom in Seaside.

Inn at the Prom“I was so nervous that day,” said Antoine.

Finally, in early 2014, they purchased the crown jewel, the historic Gilbert Inn in Seaside. The Queen Anne style home was built by Alexandre Gilbert in 1892.

With the Haystack Lodgings’ care and attention, The Gilbert Inn is now an 11 room couple’s retreat just steps away from Seaside Promenade, an 8,000 foot long concrete boardwalk between Seaside and the beach.

Time for more focus

Eventually Antoine and Rocio decided to stop managing other properties so they could just concentrate on their own.

“I am constantly striving to learn more about this industry,” he said, his excitement level more like someone new in the business instead of someone who now has 14 years of experience.

“Some of our guests have been with us for so long. You have to change in this business, people want to escape. Our goal is to surprise, to do something a little different, to keep them coming back time and again.”

Antoine said he strives to provide his guests with an ‘un-motel experience’. The proof is in the properties that he continually upgrades and improves. The tile work and carpentry are a shining example of how much he wants his guests to be able to escape their normal day to day life while staying at Haystack Properties. The oceanfront view from immaculate rooms are just a portion of what some of his properties have to offer.

“The Blue Gull Inn has a hacienda design and all of the furniture was built and hand-carved by our carpenter, Victor Campuzano, and our tile work was created by Domingo Victoria. We have been really blessed in our lives. Most people have been with us for more than 10 years,” he said, referring to his employees. “It is like a family, we take care of each other, and everybody feels like a part of us.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.57.02 AMAntoine has no regrets about trading in his comfortable corporate career for his life as a hotelier. This life choice suits him. He truly loves getting to know his customers and inviting them back to see what new changes have taken place since their last visit. He gets to teach them about the surrounding area, and all of the beauty that is out there for them to enjoy.

“Being able to take something and get this idea of what it could be, and see it come to life. Taking something old and making it new and seeing it come together, there is no better feeling,” said Antoine as he reflected on his chosen career path.

He also knows he would not be where he is today without Rocio, who he credits his success to.

“I get to work with my family. I get to work my wife,” he said with a smile. “She is such an intricate part of this business. We are partners and co-leaders. We have been able to learn how to run a business together; we’ve done a lot of housekeeping together. Having two strong people that are partners, with the same goals, it helps you trust in yourself, have faith and knowing the harder you work the easier it is going to get. It takes a lot of work to survive in this industry; you have to constantly be thinking on how to improve. I have learned we are the sum of all of our experiences. I try to be the best person I can be, but you can ask my kids, they will tell you I am a major work in progress.”

All three of his children are now teenagers. Chantal is 19, an artist and is attending college; Rachel is 15 and plays soccer; Elias is on the swim team and is now 14. They all spend their summers as part of the housekeeping staff as Antoine instills some of the same ‘hard-work’ ethics into his own children that his father instilled in him. He also teaches them to appreciate the land they call home.

“There is so much natural beauty in Oregon. We have the ocean, the mountains, the high desert; it is the variety that we enjoy so much. I tell my kids ‘look at what is in your own back yard. Our back yard is beautiful. We have national parks, running on the beach, hiking trails… I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

For more information, visit http://www.haystacklodgings.com/.

New cut on an old school profession

flattop3

Chris Diaz really had about as much of a chance of avoiding the family business as Michael Corleone. When your brother, brother-in-law, mother, father, grandfather and his brother are all barbers, the odds are you’ll join ‘em, sooner or later.

“I tell people that for me it was easy to get into it,” Chris says, while cutting a stylish fade for the Southern Oregon University student sitting in the barber chair in front of him. “I grew up in barbershops my whole life, sweeping in my grandfather’s shop, sweeping in my parent’s shop. It’s always been that way.”

Chris is a barber at The Flap Top in Ashland, a shop his parents Mike and Terri opened more than 20 years ago. By taking the best of the salon experience – customer service, modern décor, a complimentary alcoholic beverage, for example – and combining it with old school classic hairstyles that are suddenly back in fashion, The Flat Tap survived the downturn in barbershops long enough to enjoy the current wave of popularity.

“Every year you learn and adapt. We’re special because of our kids. They teach us too,” says co-owner Terri, who learned the trade from her father and her uncle.

Another generation of Diaz barbers have expanded beyond Ashland into downtown Medford. Mike and Terri’s oldest son Brandon Diaz, 29, and their daughter Amanda’s husband, Pablo Villa, 32, have teamed up to open The Fellas Barber Shop, which pushes to be current and competitive by tailoring to a new wave of clients.

Flattop1“Cutting hair is the best job I’ve ever had,” Brandon said, noting he’s been working many jobs since he was 16. He points to his dad as his guiding influence.

“If my dad had become a doctor, I would’ve become a doctor and followed in his footsteps.”
The Don Corleone of this family of barbers – Brandon and Chris’ grandfather – long ago insisted his daughter learn to use clippers or starve. Terri learned the trade back in the 1980s cutting mullets and other dramatic long-haired styles. Like many women, she focused first on being a stylist so she could ride the trend toward high-end salons. But soon enough she was back to the basics of barbering.

