I’ve put together a list of helpful national and local Portland, OR and Seattle, WA resources for mental health and suicide prevention. This list reflects that there is no one-size fits all solution — text or online chat may be a better option for somebody who doesn’t have privacy to talk, and with “warmlines,” people may wish to seek help even if their life is not imminently in danger. Please let me know if any of these links are broken, or if you have new ones to suggest. Thank you, and be well.
Founding Members of the St. John’s Suicide Prevention Team: Elizabeth Gadwa, Laura Bee, and Kristen Gray
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Telephone and online chat available.
https://www.nami.orgNAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Oregon NAMI Chapter:https://namior.org/
http://gettrainedtohelp.com – Suicide First Aid. Free trainings in suicide prevention for the general public, youth workers, and more. Includes the ASIST curriculum.
Me, standing under the St. John’s Bridge in my neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. The bridge is the site of weddings, festivals, film shoots, and deaths.
How to Save a Million Lives
It starts with being visible.
April 18, 2018
In anyone’s memory, certain dates stand out forever.
I remember standing in my aunt and uncle’s sunny family room in San Mateo, California on April 18, 2018. That was when the customer service rep on the phone told me I did not qualify for life insurance. This was a problem. In fact, it was a huge problem. It meant I would not be able to obtain what is called “Key Man” Insurance, which shields professional investors in case of the accidental or untimely death of the CEO or other essential team members. Key Man Insurance is a must for any startup seeking serious investor funding (seed round or VC). Unknowingly, I had raised funds from friends and family for a venture that could not succeed with me at the helm.
I checked it out. I got a second quote. It didn’t matter that I was healthy and had managed the condition successfully for 19 years.
This wasn’t a case of bias, or stigma. It was a numbers game. The diagnosis is bipolar disorder. The reason I couldn’t get life insurance was that my diagnosis carries a 15 – 20% lifetime fatality rate. That means that as many as one in five people with bipolar disorder may die by suicide. (National Institute of Mental Health, as cited by DBSA.)
If present trends continue, over 855,000 of the 5.7 million individuals living today with bipolar disorder in the U.S will die by suicide. That’s almost a million people.
We are living in the middle of an epidemic. And one ever seems to notice.
Our company’s investor woes seemed pretty trivial in comparison.
Which brings me to the other date. Just over a year ago.
October 17, 2018
On that single day, in my home city of Portland, Oregon, we lost three people to suicide. One of the deaths happened a few hundred feet from my apartment, when a woman jumped off the St. John’s Bridge. I found out when I heard the sirens and saw the flashing red lights. I took some roses out of a vase, went outside, walked down the hill, and put the roses by the police line.
For me, that death brought home the reality of the suicide epidemic in America. I don’t know whether any of the three people who died had a diagnosis, but given the high risk factor and the fact that 1 in 23 Americans are bipolar, it is likely. Suicide fatality rates are actually higher for people with bipolar disorder than for those with unipolar depression(NCBI). Because suicide is a social epidemic, the death of one individual can result in the deaths of other individuals, who may not even share the same diagnosis. There a lot of reasons why this post has been hard for me to write. One of them is that this year, in the time since I started writing this blog post, about three weeks ago, I learned of two other likely suicides in my home communities: one here in Oregon and one in Massachusetts. The taboo around speaking about suicide is strong, just like the taboo against discussing bipolar disorder. I went to a walk this month by the American Society for Suicide Prevention. It’s a worthy event, and it does a lot of good for survivors. But nowhere — nowhere — was bipolar disorder mentioned as a cause or a killer. Talking about America’s suicide epidemic without talking about bipolar is like trying to talk about heart disease and never mentioning high blood pressure.
Last fall it felt like the bodies were literally dropping from overhead. Those deaths, in particular the one so close to home, jolted me out of complacency. I kept thinking to myself, “If fifteen percent of bipolar people are dying by suicide, why don’t we hear about it? Why aren’t we doing more to stop it?”
I had been marked as a plague victim and I didn’t even know it.
I found a replacement CEO for my startup. After stepping down, my plan had been to take a course or two in data science and rejoin the corporate world. Instead, I found myself on an entirely different path. I earned a certification in Life Coaching, another as a Peer Support Specialist, and completed the excellent QPR suicide prevention training which is offered for free to lay people in the Portland area. The goal: work part time coaching bipolar and entrepreneurial clients from around the world. Spend the rest of my time building something cool.
