Studio Visit: Smith Tea

We sat down with the talented Tasting Room Manager of Smith Tea Sara Kaufman and Social Media Manager Zoe Ching. In the new and spacious facility that now houses production, which includes blending and packaging as well as the companies offices and tea lab. The Southeast industrial space, located at 110 SE Washington St, Portland, OR 97214. That has a stunning tasting room open the public, M-F 9am-5pm and S&S 11am-5pm. 

Sandstrom branding did an excellent job on making a cohesive brand that not only stands out but tells the story of a passionate company that cares even more about what goes in their tea than what is on the outside. Every package of tea feels as exceptional as the specialized efforts that Smith Tea takes. They sources all of the ingredients from around the globe from talented producers of exotic ingredients. They also source as many of their teas contents from the Portland area as possible. The facility it self spoke for the intricacies that go into the complete process of making their tea.

Last year Smith released their Maker’s Series, collaborating with three talented chefs in town they released 3 very different teas that combine diverse flavors with high quality tea. We tried Gregory Gourdet’s Phuket Fire and were pleasantly surprised by the warmth and complexity of the teas notes of sweet (coconut, hibiscus and pineapple) with spicy and savory notes (thai chilies and kaffir lime leaves). An excellent ode to his accomplished menu at Portland’s beloved restaurant Departure. 

And starting this April at their Southeast location, a Gong Fu service which will showcase their Oolong teas!

1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?

Zoe: the comfort of living here, the ability to jumpstart down a career path I am excited about, the cuisine that chefs are exploring and then bringing here to Oregon with a Pacific Northwest twist. 

Sara: For me, Portland captivated by with its nature, great food and beverage, crafters, and delightful people. For the company, it was about home and tradition. Steve began his other companies here so for him it was a homecoming.

2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?

Zoe: all the food collaborations and partnerships - Portland businesses want to see one another be successful and I think that mentality has in turn made a lot of companies grow rapidly because people search for brands that move beyond just the product - people want to learn about the relationships behind that brand.

Sara: As cliché as it sounds, I love the bourgeoning tea scene. We have so many incredible tea artists in our town that are changing the face of and the way we envision the drink. 

 3. How did the Smith Tea brand start? 

Steve and Kim had retired in France only to discover that they weren’t done with tea. It was a cultivation of decades of experience and the chance for Steve to truly put his personal spin on his brand.

4. What has been your (Smith's) biggest obstacle? 

I would say outgrowing our space. This new building has been a couple years in the making and we’ve definitely felt the stress of outgrowing our little operation in NW.

5. What or who inspires your (Smith’s) packaging/copy design?

 Sandstrom Partners (info below):

Tazo

In 1994, two guys walked into our office with a Ziploc bag of tea (we swear it was tea), and asked us to create a new brand. Soon after, Tazo was born. We grounded the brand in the history of tea, with all elements becoming the artifacts of an ancient tea culture. The name was designed to evoke the origins of tea, and the logo was reminiscent of archaic pictograms. Themed “The Reincarnation of Tea,” packaging copy engaged and rewarded the consumer while building the mystery of the brand. We created packaging for 100 product SKUs, featuring copy like “Scientists still do not fully understand the Tazo effect,” and “Shake before drinking. You might also want to do a little chant if you feel up to it.” The Tazo brand system was applied to packaging, retail merchandising, collateral, website, apparel and advertising. The brand is considered the greatest success in tea history. This success allowed its founders to sell the brand to Starbucks. And in 2009, one of them walked back into our offices with another Ziploc bag, ready to create a new tea brand.

Smith Teamaker

After reinventing tea in the 90’s with Tazo, Steve Smith wanted a second act, so he came back to Sandstrom Partners with a little problem: he wanted to launch a new tea brand, but conventional wisdom said that there was no room for another one. More importantly (and dauntingly), buyers in the retail grocery channels said, “We’re not adding brands, we’re eliminating brands.” After a pretty thorough analysis of the category, we discovered one major hole in the category: while every brand was chasing after Tazo with functionality and flavors, there seemed to be a clear opportunity for, well, tea. Together, we set out to create the “best little tea brand” in America. The Lexicon of tea is full of exotic-sounding names: “Oolong.” “Pu-erh.” “Matcha.” “Mao Feng.” To these we decided to simply and humbly add, “Smith.” Tea, personally crafted by Steven Smith, teamaker, in small batches at the Smith atelier. Buyers soon made room on the shelves for Smith Tea, displacing some of the ‘functionality and flavor’ brands for a higher quality tea brand.