“He was right all along,” she says of her father.

Barbering is a trade, she says, that has helped her entire family weather all the changes in the industry and the economy.

Innovation in an old profession

After years of falling out of favor, barbershops are back in a big way.

Nationwide, the cosmetology and barbering industry grew 29 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to Inc. magazine. Charles Kirkpatrick, the executive officer of the National Association of Barber Boards of America, recently told the New York Times the number of licensed barbers had grown roughly 10 percent from 2010 to 2012, which amounts to about 20,000 new barbers.

According to Forbes Magazine, “North American sales of shaving products is a $3 billion a year business.” A 2013 Salon business study and forecast “showed that like women, men are currently seeking barber shops that are close to their home, offer a wide variety of services and are competitive in pricing.” Major players are moving into the American market, opening high-end franchises across the country.

The trends can be seen throughout the state of Oregon as well. The Barbers franchise has 15 Portland-area locations. It offers shoulder massages and hot lather neck-shaves for an up-scale barbering experience. Another chain, The Bishops Barbershop, has a dozen Oregon shops, all seeking to attract the next generation of customers with its edgy marketing and appeal.

Staying in style

Without even trying to be a trendsetter, Mike said creating a unique experience for men has driven the latest innovations and changes at his shop.

Customers can enjoy a free 10-oz. cup of locally brewed Caldera beer while they wait, a decidedly modern twist. Or like Mike says, they can have a Tootsie Pop as well, a nod to classic Americana.

flattop2

“The beer is just like the girls going to the beauty shop getting a glass of champagne,” Mike says. “It’s just a little something extra. Men in particular don’t pamper themselves. We wanted them to feel like it’s a guy’s place. It feels comfortable.”

Mike credits Terri for that classic, modern combination.

“You know what it is?”, Mike says about his barbershop and its success. “My wife said something to me that really stuck. She said, ‘Why does the barber shop have to get old with the barber?’ It’s true. So many shops you see the yellow paint that started off white, the upholstery is old. ‘You have to make people feel welcome,’ she told me.”

Terri says the same thing the next day when Mike isn’t around.

“I’ve always learned that in barbershops, especially in barbershops, the shops grow old with barber,” she says.

She would not let that happen with The Flat Top.

A mix of old and new

Whereas The Flat Top itself—the hair cut, not the shop—remains the coin of the realm for a white man of a certain age, the styles of the ‘50s and ‘60s have returned, bringing a whole new generation of customers out of expensive salons and back into the barber’s chairs.

Styles always circle back around, Terri says, even with new names.

“A fade is a taper,” she says. “That’s what it’s been called. But now they call it a fade. The styles stay the same.”

But The Flat Top—the shop, not the style—continues to evolve right along with it, carving out a niche business in a declining economy. As Mike points out, barber schools across the country, including Oregon’s, have closed.

“They are not producing barbers anymore,” Mike says. “My sons are third-generation barbers. They’re rare because they get the training from us.”

But that too is the secret to business success. By weathering the downturn in popularity and steadily adapting to the trends, the Diaz Family, just like the famous fictional Godfather, has a corner on the market in this corner of the state.

“You’re never gonna get wealthy,” Mike says. “But you’re indoors and out of the elements. It’s not like construction where it’s boom or bust. It’s a comfortable living.”

A sign on the wall may as well be the business motto.

“There’s no school like old school,” it reads.

For more information, visit the Flat Top Barbershop on Yelp.

Craftsmanship meets impact

roguewood-feature

The old Quonset hut situated near the I-5 freeway has been a fixture for decades in this southern Oregon town, but the energy level and innovation taking place inside is entirely new.

The Quonset also represents a calculated gamble that not only can manufacturing re-energize this rural Oregon community with good jobs and high return on investment, but that the business within – Roguewood Furniture Company– can compete with venture capital dollars that are most often associated with 21st century technology rather than old-school product making.

Harmony in discord

But don’t tell Elizabeth Bauer this gamble isn’t prudent. Her whole business is built on taking discordant ideas like this one: scaleable investment in rural manufacturing, or like this one: sustainable forest products, and making them not only meaningful, but profitable and of high community value.

20141021_Roguewood_0162Bauer, 37, is the president and founder of Gilded Rogue, an Ashland, Ore. investment company that launched last year. It has since purchased three southern Oregon businesses, including Roguewood and its retro Quonset hut.

“This is a good company that just needed a little bit of love,” she says of Roguewood.

Bauer came out of the grocery industry where she worked as a CFO for massive company with 2,700 employees and annual sales of nearly half a billion dollars. She said her time in corporate finance taught her that many businesses are lacking the language to compete for investment dollars.

“I’d hear all the time,” she says. “There is nothing to invest in. I know it isn’t true but I realized they are speaking different languages.”

Which lead to those seemingly discordant terms being merged together in an old-school business model that can attract cutting-edge investment dollars.

Embracing rural Oregon

“There is a lot of angel money for startups, but not as much for ready-to-scale investment. That’s our sweet spot,” Bauer says. “We’re really about accelerating. We’re trying to get companies out of that first stage and into stage 2 or 3 expansion.”