The crazy thing is, one year later it actually seems to have worked.
The people I have coached confound my expectations. They are C-level executives, computer programmers, bankers, and accountants. Leave every expectation you have surrounding bipolar people and their temperament or personality type at the door. Just know, above all, we are here. And there are a lot of us. The recovery rate for bipolar disorder is 80%. (Health Central) Mostly you can’t tell us apart from anybody else. Because when the medication works well for us, like most other Americans, we’d much rather concentrate on our lives and families and hobbies than on getting riled up with anything that resembles activism.
Coaching is intense. I have had more than one occasion where the client burst into tears during the first session. Unlike therapy, the emphasis is on achieving short term goals. Most of my service offerings are designed to last 3-6 sessions, although some clients stay on much longer. I think my favorite sessions are the outdoor fitness sessions, where we do the coaching during an hourlong walk or hike. I never agree to work with a client unless they are also seeing a licensed doctor clinician. Confidentiality is key. In the event of a situation where someone’s safety is at risk or where someone expresses suicidal thoughts, I will of course contact emergency services, as well as other members of a client’s care team.
Whatever assorted coaching gurus may promise, my type of coaching certainly won’t make you rich. That’s not why I do it. I don’t know at this point whether it’s going to be a sideline when I return to the tech world, or a permanent, full-time gig. I just know that it’s important for bipolar people to be visible.
This is where the saving lives come in. It’s not really about the coaching, although I believe it’s important and meaningful work. It’s about being visible, and letting people know that bipolar gets better. Coming out is risky, and it has a cost. You may not get asked out on that second date. As a programmer the last thing you want is your supervisor wondering what medications you were taking when you pushed that last commit! But I’ve come to believe that the cost of silence is greater. Silence equals death. Stigma equals death.
Here’s how we can save one million lives over the next generation:
1.) Make stigma against bipolar people unacceptable. End the jokes. Stop using bipolar as shorthand for a personality disorder. Educate yourselves. This shouldn’t be my job, as the person with the disability, but I need to take responsibility first and foremost for my own actions. I am not “out” in every professional or social social situation, but I try to live my life in a way that I can communicate to others, who may be more closeted, that there is hope.
2.) Improve quality and access to mental health care. Bipolar people face special challenges. We encounter more stigma than people with depression or anxiety disorders, and if we are misdiagnosed, the consequences can be serious. But all mental health conditions deserve treatment on a par with physical health. The quality of generic medications has taken an alarming dive. I have experienced these issues myself, and heard alarming reports from others. Legal or regulatory action must be taken to ensure that vulnerable populations do not suffer.
3.) Work for a cure. Amazingly, for a disease that affects millions of Americans and people the world over, we still do not understand the causes of bipolar disorder. It receives only a fraction of the federal funding for diseases with a similar mortality rate. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry shows off its latest advances: a pill with a tracking device to make sure the patient complies and takes their medication. We are solving for the wrong goal here.
You may have noticed that the beginning of this piece promised to tell you how to save one million lives. And you may have noticed that based on the figures above, we’re still 145,000 lives short. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that bipolar people, when we are well and healthy, save lives.
The reason is that bipolar people are our best and our brightest. We are leaders. We are artists, We are entrepreneurs and innovators. We are mystics. We are heroes. We feel deeply, and we act on the courage of our convictions. From Winston Churchill to Kanye West, the names of famous bipolar people read like a roll call. Bipolar people who are able to live out their lives to their fullest potential will design lifesaving vaccines, help mitigate climate change, and create songs and stories that sustain and offer hope for an imperiled planet. We give back every day. We are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, teachers and mentors, some of the best and most loyal friends you will ever find. We are generous. We go the extra mile. Maybe we are still trying to prove we are “good enough.” Maybe deep down we know that we different, and also blessed. There is a reason we are in this genome.
We have so much to give, and we are irreplaceable.
Illustrator and puppeteer Geahk Burchill is homeless. That hasn’t stopped him from telling his story. A Portland resident for 18 years, and local to the St. John’s neighborhood since 2005, he spoke with us about his experiences and shared his newest project, a webcomic called Trucked Up.
How long have you been in Portland, Oregon?