6. What are your favorite things about Portland?

Zoe: The collaborations with the food/restaurant industry namely, the innovative and unselfish thinkers, the humble makers.

Sara: The rain, the food, the nature, and the ideal.

7. What is your favorite part of your studio?

Z: The large windows and the skylights - I do our social media photography so it is a blessing to have natural light streaming in.

S: The smell! Every day our Tasting Room wafts a different, delightful tea being blended in the back

8. Your favorite thing about your workspace?

Z: That I can have Sara whip me up a matcha latte anytime ;)

S: How open and inviting it is.

 9. 5 things you can’t live without.

Z: Coffee, Dim Sum, Thin Crust neopolitan-style Pizza, homemade pasta, Nong’s

S: Creativity, Trees, Tea, Food, Family.

Studio Visit: Jason Leonard

Jason Leonard invited us to Archipelago Gallery, his Northeast Portland building. The primary business run out of the space is the Affiche Studio which specializes in vintage poster restoration. He has been perfecting his craft since 2003 and has accomplished some truly special restoration projects. Jason recently transformed an old grocery store into a beautiful space that houses Affiche Studio as well as hosts music events, cooking classes, art openings and curated dinners. The acquisition of the building and the build out took around 1.5 years and was done thoughtfully and with function in mind. The space is filled with beautiful light streaming in from the skylights and has a open floor plan that truly makes it easy to transition for any style of event. Enjoy this visit with Jason and learn a little about his unique expertise.

1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?

I graduated from art school (BFA in Illustration & Animation) in San Francisco in 2003 and figured I couldn't afford to live there anymore. I had a bit of a friend circle already in Portland and wanted to stay out on the West Coast instead of moving back to Austin, my hometown. I was drawn in first by the culture. Although not as ultimately diverse as SF, it was/is similar to Austin in terms of personality, music, the arts, and geography which makes me feel at home. I think in the end what is keeping me here is having grown a community of friends that I love and want to collaborate with. Portland for me has always felt a bit like one big living room. People like to collaborate with each other and build things together here, and I feel like right now it's just starting to hit it's stride with that idea. I want more. And it's a great home base to come back to after traveling.

 

2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?

One of the first things I loved about Portland was the TBA (Time Based Arts) Festival. I love the international, experimental, and sense of community aspects of the festival and am always blown away by at least a couple performances each year. And by blown away I mean psyche shifting, boundary pushing, emotional tornado performances.

 

3. How did your brand start?

The Affiche Studio (Linen-Backing and Restoration of Vintage Posters & Paper Memorabilia) is a business that I essentially apprenticed into starting in 2003, and eventually bought and became owner of in 2006. We do work for galleries, private collectors, and museums nationally and internationally. There are parallels to museum quality paper conservation, although vintage poster restoration (linen-backing) is a very specific process and a small industry spread out around the world. The only way to really learn the trade is by working for a studio.

In terms of brands, I'm actually in the midst of shifting to/creating a new one, Archipelago Gallery & Studio based out of the new building. I can't say much until it's completely manifested, but I can tell you how I'd like it to start. I want it based on collaboration, interaction, and experience.

 

4. What has been your biggest obstacle?

Trying to do everything myself, hence all this collaboration talk. A lot of the things I've done over the years: illustration, music, animation & video, and poster restoration can be so isolated and solitary. And that just gets boring. I think the proudest things I've worked on have been with other people. In collaboration I feel like you're more forced to dig down and find out what you really believe in, and have to offer. I guess trying to juggle many different types of endeavors has also been an obstacle, but who wants to give that up? Just gotta figure it out.