Bauer said the mission is straightforward and simple. They are looking for companies within the rural Pacific Northwest that have potential sales growth and potential social impact.

Both, she insists, are critical.

“The impact is built into the costs, say, like the wood we use,” she says, because compromising local impact would dissolve the mission. Each company under the Gilded Rogue umbrella must be focused on “benefiting a social issue and making a difference in the world,” according the company’s website.

Building on what works

“The do-good stuff is more than a slogan in the daily operations of Roguewood. It translates in observable ways into the work place, just as when Quin Wilson, a Roguewood furniture designer, returned from a hunt for reclaimed wood. Wilson described the value of the large beams he brought back like trophies of his latest expedition.

20141008_20141007_Roguewood_0175-3I got this out of a saw mill they are tearing down in Klammath Falls,” he said.

He struggled to hold the massive beam—perhaps a 2×12 to an inexpert eye—on its end.

“See how tight that grain is. New timber today may have as much as 1/3 of an inch gap. But this is so much higher quality…” Wilson explained, then segued seamlessly into his plans for converting the beams into a new artisan table.

Wilson plans to smooth out the grain (“just a little, so it’s smooth, but still looks right”) and fill in some holes. On the spot he bought a significant amount of the wood on site and dragged plenty back in his truck.

“How much?” Bauer asked.

“$2.50 a square.”

“Very nice,” she said.

Wilson was also excited about a new wood he’s exploring as a potential product.

“I just found another type of wood I think we might want to take a look at. It is yew wood. It’s a salvage wood. It has a lot of potential,” he reported.

Bauer encouraged him to take a look. No micromanaging here. That freedom, Bauer says later is a big factor in Roguewood’s plan. Bauer, who is now serving as the company’s CEO, is building the business around the craftsmanship and quality that already existed. The employees will be the eventual owners, so autonomy now—with a guiding hand on the business side—is critical. Empowerment is a big part of the growth strategy.

“It’s like putting floaties on a company instead of tossing them into the deep end,” Bauer says.

Economic Rebound

Based on the early explosive growth under Bauer’s leadership, Roguewood won’t need the floaties for long. The word is out in the community as well. Former employees are returning, applications in hand.

“I shouldn’t have left,” one man says as he quickly dropped off his application.
Inside the Quonset hut energy and activity hums. Different sections are used for making different products. The smell of steel saws burning through hard wood mixes with the noise of machines in high gear. But the relaxed vibe of the work represents more high-school woodworking class than high-pressured manufacturing.

In October Roguewood hit $250,000 in sales and ramped up to 60 employees, up from $120,000 in sales and 17 employees back in July. November sales will hit $350,000, Bauer says.

“We just need to get them out the door,” she says of recent sales.

November will also be the first month of a new strategic partnership with Sawyer Paddles and Oars, which agreed to move its manufacturing into the Roguewood site. Employees will be able to cross-train in both furniture manufacturing and paddles, according to Sawyer President Peter Newport.

“I think Liz is an amazing leader,” Newport says.

The partnership fits with what industry experts say is the future of American manufacturing. John Bova, director, MTN Capital Partners LLC, told Industry Week streamlining is the future of American manufacturing.

“The types of decisions that needed to be made include streamlining of go to market, successful new product introductions from a strong pipeline and steady global business investment. Those will be key characteristics for manufacturers poised for higher growth levels,” Bova said.

Lead with sales

It’s all part of the process Bauer envisioned when she first focused on Roguewood.

“Sales came first,” Bauer says. “Then came the employees. Now we’re connecting all the dots,” said Mariam McVeigh, Roguewood’s director of sales. She shares that the arrival of Bauer and her team has infused the company with creative energy.

20141021_Roguewood_0472“It’s like my handcuffs came off,” she says. “The potential always has been there. We have the product and quality and we have the reputation. Now we have the possibility.”

McVeigh used her personal connection to an employer at the Wild River Brewing Company to land a new account. Shaun Hoback, manager of the brewing company, said he just signed a contract with Roguewood for new dining room tables and matching décor that includes old photos of the mills in town and new sustainable products made there including Sawyer paddles.

“Those paddles are gorgeous,” Hoback said. “We want to connect first and foremost with local companies. But the story behind the wood, the company, the industry here, all plays a part in why we want to do business with them.”

Bauer also brought in a team of professionals to help Roguewood organize its front office. One of those is Sam Leaber, systems administrator for Gilded Rogue, on loan to Roguewood.

“Companies don’t always know what they need until it all goes wrong,” he says.

By having Leaber available, Roguewood can improve its online presence without the added cost of a full-time IT guy. Bauer’s husband also pops in, helping out with any number of tasks as needed.

“The more we do this kind of stuff,” Bauer says, arms sweeping across the spartan office space, “the more they can do what they do best, building a great product.”

Significant impact

For all the business savvy, the mission remains impact-centered, much like Wilson’s hunt for reclaimed wood and Bauer’s determination to build a solid, permanent workforce. It also is evident in the exit strategy Bauer has in mind, which is to eventually sell the company to the employees themselves.