I first moved to Portland, from Oakland, California, in May 2001 because of a sun allergy. I made the decision after getting a bad sunburn that February and felt like I could choose a place less difficult for me. I loved Portland instantly but didn’t have much savings. A minor fender-bender drained what saving I had and I spent a few months living in my VW van. Fortunately, I got work as a carpenter, and an apartment, relatively quickly. I had no idea it wouldn’t be the last time I was homeless.
Dr. Hadrian in his Library. (Photo: David Emmite)
I moved to St. Johns in 2005 after starting a marionette company. I worked days for Michael Curry Design, and nights on my own puppets, building up a small theater company. In 2010 I left Curry to start my own design/build business and did reasonably well until about 2013 when I received less and less work. By 2014 I had a personal unraveling after working very long hours and losing money on multiple jobs. I let go of my house, first, and lived in my studio; in late 2017 I lost the studio as well. I converted the old puppet-truck into a live/work space and put everything in storage.
Describe your current living situation.
Oakland, where Burchill grew up.
I live in a decommissioned bread truck in which I built a bed, a kitchen, and work space. I took all the tools which used to make up my studio and made a condensed wood shop to try and continue getting work. For a long time I was parking on the street, moving the truck constantly, from spot to spot, to avoid cops. It made jobs difficult and I delivered projects late. That made it harder to get further work. It was also deeply demoralizing.The body of the truck is aluminum. In the summer it’s an oven inside, and a freezer now that it’s winter. In October the truck broke down and I had to have it towed. It’s now parked in the side yard of a friend, whom I pay to use utilities. Even at the amount he’s charging, I’m often late paying. It’s still a very unstable situation. I’m looking forward to repairing the truck, if I can, and having a bit more control over my life again.
Would you describe yourself as homeless?
I’m not sleeping rough. I’ve made my space as comfortable as I can. I have my cat, who sleeps on a heating pad, and my art desk, which I built to perfectly suit me. I have a microwave, and toaster oven, to make hot meals; an electric kettle for coffee. It’s about as cozy as homelessness can get but there’s a lot of room for improvement. It leaks in places. It was unsafe at times. Someone cut my gas line and stole fuel in the middle of one night while I was inside. It’s old and unreliable. At the same time, it represents a certain amount of freedom. I like the space despite its problems. I can see myself driving to jobs in the future and working out of the back.
Your artistic style for the panels of “Trucked Up” is amazing. What is your process, and what tools do you use?
I started with traditional materials. I grew up poor and my medium was usually pen on copy paper. Five simple supplies. Paper, a good pen, a blue pencil, an eraser and a ruler. Later I began drawing with nib-pen on translucent vellum with India ink. That allowed me to sketch on cheap paper and then trace onto the expensive vellum with the nice dip pen for really crisp results.
I currently can’t do anything very messy in the truck, but I did an ad project a few months ago which earned me enough money to buy an iPad with Apple Pencil. I then recreated the way the vellum and dip-pen work in an app called Procreate. It allows me to be very portable and draw in cafes, where I can get wifi access.
Unfortunately, I bought the iPad just before the truck broke down. For a while I was kicking myself. It was a lot of money, but as I’ve kept drawing, I feel it was the only choice to keep me motivated and focused on the future. It’s become the tool I use for everything, including this comic I’ve started. I’m learning to animate and make videos for YouTube. It’s my connection to future work. A little bit of a security blanket too.
How has living in a truck impacted your artistic journey (thematically, pragmatically, etc.)?
Though I started drawing comics when I was fairly young, most of my career has been spent with sculpture and engineering. I’ve made puppets for nearly twenty years, including sewing the costumes, and painting the sets. In the truck I’ve been forced to narrow my focus to what I could accomplish in the space. Drawing and writing, mostly.
Even traditional drawing is hard to do in the truck. Ink gets too thick to use in the cold. My career has been built upon getting new work out often. It has to be in the internet age. Returning to comics is something I can accomplish with limited space, wifi, and access to power. It’s also a way to process the frustration and panic I frequently feel about my situation.
I’ve always talked about poverty, to one extent or another, in my work, but now it’s in sharp focus. I find so many situations that are darkly funny about the basic things I struggle with.
I have far more comic ideas than I’ll ever have time to draw. I’ve also wanted to do a video game which utilizes real scenarios I’ve found myself in as puzzle elements. So much of this is MacGuyvering my way through problems that come up. The comics are accomplishable though. Each one takes about five hours, which I can find time for. It’s a resource I have.
What’s next for “Trucked Up?”