 

5. What or who inspires your design?

I have a cross pollinating sense of inspiration in everything I do. Images or a sense of a place can inspire music. A conversation can inspire imagery. The way that the light pours in on one day each year can inspire a way of life.

 

6. What are your favorite things about Portland?

I definitely love how easy it is to get out of the city and into nature. You don't even have to actually leave the city to get out of the city. Forest Park is a great place to slow down and reboot your inspiration level. Theater pubs. I honestly don't go see a movie nowadays unless it's at a theater pub. My favorite thing though comes down to the people. Portland has smart, influential, creative, and strong women, men, children and everyone in between. I hope everyone will continue to adapt, problem solve, and create what they want out of a city, despite all the recent changes.

 

7. What is your favorite part of your studio?

Skylights. I never want to live or work anywhere again that doesn't have skylights. I love having so much natural light, and watching the patterns move throughout the day across the floor and walls just instantly puts me in a better mood. (See above: watching light pour in). I love having people over and hosting events. Archipelago so far has hosted an array of things including a catered four course dinner, music nights, and cooking workshops. We'll be doing more in the future such as gallery shows, drawing parties, workshops, and lectures.

 

8. Your favorite thing about your workspace?

Having a full kitchen in the workplace is pretty darn nice, I must say. But other than that, I wanted to keep everything modular and movable. I like that I can completely shift around the whole studio for small events and gallery shows, or just to mix things up. Also, owning and restoring a building is a really great endeavor but way more of an undertaking than I could have imagined, so I'm always learning.

 

9. Tell us two truths and a lie!

I've done yoga in a park with Jonathan Richman.

I was traumatized as a 13 year old by millions of daddy long legs.

I once spent 24 hours in Heathrow immigration detention.

 

10. 5 things you can’t live without.

Music

Paper

Travel

Laughter

Open discourse

Studio Visit: DIGDOGDIG

Celeste Rodero had us over to her studio located in the SuperMaker building to get to know more about her playful brand, DIGDOGDIG. Her studio was full of interesting oddities, mostly made by her personally, as well as, experiments, ideas and inspirtations. Leah Maldonado, Celeste’s assistant and Celeste graciously showed us what they were currently working on as well as some things they were thinking about for the future of DIGDOGDIG. We loved hearing about her home object line that she working on - the perfect home accessories to fill a space with. Celeste started DIGDOGDIG by making minimal jewelry that radiates modern design and function. She has created a brand that speaks more about a lifestyle and feeling rather that a specific product. DIGDOGDIG is as Rodero puts it “a platform for collaboration, creative outreach, positive thinking, and a virtual + physical space to be real.” Enjoy our studio visit with Celeste and Leah  insightful interview to and learn more about DIGDOGDIG and Celeste!

 

1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?

I moved to Portland because I watched Portlandia and felt compelled to move here. SIKE. I moved to Portland last August for love. My college sweetheart had been living here for a couple of years and somehow we reconnected after almost five years apart and wanted to start anew. People will tell you to not get back with a past partner (sometimes true) but I say - relationships are difficult beautiful masterpieces, no matter how they happen, continue, end or start again, there’s no sense in perfecting what society has told you to do - just listen to your heart and trust the experiences you have learned from. When you find someone that cares for you unconditionally and supports you to be the best you - there’s no denying you did the right thing. I know I did. Violins please!

Portland has been wonderful and I feel lucky! I’ve moved a lot, from Hawaii to Arlington, Virginia, to California to Italy, to Baltimore, Maryland (MAD LOVE BALTIMORE, YOU DID IT) and Washington D.C. then to Richmond, Virginia and I have to say, this has been my best move yet. Because of my eclectic living experiences, I never quite feel like I belong to any one place or want to say any place is better than the other, but my time here in Portland has been healing and rejuvenating so far. The fresh Pacific Northwest breeze, the flourishing greenery, and that simple west coast kindness, I can’t say I don’t like it here. I’m not sure how long we’ll live here, but for however long we are, I hope to be a positive human in the community and do work beyond my own to be a part of the bigger picture.