Because the company was undervalued and is now getting the lift it needed it should soon hit industry standards, Bauer says. That realized growth will allow the employees to buy her out. It means a company will sustain in the community that gave it life and will benefit that community long after Bauer is on to other projects.

20141023_roguewood_0240-2Bauer knows profits are critical. But unlike much of the venture capital world that is looking for the explosive dividends of tech companies that require 10 times the amount invested in returns, Bauer says the same return can be realized with a lower rate of growth with fewer failed investments.

“There are a lot of companies out there that don’t fit the 10x model,” Bauer says. “But we sort of put them together to outperform that model. We don’t have the eight in ten failure rate to absorb. It allows us to succeed.”

It also allows them to continue to make an impact, like donating money to the Ashland-based Lomakatsi non-profit that educates children about forest health. For every piece of furniture Roguewood sells, Lomakaski is given money to plant a tree, Bauer says.

Bauer says the company must excel and the impact must be reflected in the product, which “drives money into impact.”

She says the overall aim of the company is connecting the diverse artisan craftsmakers in the Pacific Northwest to the burgeoning market of clients across the globe.

“If we can do wood products right, in a sustainable way, here in Southern Oregon, in timber country, well that’s a great model for everyone,” Bauer says.

A model Bauer is willing to gamble on.

For more information, visit http://www.roguewood.com, follow Roguewood on Twitter, or like Roguewood on Facebook.

A deeper connection

carman-feature

At the edge of the Wallowa Valley, circled by the awe-inspiring Wallowa Mountains, Cory Carman raises cattle.

It could be just as simple as that, but it isn’t.

For four generations Cory’s family has been raising cattle in Wallowa County, each doing things a little bit differently than the generation before; Cory Carman is no exception to that rule.

Cory raises grassfed registered Herefords and Angus cattle alongside her uncle Kent Carman and husband Dave Flynn on Carman Ranch. She is raising her three children, Roan, Ione and Emmett on the very same ranch her great-grandfather Fritz Weinhard started raising cattle on in 1935.

She nurtures the very same land her grandparents, Ruth and Hoy Carman cared for, and she continues the family tradition her dad, Garth, lost his life for in a farming accident in 1993.

Homecoming

Cory’s uncle Kent and grandmother Ruth had been operating the ranch for many years while Cory was away at college. After graduating from Stanford and spending time on Capitol Hill working with the Ways and Means Committee, then managing several restaurants in LA, Cory decided to take a break from the cities and head back home to the ranch for the summer in 2003. The time had come for her to clear her mind, and figure out what she really wanted to do with the rest of her life.

6877653307_7eb1be7815_oLittle did she realize then, but the ranch seemed to be calling her home. Cory soon realized it was a lot of ranch for just two people to manage, and she was asking a lot of her grandmother and uncle to save it for her until she was ready to come home and take over.

“Once I had a proper career, I knew I would come back to the ranch,” said Cory. It wasn’t until she saw just how much work was on the shoulders of her uncle and grandmother, that she realized it was now, or never. “If I wanted to be here in 20 years, I needed to start contributing that day, or let go. A cattle ranch isn’t something you just put on hold.”

From that moment forward, Cory has been immersed in the cattle ranching business, but Carman Ranch is not a typical cattle operation, and Cory is not a typical rancher. Many cattle operations raise the cattle, load them into semi-trucks, and then send them to auction.

The process continues with the beef being reloaded into trailers, where they are sent to be processed at slaughter houses. The end result is meat that has been subjected to stress, time and time again. This practice works for many ranchers, and most of us are accustomed to buying this type of beef from our local grocery store, but this cattle processing practice does not suit Cory, who is involved throughout the entire life cycle of her cattle.

Part and parcel

Cory is a hands-on rancher: from birth, to pasture, to summer graze land, she is there to watch the cattle thrive as they meander across the meadows of the ranch. Cory’s cows spend their entire life on the ranch foraging on famous Wallowa Valley grass and grass hay.

6877656945_5bac54b4c3_o“We are committed to preserving the natural environment and providing our customers with healthy and delicious beef,” said Cory, who believes in low input farming practices, which includes eliminating chemical fertilizers. The deep-rooted perennial grasses that the Carman Ranch cattle graze on stores carbon in the soil, which also helps to remove it from the atmosphere.

Carman Ranch was the first Oregon ranch to earn grassfed beef certification from Food Alliance, the most comprehensive third-party certification program for sustainably produced food in North America. Food Alliances grassfed certification guarantees that animals eat only grass, never any grain or grain by-products, nor do they receive hormones or antibiotics of any kind. Food Alliance certification also ensures that Carman Ranch meets rigorous criteria for safe and fair working conditions, soil and water conservation, protection of wildlife habitat, and healthy and humane animal treatment.

At the end of fall, as the cattle mature to around 18 months, it is time to call in the local butcher, Kevin Silvieria, a highly regarded craftsman in his trade. Quickly, humanely, and free from the stress of the typical beef processing scenario, the animals are harvested on the same land they were born on. Silvieria, of Valley Meat Services, then drives the meat all of three miles to his shop in Wallowa where he cuts it to Cory’s specifications.