I’ll keep drawing and posting to Instagram and Webtoons. I see there are some people who make decent money, once they get noticed, and build a following. I’m currently working on a mural for a client and that’s my main source of income, but it would be great if I could have something more stable and reliable. My income has been feast-or-famine for ten years, with almost constant stress. It would be nice to have some consistent money that I could plan for the future with.
I feel like I have a lot of ideas which extend beyond the scope of just living in the truck. I have a lot of life stories. Just the autobiographical content is enough for hundreds, or thousands of future comics, not to mention all the fictional stories I’d like to tell. Plus there are educational and instructional ideas I have. I’ve been teaching puppets over the years, and I can fold that into didactic drawings, maybe into a book.
Lennie & George from Of Mice and Men (Performed in 2012)
But this is really only the beginning. Would you like to take two hours out of your busy schedule and learn how to save a life? We are please to announce a free training available in our community. The two-hour “Suicide First Aid” class, offered through http://gettrainedtohelp.com, a tri-county initiative, is for lay people. No special background is required. It teaches essential skills for responding if somebody you know or love has reached out and appears to be at risk. The one-time session will be held in the evening, from 6-8 PM on Tuesday, January 15. 2019, at Vision 8 Studios at Cathedral Park Place. Training is open to all residents of Portland, OR and the surrounding area; however St. John’s residents have priority. The training is for everyone aged 18 and over.
Interview with Portland comics artist Andrea Rosales
Artist Andrea Rosales
Can you summarize for our readers briefly what happens in Nine Twilights?
Nine Twilights is a magical girls meets Norse mythology coming-of-age action adventure webcomic series written by Anne Mortensen-Agnew, drawn by myself, and edited by Chris Hansbrough.
The comic tells the story of 16-year old Wanda Dusekova, a Romani girl from the Czech Republic who discovers that she is the modern reincarnation of the Norse god Odin. With her mentor Baldur (The Norse god of light and life, and her son from her previous life as Odin), she has to journey across the world to find the other reincarnated Norse gods (other teenage gals) to join her in fighting against various monsters and beasts from Norse folklore such as draugar and frost giants in order to prevent a second Ragnarok brought about by an unknown foe.
This comic isn’t your usual coming of age story as Wanda and her friends have to not only navigate their own lives, but they also have to deal with the consequences of the decisions they made with their past lives as the Norse gods. Each of the girls have different circumstances compared to their past lives and it makes a great difference in the types of decisions they make as they come to terms with their new powers and responsibilities.
The central theme of the comic is being better than you were before, and having the courage to make the right choices having a second chance at life. This comic explores those themes of redemption and internal strength in depth.
Many of our lifelong passions and inspirations can be seen in the pages of Nine Twilights. This comic is inspired greatly by the likes of Sailor Moon, Thor, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to name a few. What we were drawn to in these stories were the ideas of reluctant protagonists struggling to find their way as heroes, making sacrifices to do the right things, and growing in tremendous ways as individuals.
How did you and the writer and the editor find each other and begin working together on this project?
Anne and I know each other from college. We both went to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California and were introduced to each other by mutual friends within the animation program there. I was a graphic design major and animation minor and Anne was a screenwriting major, so we find a lot of common ground and overlap in our interest in wanting to tell stories via comics and animation. Anne and Chris met online by arguing about a long-dead RPG video game series from Konami (Suikoden). That argument turned into a friendship and Anne told Chris that she had a concept for a comic series. Chris told Anne he was a comics editor and they teamed up and went about their search for an artist. In the summer of 2014, they came to me, Anne recalling my interest in creating comics, and the rest is history. We started working on concept art of the comic in late 2014 and early 2015 and made our launch in fall of 2015. Our first chapter concluded in early 2017. Currently we are in the middle of chapter two and our teamwork and friendship is going on strong. We meet pretty regularly to chat story, go over pages, coordinate social media promotions and plan convention appearances.
How has your time in Portland shaped your artistic style and evolution as a creator?