2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?

As of right now, spring is coming through so I’d say my favorite thing happening right now is the sun sticking around a little longer, the flowers blooming, and seeing more weirdos out and about. I also love what Portland Garment Factory is up to, Brit and Rosemary are inspiring not only with their work, but also their fun spirit and energy. When I met them at Content for the first time, their warmth and sweetness were undeniable. I love their story and seeing women do whatever the fuck they want and killing it at the same time always inspires me. Speaking of women kicking ass - I’ve noticed a lot of women in Portland creating and thriving in their own businesses and makings. It’s awesome to be a small part of it all and I want to urge all the ladies to keep doing the damn thing! I also love stumbling upon new art gallery spaces in Portland, it’s always nice to see what’s happening in the local art community. And although it’s not that often, I like to stop in and talk to the guys of Tanner Goods and Self Edge - I appreciate their ability to speak openly about product (and life) without making me feel stupid, learning about the details of function and build and the brands behind them (off the internet and in real life) is pretty cool. I picked up a little fascination with menswear through my partner, David and I wish women’s fashion would take some cues, for real, but I’ll save that rant for somewhere else.

3. How did your brand start?

I’m not quite sure how to answer this question simply, especially since I believe the DIGDOGDIG brand is still forming. DIGDOGDIG started as a blog (digdogdig.blogspot.com) in 2009, more or less a quiet virtual platform where I placed inspiring visuals, my own work, and some “poetry”. It was an outlet that I stuck with for years, not necessarily for any other reason than for myself. I started to experiment with jewelry making around 2010 and in 2012 while living in Richmond, Virginia - DIGDOGDIG’s jewelry was picked up by Need Supply Co. This past summer DIGDOGDIG was approached by Urban Outfitters, which I at first thought was a joke. It was definitely a connection I was skeptical about, but I learned a lot from my experience working with them and I am thankful for that. I think DIGDOGDIG has a pretty unique story as it is still in the beginning stages of becoming what it truly is. I feel like every step is a new beginning.

4. What has been your biggest obstacle?

My biggest obstacle - I believe my biggest obstacle is sharing my artwork as products. My art comes straight from my soul, whether people get it or like it or not and relating it to the business side of things has been a very interesting and humbling experience. DIGDOGDIG is allowing me to explore so much more than I imagined. It’s important for me to step away from comparing myself with others and just learn as I go, doing what I think is best for right now and moving forward. From the models I use, to compositions, to even my product - I have no interest in being apart of an industry that has fueled insecurities, isolation and those ideas of what it is to be a woman or human in a way that I don’t and have never identified with just to make money. And because of that, I know that it will take time to create what DIGDOGDIG truly is, it is still forming and maybe always will be. All the while, I am completely transparent about my journey as I share what I am doing and making consistently on Instagram or Facebook. Social media is such a wild and deeply intricate web, I think it’s naive to look at it as purely superficial. I am completely vulnerable to interpretation and judgment through those platforms, as is everyone else, but I am aware of that and okay with that. Although my feelings have been hurt through social networking, DIGDOGDIG is much more than what other people think of it, even if they like my work, my ego can not rest on that. DIGDOGDIG is a platform for collaboration, creative outreach, positive thinking, and a virtual + physical space to be real. It’s a lot of work, but I am most definitely motivated for all the challenges ahead and am excited this is just the beginning. It has been a very exciting ride trusting instincts, making mistakes, trying new things, and having FUN! I am in no rush to finish first, I like being a turtle.

5. What or who inspires your design?

I am inspired by so many things, I don’t think I’ll share them all. But for sure, I am inspired by art. I studied Art History in college (graduating with a BA in Arts and Culture) and that has really encouraged my visions and understanding of my work. By understanding the processes and stories behind art work, a depth that goes beyond the surface of the art piece itself can provide enlightenment and knowledge. I love learning about the human behind the art I love and hate, and the pure chaos behind the surface of a visual.