Facilitating connection

This could be the end of the story, but once again it is only the beginning.

“People want a connection to their food again,” said Cory.

Cory knew instinctively there was a market for grassfed beef in Oregon, before there was a market for grassfed beef in the state. Her years of restaurant experience in Los Angeles gave her insight to what customers, who were beginning to become more and more health-conscious, were looking for, so she set out to create the market that would welcome her own 100% grassfed beef.

Contributing to the Oregon economy

In 2009, with packages of Carman Ranch Grassfed Beef, fresh from Valley Meat Services, Cory traveled to Portland where she met with chefs from popular restaurants. One can only imagine the sense of pride, with a touch of butterflies, she must have felt as she approached her first chef. She told each of them the benefits of her grassfed beef, which is free of hormones and antibiotics. With one taste of the beef, all reservations are pushed aside.

Carman Ranch Grassfed Beef is now an ever-present staple on many restaurants throughout Portland, including Dick’s Kitchen.

3730060144_f0c4239728_o“We wanted to have a 100% grass-fed beef hamburger on our menu, mainly because of the health benefits of eating beef raised this way.” said Barbara Stutz, of Dick’s Kitchen. “We wanted people to be able to enjoy the classics without any guilt, and actually be feeding their bodies with great nutrition. We did tastings from several different ranches and found the taste of Carman Ranch beef to be far superior. We also wanted to use a product that was environmentally conscious.

“It turns out that grass fed beef, raised the way they do at Carman Ranch, helps to reverse carbon dioxide from the atmosphere more effectively than any land use. For us it was a win-win. We really respect ranchers that understand the difference and go the extra mile to produce beef this way, the combination of grasses that make up the diet for the cattle create an amazingly flavorful product.”

“Our customers recognize that there is a flavor difference between grass fed beef and commercially produced beef and they enjoy the out and out yummy flavor. Many are thrilled to be able to eat a great burger that is also good for them and some are just happy that it is a great tasting juicy burger.”

In addition to her grassfed beef adorning the pages of menus throughout Portland, Carman Ranch, in conjunction with McClaran Ranch, also from Wallowa County, offers customers a chance to buy a portion of a cow to stock their freezers with through a cow sharing program. The Carman Ranch Buying Club also offers communities in the greater Portland area a chance to buy a smaller portion of the 100% grassfed beef at several locations throughout the city on specified days of the week.

“Growing up in Wallowa County, especially on a ranch, gave me a sense of responsibility and a sense of curiosity. It gave me a sense of independence,” said Cory.

Her love for the ranching lifestyle is just as strong as the generations that came before her, but her way of getting it done is just about as unique as she is.

For more information, visit http://www.carmanranch.com, follow Carman Ranch on Twitter, or like Carman Ranch on Facebook.

An overnight success, 20 years in the making

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It’s rare to use the words “hot tub” and “great idea” in the same sentence. But those two seemingly incongruous terms came together on a pivotal day in August 2010. Lem James relaxed in the hot tub with his son discussing business and life, which wasn’t unusual for the pair.

Lem had spent the last several years seeking the perfect startup idea—a niche idea to be exact, so the conversation focused on startup ideas to opportunities. He had watched and compared businesses inside very competitive markets and niche markets. But nothing had quite fit the mold.

All it was needed was a spark.

“Hey Dad, why don’t you build those concrete ping pong tables you saw in Germany?”

And that was all it took.

Lem recognized a viable product and innovative idea.  Permanent, outdoor table tennis tables took something familiar and turned it on its head. Lem liked the purposeful creativity of combining ping pong and concrete—two things that didn’t seem to mesh—to create a new outdoor experience in public places.

But this would be more than a niche market; it would be wide open without any competitors and an immediate customer focus; Parks & Recreation.

From a fleeting idea, a permanent table

Normally, “outdoor” ping pong tables need to be set up every day and put away at night. This, combined with play, causes them to wear out every few years. Left outside, table tennis tables deteriorate rapidly.

A concrete table, however, can stay outside through harsh weather and doesn’t need to be set up and taken down at all. This was the key.

Concrete tables could save money for parks, military bases, community centers, and even home owners. Using concrete completely redefines where table tennis works. Instead of backyards and garages, tables can be installed in parks and outdoor school yards.

Forming a business as sturdy as its product

Within a week, Lem had AutoCAD sketches and plans to build forms. As he shared his idea, however, others raised concerns. Who would buy these concrete tables? Wouldn’t shipping costs eat up any profit? Who would even think to search for a product like this? America just wasn’t familiar with the idea. It was a luxury item and, in 2010, we were in a recession.

P1020652With his work experience, Lem knew parks across the country and beyond would be interested, and he knew the channels to reach them. As for shipping, that’s a normal cost of doing business. Even when others shared their concerns, the passion grew.

“Every once in a while, we had to do a gut check because they were putting out a few quotes but nothing was selling yet,” said Lem. “We had to hone in on our product and our marketing to put our products out there to our target markets without traditional advertising. We began selling a table here and there. Then, once we could put enough story and photographs together to show tables in parks, schools and nice backyards, sales started rolling.