I think that growing up in Portland shaped my artistic evolution significantly in that the fact that it was almost always raining meant that I was indoors much of the time, reading and/or drawing. All those rainy days resulted in many drawings and paintings! I grew up in the Aloha/Beaverton area and I fondly recall my parents often taking my siblings and I to the libraries near us. It was my love of reading that inspired me to want to tell stories of my own. I also loved spending days at Powell’s City of Books downtown and perusing through galleries in the Old Town Chinatown area and around the Pearl District. I always gravitated towards comics and the presence of comic shops and major comics publishers has been a significant source of inspiration to me. Growing up in Portland definitely meant I read a lot of comics. I went to university and lived in Los Angeles for a few years before moving back in 2016. Since coming back to the area it has been incredible to see how much the area has grown and changed. I’ve certainly taken notice of the growing big comics scene here of incredible creators and it’s something I’m excited to be a part of. I think Portland has always been a major hub for creative folks from all walks of life and from all sorts of different places and I hope it will continue to remain so for the foreseeable future.
As a woman and person of color in comics, do you feel like you have a supportive community in the local region?
As a woman I’ve definitely noticed a really encouraging community of ladies making rad comics and I’m over the moon that I’ve been able to befriend many of these fantastic artists through conventions and I look forward to meeting even more! I feel like I’m greatly supported with the friends I’ve been able to meet through comic-creators meetup groups around town. I like to frequent “Crafty Night” on Tuesday evenings brought to my attention by the amazing Rebecca Hicks of Little Vampires Comics and I love hanging out with the PDX Comic Crew Group organized by incredible Nichole Robinson that meets every Thursday night at the Books With Pictures comics shop. Being a part of these groups has helped me a lot in being able to combat the sense of isolation I’ve tended to feel in creating comics. I’ve been making comics on my own for a while and it’s really nice to feel like there are places I can go to work on them with other creators, I’m far from so many of my friends still in Los Angeles, and in other places, and while I keep in touch with them, I have also made new friends in Portland and it’s great to be a part of this growing community. This year I’ve been able to connect with incredible comics creators such as Terry Blas (Dead Weight, Briar Hollow), and Luis Silva (Creatively Queer Press). I’ve met more Mexican comic artists and other creators of color and it’s refreshing to be able to meet folks who have similar experiences and share in my wish to create comics that are more inclusive and offer cultural representation for a new generation of comics readers. I’m endlessly impressed and appreciative of just how welcoming, supportive and encouraging these communities have been.
Who are your greatest influences?
My greatest influences art wise have been Marvel superhero comics, Studio Ghibli films, classic Disney animated films and Japanese shojo manga, as well as art nouveau, art deco, impressionism, Mexican folk-art. From all of these artistic styles and mediums, I’ve been drawn to the expressiveness and energy of characters, and the vibrancy of the colors. The compositions of these art styles and movements have also been exceptionally influential to my work as an illustrator, graphic designer and illustrator.
Out of all the Norse deities, who is your favorite?
Of the Norse deities, my favorite has to be Freyja, the goddess of love, fertility, beauty, wealth, wisdom, life and war. She’s a member of the Vanir, who were gods that specialized in fertility, wisdom and the ability to see into the future. I love very much that she rides around on a chariot drawn by cats. While Freyja is very revered among the gods and is graceful, her incarnation in the Nine Twilights is a bubbly, clumsy, energetic girl named Aishwarya “Aish” Narayan who loves playing games on her phone, taking selfies, and living her best life. To an outsider she seems to be taking a lackadaisical approach to life, but Aish is always ready to get down to business when monsters come to attack. The Aish/Freyja character is considered the “tank” of Wanda’s team of magical girls, as she has the strength to easily dual wield a giant battle-axe and a chain whip sword at the same time. It makes for some fun battle scenes to draw. While the Aish/Freya character hasn’t been introduced yet to the main Nine Twilights storyline, readers can see her in action in the Nine Twilights mini-comic up for sale on Gum-Road right now.
Interview with Queen Bee Creations founder Rebecca Pearcy
Can you describe the first bag that you made? How old were you?
Rebecca Pearcy outside her store.
I’m not sure what the first bag was that I made, but I do have a few sweet hand-sewn or crafted items that my mom saved from when I was tiny. My favorite is a little fabric elephant that is just so beautiful in that handmade by a child way that is inimitable. I was probably 3 or 4 when I made it? I have loved making things with my hands for as long as I can remember and my mom really fostered that in me. She is a fine artist and did all kinds of crafts with me growing up. Things really took off when I learned how to sew on a machine and I started sewing my own clothing, both from store-bought patterns and improvising my own designs. While I like to make and sew all kinds of things, sewing clothing is my favorite, so I didn’t start making the bags that led to Queen Bee until I was in my early 20’s. I used funky materials like fake fur, shiny vinyl, upholstery velvets, and vintage / upcycled materials. One of my first bag designs was a mini backpack out of shiny vinyl with a Wonder Woman comic image laminated and sewn onto the front with clear vinyl.