I grew up about ten minutes outside of Washington D.C. and it's free museums and was lucky to have the free VMFA in Richmond while I was living there. From the time I was in middle school and still today (I became a member of the Portland Art Museum a week after living in Portland), going to museums, especially art museums has been a priority in my life. Alone or with friends, but mostly alone, I enjoy walking around and finding inspiration from Native Peruvian weavings, to a Frank Stella piece (but, damn it can they bring a better one to the PAM?), to the way hands are painted in a Renaissance piece. No matter how often, even if it’s the same work up - there’s always something new to see and be inspired by. I never feel lonely in an art museum, it’s almost a second home to me. Art is my self-love, art is my humanity.

Oh and I really love (everything) Michael Jackson and rap music, lots of rap music, always.

6. What are your favorite things about Portland?

David Michael Begin, my partner in crime / Supermaker, where my studio resides / My alien in residency/studio assistant : Leah Maldonado / NEW FRIENDS / Aalto’s Happy Hour / No Humidity / ALL THE FLOWERS / Behind the Museum Cafe / Living in a growing + progressive city : the public transportation is on point, even if it's running late sometimes + bike friendly roads are super cool / Portland Art Museum (duh) / Drinking water from the mountain! / Endless hikes and nature opportunities / LEGALIZED WEED / The independent boutique + business game here / How almost everyone has a cute fucking dog / Walking everywhere / TAP Plastics / Uno Mas / Being able to see Mount Hood from my apartment - have I said enough?

7. What is your favorite part of your studio?

I love my studio because it can be transformed on a daily basis. Whatever project I want to do, I can change my studio space to host it and I’ve never had that luxury working from home. Having a studio space is something I am still getting use to. It is truly a gift to be able to have a designated space for my makings, thoughts, and also just a space to share with friends who also want to be creative. I also love that my studio space is apart of a bigger space known as Supermaker, where there are a great group of people who make and create all day, every day. It’s a nice community to step into and learn from - everyone’s very chill and open to one another and I am so happy to be there.

8. Tell us two truths and a lie!

1. On my birth certificate it says I am : Hawaiian, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, German, French, Mexican, Spanish, and Native American Ute.

2. I hate animals.

3. I wish Rick Owens and Michele Lamy were my parents.

9. 5 things you can’t live without.

1. (drinking) WATER

2. THE OCEAN

3. ART

4. LOVE

5. NATURE (with no people around)  

 

Studio Visit: Alexa Stark

A dear friend and one of our favorite designers in town Alexa Stark welcomed us into her home studio (her secondary studio is located in Backtalk on Mississippi Ave.). We have been long time fans of Alexa’s work hailing from New York and a graduate from Parsons The New School for Design in New York. She has made Portland her home and managed to create a phenomenal brand in only a few short years. Alexa Continually impresses us with her innovative designs, full of movement and intriguing silhouettes. Her designs are intended to be worn effortlessly which she makes easy with such simplicity balanced by poignant intention. We love her use of mixed denim and raw edges, each hand sewn piece is truly a work of art. Check out the great interview and photos of Alexa in her North Portland Studio. And also make sure to stop by Stand Up Comedy and UNA to check out her new spring/summer collection. 

 

 

1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?


My coming to Portland was purely accidental. It started with a cross country road trip with full intention to return home to NYC but then... I just stayed. I was drawn to the cities landscape and its small scale. NYC is so wonderful but it's overpopulated and stuck in its ways. I love how Portland can head into any direction. Especially in fashion. 

2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?


All the great boutiques we have here! Stand Up Comedy, Una, West End Select Shop, Alder and Co., Odessa, North of West, Backtalk, Francis May and Table of Contents all make my heart beat fast with excitement. I believe they have the best clothing and jewelry offered to the Portland community. 

3. How did your brand start?


I cant really pin point when or how my brand started. I feel like every minute leading to the first full collection was part of it. So let's just say it all started in a life drawing class. From there I just started sewing, then went to Parsons and started selling my one of a kind designs my sophomore year there. I just kept going. It wasn't until 2012 that it really became a "brand" or that I started producing multiples of a garment. 