“It’s frustrating to watch potentially good businesses start and poke around, and then evaporate before they even get the traction to move forward. I’ve watched several businesses fail to launch in this manner. Many times so much time gets spent on making a perfect product that marketing and sales get ignored.

“A lot of these businesses get launched by very smart successful people, but people who don’t need the business to succeed. They have other successes that are easy to fall back on. Early on, a friend asked what my back up plan was. I said plan A was to succeed wildly, and plan B was to succeed mildly. There was no backup plan to fail. If we ran into failure, we would plan around it and continue. Don’t quit.”

During the first year, the company focused on developing and improving the tables, adding steel nets, integral concrete dye to offer color options, and making other refinements. Concrete chess tables were a natural addition to the product line, and these weren’t as foreign to the American market. The playing squares are marble inlaid tiles in a background of polished, exposed aggregate concrete in an array of color options, including recycled glass.

Why Oregon?

The entrepreneurial community in Oregon supported Bravado from an early stage, including the Roseburg Small Business Development Center and Young Entrepreneur Society (YES), a Roseburg group that supports new innovation.

These groups provided the cross pollination of ideas, which has been central to Bravado’s product development and marketing. In addition, they provided crucial support to a founder with a unique concept. Lem was able to pitch ideas and get feedback from a unique cross section of business thinkers and fellow entrepreneurs.

Oregon is also home to an array of groups, like Portland based City Repair, who are great supporters of the placemaking movement. City Repair builds community projects—like turning an intersection into a public park. They describes placemaking as “a multi-layered process within which citizens foster active, engaged relationships to the spaces which they inhabit, the landscapes of their lives, and shape those spaces in a way which creates a sense of communal stewardship and lived connection.”Permanent outdoor games—especially table tennis—fit in perfectly with placemaking by providing the community a gathering point where everyone can play.

Best of both worlds

As Lem perfected the engineering and production of the ping pong tables, his mind began to turn to other product opportunities based on the company motto, “Everybody plays!”

Cornhole, a simple, but not very well known game immediately came to mind. The bean bag game was easy to adapt to concrete and place as a permanent feature in parks, while also creating a more entry level product line. Foosball was added to the product line after a table tennis fan sent a picture of a similar table in Paris. While the actual forming and production took some fine tuning, the actual game itself is to pick up and learn.

Foosball and cornhole allow almost anyone to begin playing and then develop mastery over time—just like the sport that inspired the original product.

Work that inspires activity

Lem shares a contagious enthusiasm for his products and the games they facilitate. it’s not just about selling something and making money. These tables are on the cutting edge in concrete work, the placemaking movement, and the sport of table tennis.

Bravado Outdoor’s table tops are recognized in the concrete industry for design and finish work and have been featured by different suppliers. The tables are another example of combining two different disciplines: concrete engineering and concrete countertop finish work.

These publicly available tables support the developing of ping pong in America, and integrate into the urban placemaking design movement; where sidewalks, corners or small urban spaces are turned into an oasis where people can gather. Where an old empty lot can become a miniature neighborhood gathering spot with ping pong and chess as the focal points.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 3.25.47 PMThe sport of table tennis, in particular, has been a second tier sport in North America, usually played in garages and basements. But Bravado is taking table tennis into the outdoors and public places, putting the sport front and center and giving more people across America and the chance to hone their skills. The Bravado team strongly believes that by making table tennis more accessible, the level of play will be raised—ultimately helping the US become more competitive on the international scene.

Lofty goal? Sure. But the accessibility of basketball courts in parks and urban areas has definitely played a central role in the development of many top players, and while there is a big difference between basketball and table tennis in regards to the idea of being a competitive sport, accessibility and awareness are still critical development steps.

And once in place, these tables will be around for years to come. No nets to replace or backboards to repair. No play structures to fix. No swing chains to replace. Just hours of enjoyment by kids and adults alike.

And much like the products they have developed, Bravado has created a solid company, firmly grounded in the community that supported them from the beginning.

For more information, visit http://www.concretetabletennis.com, follow Bravado on Twitter, or like Bravado on Facebook.

Fording the rapids of Oregon entrepreneurship

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Peter Newport laughs. “I do chaos.”

In addition to the many roles he plays—from budding Gold Hill, Oregon, mayor to president of Sawyer Paddles and Oars—Chief Pot-Stirrer is also in Newport’s personal mix.

Newport is the former chief executive of Breedlove Guitar Company, a renowned custom instrument maker based out of Bend, Oregon. After selling the company in 2010, Newport moved to southern Oregon and bought Sawyer Paddles and Oars.

And it’s that fast-paced, 100-percent, year-over-year growth path that he helped generate at Breedlove that Newport wants to repeat with the similarly renowned custom paddle maker in Talent, Oregon.

But in the three years he’s been at Sawyer, the growth trajectory is slower than what Newport thrived on with Breedlove.

“We are growing Sawyer slower than we grew with Breedlove,” Newport said. “I’m engineered for 100 percent growth. I don’t have a whole lot of patience and it’s painfully slow. We’ll start ramping up our growth in the coming years.”