Who is the typical Queen Bee customer? Is there one?
I think a lot of our customers are similar to me – they are in my age range (I’m 45) and are pretty practical, so they want something that is functional, that is good quality, that will last, and expresses their sense of style or individuality. And they are excited to support a woman-owned business that they can feel connected to and good about.
Have you ever gotten pushback for using faux materials like vinyl instead of leather? Or do you find that consumers embrace the trend?
No, not really. Occasionally someone will scoff at the non-leather material but leather & faux-leather are entirely different beasts (so to speak). People choose them for different reasons. We are known for working with vinyl, which we did for many years, but a number of years ago we stopped making our bags with vinyl and switched to using PVC free faux-leathers. We also work with a lot of waxed canvas and some leather for handles and straps (along with non-leather options). Leather is an amazing material, in terms of it’s qualities and durability. Faux-leather is waterproof, a lot more affordable, and comes in lots of colors. It suits the rainy PNW active and non-fussy lifestyle well.
What inspired you to expand into screen printing?
In 1997, after I finished college in Washington, I went out to Philadelphia to do an apprenticeship at The Fabric Workshop. It totally changed my life – I felt like I had found something I really really loved. At the heart of my love of making is my love of fabrics. And at my apprenticeship I learned how to design patterns in repeat, make silkscreens of my designs, and print them in repeat on a 25 yard long table. It was so fun and satisfying to create my own fabric. Because of the space and equipment set up needed to do this type of printing, it took me a few years to get to the point where I could print my own fabric. That’s when I launched the Rebecca Pearcy Textiles line. Currently we have a 23’ long print table in our studio where we print all of our fabric. It’s still my favorite part of what we do and I’m working on expanding it even more to include apparel and more housewares.
Screen Printing in the Studio
How many people do you employ in Portland?
I have eight wonderful employees! They are an awesome team that include 2 production sewists, 2 production workers (cutting, prepping, finishing), 2 retail folks, an operations manager, and a bookkeeper. This small but mighty team does it all. We do all the designing, sewing, printing, production, shipping, website management, retail store buying and selling, marketing, managing the workflow, and management of the business itself.
The Studio from Above
Describe the role that Portland has had on your business and brand. Do you believe the city is still a viable home for small and emerging businesses?
Portland has been a great place to run a handmade, creative, small business. People here “get it” — many choose to live here because there’s so much going on in the creative / making realm and are stoked to support the businesses that make Portland, Portland. From attending college at Evergreen, to living and starting Queen Bee in Olympia, WA, to relocating to Portland in 2002, I have always thrived on the hotbed of creativity in the Pacific Northwest. But the way the city is changing and developing rapidly could pose a threat to businesses like mine being able to continue thriving. So that is cause for concern. Part of what made Portland so relatively easy was affordability, for space, for homes. If I was just opening my business right now and looking for space to operate out of, I’d be hard pressed. I hope that the city can preserve and value it’s artisans that bring people from all over the world so we can keep trucking on and keep making Portland a truly special place that offers diversity, variety, and beauty that you can’t find just anywhere.
Do you have a favorite handbag?
My current fave products of ours that I use the most are:
The Ramona Tote
The Becca Backpack
The Hip Holster
What designers and artists have influenced your work?
I’m a huge fan of Marimekko, for their amazing and colorful print designs, as well as Vera Neumann. And I love lots of Japanese fashion, design, and textiles. I admire Frietag for their business model of making one-of-a-kind bags from up cycled truck tarps – they were an early leader in this. I adore Bonnie Cashin bag designs from the 60’s / 70’s.
Tomorrow, a beloved St. John’s neighborhood restaurant, Dub’s St. John’s, will be closing. The decision to close was a matter of economics, the owners say. Even though they appeared busy and popular, they simply could not keep the doors open. I have spoken with the owner, and we hope to run an interview on their new catering business in the near future. But news of this closure got me thinking — or rather, it jumpstarted some thoughts that had been a long time rumbling.
I would like to invite you to a focus group about technology, community, and sustaining independent businesses. Time, location, and date TBA. Snacks and drinks provided.