4. What has been your biggest obstacle?


Using fashion as an artistic medium has always been a challenge because people want to categorize. You're either a fashion designer. Or an artist. If I could I would just make one garment and selling it like a painting. I'd even hang it on a wall and encourage viewers to step back and rub their chin and go hmm this is about transcendentalism during her blue period. Ha! My obstacle is the finding the balance of the two ideas. 

5. What or who inspires your design?


My inspirations come to me randomly, sometimes it's a shape in the landscape or a fabric I touch. However over all, the end product is always designed with my mother in mind. She is an intelligent, well humored, Classic beauty. I always imagine her in my designs, if it doesn't seem fitting it doesn't get made. 

6.What are your favorite things about Portland?


Our community of artists and makers. I have worked on some of the best collaborations here. 


7. What is your favorite part of your studio?


My studio is detached from my home, and is strictly a creative space. I feel very connected to it and let it take me where I need to go. I often describe it as a boat. I would consider myself a bit of a work-a-holic and find solace in it, I love how my space keeps my focus. 

8. Your favorite thing about your workspace?


I love my cutting table. I love to climb up on my work tables to cut and draw so having a nice sturdy table is so valuable to me. 

9. Tell us two truths and a lie!


If I could wear running sneakers all day everyday I would. If I wasn't a fashion designer I'd be a mail lady. I can't lie. 

10. 5 things you can’t live without.


My antique Saudi Arabian jewelry

Extracto Coffee
Pencil and paper
My orange velvet throw pillows
My Jeans


Studio Visit: Sara Barner

We have been long time fans of Sara Barner’s work her clean and minimal aesthetic is unlike anything else. She graciously had us into her studio post her holiday rush, we were pleasantly greeted into a stunning studio space that felt peaceful and calm. It was our first time meeting Sara, a prime example of a successful fan girl email that worked (our favorite kind). Barner’s attention to detail and quality are uncanny, she uses veg-tanned English Bridle leather and hand sews and finishes each piece. The silhouettes of her bags are immaculate pieces of art that still fill the void of an everyday bag. What we didn’t know about Sara is that she began as a metalsmith major at Parsons and still continues to work with metal. She showed us some of her stunning early pieces and current jewelry, so perfectly minimal while still creating such a statement. I should probably mention the beautiful build out that her boyfriend Brendon Farrell did to her studio…  lined with work benches, desk space, work benches, storage oh and just the most amazing build in chaise lounge (we are in love). Have fun sneaking a peek of the slideshow below of Sara Barner's studio!

1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?

My boyfriend and I moved to Portland from Brooklyn in 2007. He grew up and went to college in Oregon and had friends living here. We visited a few times and I immediately fell in love with this place. We had both been living in New York for a long time and were ready to leave. Portland was really the only choice in our minds. It really is a wonderful place to have a small business and live a creative life. The landscape was also a huge draw for me. The proximity to the ocean, mountains, forest and desert is pretty incredible.

2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?

The food. We're pretty spoiled here.

3. How did your brand start?

I initially started with a jewelry line in 2006 that I sold to a few stores in NY. A few years earlier I had worked at a leather shop and I started playing with the idea of adding leather bags to the collection. When we moved to Portland in 2007, I was doing both jewelry and bags. Eventually the bag line just took up most of my time. I still love making jewelry and would like to eventually get back to it.

4. What has been your biggest obstacle?

Always time and money.

5. What or who inspires your design?

I usually feel most inspired when I am learning/doing something new, but I find inspiration everywhere. Being in nature, looking at architecture, folk art, flea markets

6.What are your favorite things about Portland?

I love Portland houses, backyard BBQs, estate sales, all of the amazing gardens, living next to a volcano.

7. What is your favorite part of your studio?

My south facing wall of windows and all of the natural light it provides.

8. Your favorite thing about your workspace?

My giant work tables. I have twice as much work space in this studio and it feels like such a luxury.

9. Tell us two truths and a lie!

I love doritos.

I am an excellent skier.

I am passionate about tap dance.

10. 5 things you can’t live without.

Brendon, my cats, time for spacing out, making things and a sense of humor.