Nothing a little chaos can’t stir up

Tracking down the man known as “Crazy Pete” isn’t easy, especially in the middle of shifting manufacturing operations to Grants Pass, Oregon. in a partnership with custom furniture company Roguewood.

In fact, it seems wherever sawdust is flying and gorgeous wood products are crafted in Oregon, Newport can be found.

“He should be here later today,” Roguewood CEO Elizabeth Bauer says on a Monday afternoon. “Pete is just awesome. He’s a superstar.”

The next day at the Sawyer shop in Talent, Newport is again missing in action.

“He started real early this morning and I don’t expect him back anytime soon,” co-owner Zac Kauffman, says. “Things are a bit crazy around here right now.”

The company is making significant advancements, including the strategic partnership with Roguewood. It’s a partnership that has the two companies combining equipment and employees in the same facility — a temporarily chaotic move that will likely create an even higher level of product quality and consistency.
“Our peak seasons are opposite. It’s going to be beautiful. It will allow us to keep a steady workforce year round. We’re hoping if we cross-train on furniture and paddles and oars we can switch for whatever orders we need to get out the door,” Newport says.

Man in the middle

"Crazy Pete" Newport

“Crazy Pete” Newport

Any significant change will find Newport directly in the thick of it.

“Wherever the bottleneck is, that’s where I like to be,” Newport says a few days later, when he finally slows enough to talk.

In short, he wants more chaos because — for a die-hard kayaker turned entrepreneur who is now in the business of making fantastic paddles and oars – turbulence is not only expected but welcomed.
“I was taught how to communicate that type of chaos,” Newport says. “It leads to a fair amount of time in meetings but everybody’s on the same page.”

Finding a Niche. And another. And another.

Like many entrepreneurs, Newport spent a fair amount of time finding his own direction. His central Oregon upbringing weathered into him a love for the state, love for the extreme outdoor sports the region is known for, and love of music and love of adventure. All of these facets, in one way or another, have shaped Newport’s life trajectory.

The defining moment? When he took a kayaking class, “on a dare.”

“It totally changed my life,” Newport says, “The Bend and the Oregon boating scene is pretty advanced and I had a lot of great paddlers around me and fell head over heels into kayaking and that’s pretty much all I wanted to do.”

Newport navigated through Oregon colleges, including Southern Oregon University, University of Portland, and Portland State. By 1995, he wanted to try out for the 1996 Olympics in kayaking.

“It was a longshot,” he admits, “but I ended up breaking a bunch of ribs before I could even try out. But during that time I realized… wow, pretty much everything I was trying to do got shut off within a couple of weeks. I got kinda depressed.”

He followed his wife back to school—this time for an actual education—landing at Oregon State University.

“I was so sick of school and not knowing what I wanted to do,” he says. “But, when I went to OSU I ended up finishing pretty much near the top of my class in business.”

That led to a stint with Pepsi. Newport was working for the beverage company in marketing when Bend-area business leader Jim Schell sought him out. Schell, an entrepreneur and co-author of Small Business for Dummies (who still says on his Linkedin profile that “my favorite thing to do is to connect the dots,”) enticed Newport to consider working with a Bend- area company.

“He called me up and said, ‘Crazy Pete, have I got a perfect project for you.’” Newport recalls.
Soon Newport was the general manager of Breedlove Guitar, with a plan to earn more of the company each year moving forward.

“It was nightmare for three years,” Newport said. “Then we finally figured out how to grow it profitably.”

He also began slowly buying out investors. He became the chief executive and over the course of 11 years bought out most of the partners what he calls a “a great formula for budding entrepreneurs.”
Those wonderful, chaotic, 100-percent growth years soon followed and Breedlove Guitar Company became known as an industry leader. The company’s 500,000 annual sales hit $10 million and Newport sold it.
The experience helped craft Newport’s personal vision, combining his love for Oregon, its signature products and all the state has to offer in terms of lifestyle, recreation and environment.

“I really like niches where we can execute being number 1 or number 2 in quality, so we can dominate it,” Newport says.

The question that had once depressed Newport now enthralled him. What’s next? He wondered.

Method to the “madness”

Crazy Pete isn’t all that crazy when you get right down to it.

Like most successful entrepreneurs, he’s learned to combine his passions with past experiences to build success. But Newport kept the nickname given to him decades earlier while working at Pepsi.

“One day they called me the ‘Crazy Pete ‘and it just stuck. I thought it was kinda funny because I wasn’t really that crazy. But then I saw a definition for crazy as simply being open to another point of view,” says the perpetual pot stirrer. “It also gives me a lot of license.”

whitewaterJust as riding whitewater in a kayak, Newport keeps a fixed gaze on how best to navigate. He credits a book he read that said to be truly happy as an entrepreneur one must “design your dream customer,” Newport recalls.

“That was probably the most significant hit over the head I’ve had in forty years. I read that line and that changed everything. I was so excited to get a white board out and trying to fill it out,” he says.
That effort funneling down to a list of businesses where he could work with his dream customer. The list was short. One name long in fact. Sawyer Paddles and Oars in Talent.