The purpose of this session is to brainstorm actual features and requirements for a new app, to be developed for launch in January 2019. Format will be based on the IDEO design thinking methodology.
You are welcome to attend, if you are A) over 21; B) a resident of the Portland metro area; C) a user of the Internet and/or social media. We will cap the session at 20 respondents; if we get more than that we may organize additional sessions. We have about 270 person hours earmarked for this project, and we’re hoping to do something memorable and cool.
Please use the site’s contact form to respond if you are interested; let me know what times and dates are good, and also any dietary needs and preferences.
Who is Molly Muriel? What inspired you to choose that name?
The name Molly Muriel was inspired by my dog. That was her name, and she was my biggest inspiration when I started this company. She was just a pup back in 2002, and sadly left this Earth last year, at almost 16 years of age. So she had a very long and happy life. Her legacy lives on with this business, and she is still a great inspiration.
I read your story on the website. Can you tell us more about the journey from a candle making class to your own line of vegan soaps, balms, and cosmetics?
After spending a good year trying every kind of candle I could find info on, I wanted to branch out. I’m not sure why soap was my goal, but I quickly dove in and tried my first batch. Back then there wasn’t so much information online like we can find now, so I was reading books on fixed oils, fragrances, colorants, and pretty much tried them all. I truly feel that not being able to access so many recipes and info gave me a huge advantage of completely understanding the process of formulation and saponification from the ground up. Through many mistakes and troubleshooting came the beginnings of the product line that exists today.
What does being vegan mean to you? Do you personally practice a vegan lifestyle?
I’m not one to love labels, i.e. vegan, vegetarian, etc. I live my life more from a conscientious standpoint. I’m a clean eater, avoiding processed and chemical derived foods. As for environment, I try to avoid plastic when possible, and use as many recycled goods as possible. Veganism is such an individual thing and can mean different things to many people. Being a lover of animals, I do what I can to respect them in all of my life choices, including the food I eat, the clothes I choose to wear, and the goods I purchase.
What goes into your testing and product development process?
My process begins with research and development. I do a lot of investigation on ingredients I want to implement. I read about their nourishing attributes, as well as potential allergens or irritants. I also dive deep into sourcing to make sure that the ingredient that reaches me is the best quality. As for testing, my friends and family are usually my best test subjects. They give me honest feedback about scent, function, reactions, or anything else that may pertain. I’m so thankful to be surrounded by great people who will take the time to try some of my creations.
What are some of the challenges of marketing, manufacturing, and distributing an independent, plant-based brand in a crowded global marketplace?
Marketing is a huge part of business, it has the largest impact on getting my brand out there. It also happens to be my least favorite part of running a small business. But I’ve found that it’s very necessary to have a great marketing strategy or you won’t get the information about your products to the people that are looking for it. I’ve done everything from trade shows and cold calling to emailing and visiting potential stores in person to try to connect. It’s a lot of work, but can also be very rewarding. Manufacturing can be challenging as well, as I’ve gotten to points where I’ve had to purchase ingredients in larger quantities and make bigger batches, there’s always a learning curve with each step forward. I still go through that now, 16 years in! As for distribution, I’ve realized that my industry, natural beauty/body care, has been on the rise and will just keep going, so I don’t try to compete with large companies. I have a vey different product that will appeal to those folks that seek natural and healthy lifestyles. I do what I can and figure that beyond that the products will speak for themselves, and so far they have.
What are some gifts you would recommend for vegans? (These can be from your store, but they don’t have to be.)
Of course I would suggest anything from my product line. However, one of our lines stands out for vegans. It can be very difficult to find vegan lip balm, most is made with bees wax. We use candelilla wax and floral wax instead, which is so very nourishing to chronically chapped lips. My favorite is the lavender mint. Outside of my product line, I really love Queen Bee products using vinyl instead of leather. They also have a 25% discount buy-back program that rocks! Also, a gift certificate to Blossoming Lotus or Sweetpea Baking Company would be excellent, two of my favorites! Yum!!
What is the most popular item / product among your customers?
Our bar soaps have always been great sellers, specifically the Volcanic Bliss bar. I can’t seem to keep that one in stock. During the winter months we sell a lot of candles, the Spice It Up being a big hit, it has cinnamon and clove essential oils and is warm and spicy during those winter months.
This isn’t a question but I have to say that as someone with perennially chapped lips, your lip balm is truly the best thing I have ever tried. Better than all the national brands. Thank you.
