By Karen Hery
From home studios, industrial work space and retail shops, a hidden web of resources supports the “made here” items that define the creative side of inner SE Portland.
Without a large marketing budget or big media campaign, many locally-made items and entire local industries are quietly off the radar, missing from those Portland travel brochures and not yet a part of our everyday bragging rights to friends and relatives.
Before the goat blocks are built up four stories high, we can still travel up Belmont past 11th and 12th and look out over the unassuming heart of our inner city metal and woodworking industry.
Everything from molding and trim for local houses to made-to-order furniture and wooden cellphone cases comes from within the boundaries of Water St. to SE 12th and 84 to Powell Blvd.
A community network lies behind many of the made-right-here success stories.
Family business owners like Mike Redmond from Creative Woodworking NW work to protect and preserve that community network.
Urban density and residential pressures are moving in on our most productive places, like the Central Eastside Industrial district, where some of the strongest local business growth is happening.
Mike Redmond made his journey from leasing a small shop space in a residential area to a much larger presence now in the heart of the Central Eastside Industrial District with 37,000 square feet of owned shop and office space.
He’s working hard to leave it all as a legacy for his four children who already work side by side with him, his wife and a tight crew of fourteen employees.
Redmond has a supportive, paternal eye on younger company founders like Malaki Melbourn, the force behind Against the Grain, who has been making hand -crafted reclaimed wood furniture since 2009.
“Malaki is running a micro business that is ready and needing to grow,” says Redmond. “Can he grow into the Central East Side Industrial district like I did? I don’t know.”
Redmond hopes the upcoming Comprehensive Plan will relieve rather than increase the mixed use pressures near downtown to better solidify industrial zoning in and around the river front area.
To Redmond, the right moves now for the best mix of future land uses could mean many more micro, growing and established industrial businesses which in turn, allow more Portland working folk to have meaningful, above average Oregon wage work they can feel good about.
Home is often where the leaders and innovators of our local apparel industry get their feet under them. As with metalwork and woodworking, a behind the scenes community of resources is quietly helping to give them legs.
Rita Hudson-Evalt can claim pizza delivery jobs and a lot of finally paid internships as stepping stones to having her own nationally-distributed line of clothing and becoming the newest owner of the all local designer clothing boutique, Union Rose, at SE 79th and Stark St.
She’s grateful for the education and connections she’s received from the Apparel Design Department of Oregon State University where she graduated in 2008, and especially grateful to Nicole Prevost, the previous owner of Union Rose, for letting her bring in items for sale on consignment as she grew her skills and confidence.
Hudson-Evalt’s clothing makes up only 15% of the items for sale at Union Rose. There are over thirty other local designer’s clothes on the racks and local art on the walls.
The answer to one simple question says it all: where is most of this local clothing made?
Local clothing comes from all corners of Portland – initially from home work spaces and then, with luck and wit, from small industrial studio spaces.
Hudson-Evalt and two other women share studio space with a part-time studio manager and some hourly help with fabric cutting. With her promotional materials in the care of a national rep, Hudson-Evalt’s clothing is now sold in Seattle, Chicago and Wisconsin. The money she earns flows right back into Portland.
Purchasing her clothing is an investment in quality over quantity. Price tags in the Union Rose range from $120 to $180 for each well-designed and well-made dress.
“There isn’t a single part of the process that is unskilled labor,” she says. Even the cutter is getting $15 an hour because she needs to know how to cut with the grain of the fabric. Finer material, bought in smaller batches brings costs up too.”
All local designer clothing shops are a rare treasure. Places like Twill on Belmont near Zupan’s offer a mix of locally- made and well-sourced, mostly US clothing to help provide a wider range of prices.
Flip Side Hats, have been expanding and growing into more retail and wholesale production space at 45th and Belmont, keeps its consumer costs and production waste down by sewing with remnants from other company’s clothing projects.
“There are many, many cities with talented people,” says Hudson-Evalt. “We are just extra willing to catch our dreams here in Portland. We tell each other to go for it and it works.”
Grovemade, the makers of hardwood business accessories including thin, durable wooden cellphone cases made from local Oregon Claro Walnut, was started by friends Joe Mansfield and Ken Tomita in 2009.
Their workshops were across the street from one another, and, as their founding story goes, they would toss a football in the street, brainstorming and trying to one-up each other’s design ideas.
Mansfield began in digital art and laser engraving and Tomita worked in one of the inner SE’s more common trades, furniture design and fabrication. These days they flirt around with art, design, craftsmanship, and natural materials with passing neighbors not even knowing who or where they are.
You’d be much more likely to find Grovemade hardwood business accessories online than to stumble across the entrance to their shop. The company name isn’t even on their design and production space on Stark St. They get more people through the front door looking for the two previous users of the space, a hydroponics shop and a roll up door company, than customers of their own growing business.
It is often this kind of quiet, behind the scenes, challenging, but rewarding journey that brings a Portland product from home to studio to a local and national presence.
It will continue to work when the Comprehensive Plan we lay out together provides and protects the kind of zoning that allows for stepping stones from home studio to Columbia Sportswear, from that one person shop to the wider transportation channels needed for larger volume manufacturing and distribution.
To follow Comp Plan development for the SE Quadrant, log onto www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/62130