“I used to work at Sawyer,” he said. “I wondered if they were still kicking.”

He sent an email to the company’s owner, Bruce Bergstrom. When he didn’t hear back immediately, he called. When he got an answering machine, he started driving to southern Oregon. On the way he called again and then again until at last Bergstrom picked up.

“I said, ’Hey, teach me how to run the company and I’ll help you retire.’ And it was kinda silent for a while then he said, ‘we’re gonna need some beer.’”

They met that day in May 2011 and penciled out a plan.

“Then we made it happen,” Newport says.

Playing in unison

The similarities between Breedlove Guitars and Sawyer Paddles and Oars are hard to miss, starting with the names: both remain branded by the vision of their respective owners who lived in Oregon and saw the opportunity to stunning craftsmanship into niche products of exceptional quality.

Both needed a healthy amount of Crazy Pete’s chaos to truly scale into a leader in their respective niche market.

“I love the initial quality,” he says of Sawyer but could equally be speaking of Breedlove. “We have dramatically improved the consistency and global excellence.”

To scale these niche manufacturing businesses takes more than pot stirring. Newport again is relying on his past experiences. At Breedlove the guitars were known for its innovative graduated top and bridge truss construction. At Sawyer the company has made innovations around some of their paddles that improves their competitive edge, Newport says. The company intersected with the rapid growing Stand Up Paddleboard markets through innovation becoming the first to create a tapered oval carbon fiber shaft. The tapering cuts the weight by 30 percent, Newport says, while the oval shaping makes it less fatiguing.

“The oval allows you to relax your grip so you don’t have to work so hard to aim it where you want it to go,” he says. “It’s probably the best racing paddle in the country right now.”

Shane Perrin, founder of SUP St. Louis, backs up Newport’s claim.

Perrin says he is considering changing his entire fleet over to the Storm Stand Up Paddle, which he describes as “ultra-tough.”

Equally important is a crucial factor often associated with Sawyer.

“Made in the USA,” Perrin says. “Says it all right there. I love that they are made there in Oregon.”
According to Sarah Layton, CEO of the Corporate Strategy Institute, Inc. , quality is spurring the comeback of American manufacturing.

“We conducted an informal survey of manufacturing CEOs, and the general consensus is that manufacturing will make a comeback in the US. The reason is partly because of perceived poor quality coming out of other countries, mostly China,” she forecasted.

Perrin is proof of that trend.

sawyer-oars“It’s been sad to watch companies that originated making their products here and then source through China so they can make more money,” Perrin says. “Almost always that product’s quality declines.”
Among the other moves Newport made to launch Sawyer’s growth curve was connecting directly to those like Perrin. To do that, he aggressively recruited Kauffman whose connection to the company goes back 30 years as an outfitter and guide trainer. Newport enticed Kauffman with the opportunity of ownership through sweat equity, a typically entrepreneurial move that has worked out as well as he could have imagined.

Like Perrin, Todd Freitag, owner of Grassy Knob Guide and Outfitters in Bandon, Oregon, knew Kauffman for several years. Sawyer sponsored Freitag’s steelhead tournament and Freitag serves as a regional ambassador. He speaks with intimate knowledge of his favorite product a square v-lamb top oar.

“It’s an absolute beautiful piece of wood,” Freitag says. “When I first saw them I couldn’t believe them. It’s almost like a piece of art. When you run those oars down the river you always attract attention.”
Freitag is quick to point his fellow river rats to Sawyer.

“There’s a lot of other great products in other states to, but let’s try to employ those craftsman who are local first. There’s tons of stuff in Oregon,” Freitag says.

New rivers to run

So the age old question of what to do with his life has become increasingly clear amid the chaos, Newport says. He wants to run a $100 million company in Oregon and has a typical turbulent way to meet his goal. It starts with becoming the mayor of Gold Hill, a town of 1,200 residents that sits on less than a square mile of land in Jackson County.

“I’m a die-hard Oregonian,” he says. “I think Gold Hill will be the coolest town in the world. Ten years from now it will be known as the best place in the world… it already has the best white water on the Rogue.”

The wannabe mayor is quick to list Gold Hill’s vision and virtues, from recreational marriages, a new parks plan, a 5,000-seat amphitheater that he hopes will rival the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, Ore.
“That’s where Sawyer as a brand belongs and it will become a $10 million company. Then all we need to do it cherry-pick ten other $10 million companies. As the mayor I’ll have reached my goal.”

Turbulent? Chaotic? Crazy? You bet. Doable? No doubt about it for Crazy Pete Newport. He’s seen it clearly and even drawn the whole thing up, a necessary first step for any entrepreneur with a dream, he insists.

“Anytime I start a project I take a poster board and draw a picture of the company in the future. I put it right next to my desk so anyone can see it,” he says. When we make a decision we ask, ‘does that get us closer to that picture or further away?’ It so easy to see when you have an image of what you’re going to become.”

For more information, visit http://www.paddlesandoars.com, follow Sawyer on Twitter, like Sawyer on Facebook, or follow Sawyer on Instagram.