Founder Branda Tiffany
Well, thank you! I find the same thing to be true. I had chronically chapped lips for years and did research to formulate this product for myself. The mimosa floral wax I use helps not only to heal tissue, but is a great protectant against the elements. I’m sure that’s why it has been so great for me 🙂 I’m so glad that you’re experiencing the same thing!!
You’ve been in business since 2002. Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I would say, put your focus on feeding your soul before your bank account, and this can be a very sustainable venture for you in the long run. Of course we have to be practical, but true happiness comes from choosing to do something that we love and the money will follow. Don’t give up, just keep your eyes and ears open, and listen to others’ advice, whether you take it or not. One of the worst things we can do is to be stubborn and let our ego get in our way. If we move that aside we can be very successful in all the ways that matter.
What was your inspiration for the book pub?
A couple of friends had dreamed it up as a pipe dream, and it sounded like something I could actually do. I was living in LA working as a private tutor and a Latin teacher, and I was looking for a way to get back home. In June 2015 I decided I could disentangle myself in June of 2018 without leaving anyone who was still depending on me, so I set that as my departure date and started planning how to get back home to Portland and open the Book Pub.
Are there any other book pubs like this — in Portland or the world?
For some reason, there wasn’t already a book pub in Portland. A lot of people have been surprised that we hadn’t done something like this already. Tugboat had a book theme, but it wasn’t a bookstore. There are other book pubs around the country. A few that I looked at for reference were in New York, DC, and Denver. I’ve heard there are quite a few in Europe.
What is your favorite book or books?
That’s a hard question. The book I return to every few years is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I see something new in it every time I read it. The last few years I’ve been in love with Karl Ove Knausgaard. It’s part of my fantasy about the Book Pub that Karl Ove will come for a reading and I can have a few drinks with him. I identify very closely with Simone de Beauvoir.
How does it work? Is it a buy or a browse experience?
The Book Pub is a combination bookstore and bar and restaurant. The books are for sale. People are also allowed to bring their own books in to read, and they’re welcome to drink while they read books they haven’t bought yet, but we will ask people not to eat while they read our books. I think most readers have enough love for books that it won’t be a problem. I encourage people to buy a glass of wine or a pint of beer while they’re browsing.
How did you choose the location?
I gave my realtor a few parameters, and this was the property that was on the market that fit my needs. My priority was to find a place on the east side closer in than 72nd because I think I’ll have a local draw, but I also expect a citywide draw and so I didn’t want to be too far out. The other biggest priority was to be wheelchair accessible. I got a lot of things from my wish list, too: a back patio, an old building, lots of wood, and lots of taps. It also happens to be a few blocks from where I went to elementary school at Sabin, so I’m really pleased to be in a neighborhood where I already have roots.
What will the menu (food and beverage) be like?
I have 24 taps! I’m using a few for drinks other than beer: kombucha, cider, cold press coffee on nitro. Otherwise, lots of NW craft brews. I’ll have a house red and a house white as well as a rotating list of spendier wines. We’re going to have a limited cocktail list of 5 signature cocktails at a time, rotating with the flavors of the seasons, all using local spirits and other local ingredients. Otherwise, we will do highballs (1 booze, 1 mixer) of anything we have.
We have a core fixed menu of bistro/cafe style food. Cheese plate, charcuterie plate, warm baguette with Himalayan pink salted butter, a pork shoulder dish, a quinoa bowl, and a few other items. We are going to have a small rotating menu of soups, salads, pastas, and desserts to make use of seasonal ingredients.
When does it open?
I’m aiming for a very soft opening on October 14th, which may or may not happen. If we don’t make it by that day, it will be sometime soon after. We will definitely be open by November 3rd when I’m planning a Grand Opening Party 11 am until 2 am. I’m still working on the line up for that day, but lots of live music, a one-line joke open mic, a pinata, beer tastings, and a lot more.
I’m doing an Indiegogo to cover the costs of the built-in bookcases and the new bar top. It’s all just pre-sales at the same prices the items will be after I open.
A small, self-organized group of individuals decided to take on the task of cleaning up the Willamette River Beach near Cathedral Park around noon this Sunday. We had fun, and our efforts had a noticeable impact! The organizers hope to set up regular impromptu cleanups every 4 to 6 weeks. If you would like to be notified of these events, contact PDX Local.