A couple of hundred years ago, the Oregon Trail was a mecca for pioneers looking for new opportunities and who were ready to do things their way.
"Today, that pioneer spirit is alive and well in our Maker culture," says Marcus Hibdon of Travel Portland. "The city’s artisans are creating goods by hand because they’re passionate about what they’re making, whether it’s leather, wood, design or even craft beer. It’s become a signature of Portland because it’s the city’s lifestyle that allows them to live and thrive here."
The Maker culture is so prevalent in Portland, there’s a MadeHere PDX store, a Portland Made website and Kelley Roy’s book, Portland Made: The Makers of Portland’s Manufacturing Renaissance, all dedicated to the people and companies bringing back American manufacturing.
Here are ten Portland makers who aren’t just making art. They’re also making a difference. And because their work is unique and responsible – and there’s no sales tax in Oregon, by the way – you just may feel like making a purchase or two.
The #adventureblanket can go with you anywhere — Photo courtesy of Belmont Blanket
After learning that nothing innovative had been introduced in the field since down comforters burst on the scene in the 1970s, Kerry Cotter set out to create the best all-purpose blanket ever. And, in the tradition of great Portland makers, he succeeded.
The #adventureblanket is a game-changer. Not only does it look great and feel amazing, but it’s actually waterproof – put to the test in rainy Portland, where each blanket is hand cut and sewn.
Plus, it’s washable. Yes, even the Legacy blankets made with local Pendleton wool can be washed clean of sand, dog hair, grass, whatever. You’ll definitely want to keep one in your car but you’ll probably also want to keep one near you at all times.
The bestselling Oregon Pint by North Drinkware — Photo courtesy of North Drinkware
A Kickstarter success story – in 2015, three friends received more than half a million dollars in pre-orders for their eye-popping Oregon Pint glass – North Drinkware designs and produces handblown glasses featuring iconic mountains in their base.
Inspired by the immediately recognizable peaks of Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, Half Dome, Maroon Bells and Camel’s Hump, North uses the most accurate USGS data to create their stunning molds. They’re lead-free, dishwasher safe and come in both 16 ounce pints and 8 ounce tumblers.
Each glass is one-of-a-kind, and the easiest way to conquer any of these breathtaking mountains.
Orox Leather Co.
The new collection by Orox Leather Co. — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Four generations of the Martinez family have led to this highly-respected company which makes some of the most beautiful leather goods you’ve ever seen.
Proudly working together in their Old Town Portland workshop/retail shop, Jose, Martin, Levi, Kevin, Jackeline and John Carey remain true to their Oaxaca, Mexico roots while redefining modern style.
Pay them a visit to see, touch and smell their handcrafted pieces that will never go out of fashion. Talk to them about how baseball and sushi have influenced them, and pick up a $10 how-did-you-ever-live-without-this Citus Cord Minder for every person you owe a gift to.
Pigeon Toe Ceramics
Unique woven lanterns will spruce up your space — Photo courtesy of Pigeon Toe Ceramics
Determined to move away from mass production and show people the beauty inherent in personally-crafted everyday objects, Lisa Jones took matters into her own skilled hands.
Each piece in her Pigeon Toe collection combines form and function in a thoughtful and unexpected way. Her bestselling Woven Lanterns add the texture of twined round reed to her gracefully-curved ceramics, shedding lovely, patterned candlelight when lit or, when it’s not, simply acting as a reminder to take a moment to appreciate the beauty around you.
Keep warm in this Kate Poncho - Royal Fringe — Photo courtesy of Garnish
Erica Lurie has been designing clothes since she was six years old and won a ribbon for her work at the Vermont State Fair.
Lurie is all about female empowerment and her pieces – expertly-tailored shapes that flatter a woman’s body – are modern classics. She designs in limited editions so you won’t see your outfits on a million others.
When you walk into Garnish, her welcoming Pearl District boutique, you’ll be treated like an A-lister – which is exactly what you’ll feel like when you walk out wearing something that seems like it was custom-made just for you.
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Wood&Faulk's flagship Northwesterner bag — Photo courtesy of Wood&Faulk
The company may be named after the Kansas intersection where designer Matt Pierce originally honed his craft, but it’s pure Portland, creating artisan pieces – like the flagship Northwesterner waxed canvas and leather bag – that are as practical as they are beautiful.
Pierce is a tinkerer at heart, and his Portland workshop is where his travel bags and accessories are both designed and manufactured. The attention to detail is impeccable and the rugged, yet sophisticated style unmatched.
Ink & Tailor
The Portland-inspired "Steel Tied" scarf — Photo courtesy of Ink & Tailor
Because she couldn’t narrow down her creative interests – photography, textile design, graphics, fashion – to just one area, Maya von Geldern decided to combine them all in a collection of flowing photographic printed scarves meant to be draped, wrapped and admired.
Her fashion company, Ink & Tailor, offers wearable pieces of art that tell stories captured through the lens of her camera. Von Geldern has an amazing eye for color and composition, and she is inspired daily by Portland, a city rich in art, architecture and nature.
Her Steel Tied scarf is an homage to “Bridgetown” – the city’s nickname – and is the perfect representation of von Geldern’s talent for bridging art and fashion.
betsy & iya
Gorgeous handmade jewelry perfect for gifting — Photo courtesy of Betsy & Iya
Betsy Cross first wrote "jewelry making" in her notebook in 2008 as a lofty goal and today her company, betsy & iya, handcrafts 500 pieces each week in Portland’s old Ideal Theatre building, which serves as their retail shop and studio.
Known for making designer jewelry accessible to everyone, both in price and aesthetic, betsy & iya creates highly-coveted small-batch collections in which you can almost feel the artist’s hand. Check out the must-have Bridge Cuff Bracelets featuring some of the country’s great spans, from the Brooklyn Bridge to Portland’s own Fremont Bridge.
Canby Stone frames — Photo courtesy of Shwood Eyewear
Inspired by its natural Pacific Northwest surroundings, Shwood handcrafts wooden sunglasses and prescription frames that let their sustainably-sourced materials take a starring role.
What started as Ryan Kirkpatrick’s experiment with the limb of a Madrone tree has turned into a celebration of craftsmanship, elevating a traditional process into an art form. Each pair of glasses is a conversation starter, and the Canby Stone – made of real stone! – is a vision in itself.
Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.
Schoolhouse Electric is lighting up Portland — Photo courtesy of Schoolhouse Electric
Brian Faherty founded Schoolhouse Electric in 2003 after restoring a long-lost collection of cast-iron glass shade molds he discovered in an abandoned warehouse.
Working out of a century-old brick factory building in Portland, he and his team continue to create the next generation of heirloom-quality lighting, furniture and household items. This is design with a purpose, focusing on quality and craftsmanship. Each piece is meant to be enjoyed and passed down, replete with its own stories and memories.