Is the product that you're buying really handmade?
Lately, I've seen a lot of shops and blogs claiming that a product is handmade, then when I go to the site of the company selling the product, there is no information about it actually being handmade! No mention of it, no images. Yet, the owner of the company does nothing to back this statement, or correct it if it is false. After all, what a great thing if everyone is saying that your product is "handmade in America"! This is, after all, the new trend. But is this something we care about?
Photo: Luscious Leather Goods
I think there is a personal touch that we get from buying a handmade product. While well over 50% of PGS products are truly handmade, some of our products, due to demand, are made in a lab that is certified organic, FDA regulated, with strict QC processes. This is all great, though don't take me for someone who believes everything needs to be regulated by the government (ie, food!). The rest of our products are made in our own manufacturing facility by me (Lisa). And, every PGS product has been, and sometimes still is (when there are delays from our lab), made by me. I'm a multitasker, but my passion and talent lies in product development. Recently, I read that MCMC Fragrances is now using a Brooklyn candle manufacturer to make her candles -- totally get it. Making candles is one of the most challenging products to make, so I hear from my candle-making friends!
Photo: Meow Meow Tweet
So, to find out if a product is truly handmade, look for product making images on the company's website, blog or social media sites and photos of the manufacturing facility. If a product is truly handmade, only a fool (or poor entrepreneur!) wouldn't take advantage of showing proof of it!
A few examples of companies that make handmade products:
Meow Meow Tweet - though I've never tried their products, I follow them on Instagram, I love their illustrative style and the photos that they show of them making their products.
Juniper Ridge - I'm not 100% sure that all of their products are handmade as opposed to in a lab due to their size and what I know about scaling, but I believe that they make their Backpacker's Cologne by hand from their own extracted and distilled ingredients. They have photos of the product being made, and often it seems the product is limited in availability, all tell-tale signs.
Seawall - Right down the street from us here in the Old Port, I know for a fact that their clothes are made on location. Beautiful craftsmanship, quality, and the price reflect the handmade nature of this company.
Moop - I bought a few bags from them back when we were both etsy sellers, highly recommend using them for diaper bags (if you don't want to be all foo foo!). I love that she is still making bags in her Pittsburgh studio. We were both featured on Moosehead Journey's video campaign To All Things Made Well and feel like we are long lost cousins or something!
Handcrafted soap - there are so many companies out there. Usually soap is handmade, you can tell by the cut, though one can buy molds and make a perfectly round soap! It is also difficult to find soap manufacturers.
So, if you're into the handmade thing, remember to look for:
- Images of product being made
- Photos of the manufacturing facility
- Information on company website
My thoughts: I am all for handmade when possible. I also understand the limitations. As a small company, it is important to be able to meet demand, and sometimes this means moving to a manufacturer. If this is the case, choose a good one who shares your values, and in my opinion, is American made and not based in China. I do think it is positive when the owner of the company has experience making the products that they sell and is the product development person. Every successful fashion designer I know has at one time sewn their own collection; even once they start outsourcing, they understand the process better than anyone. A definite plus in my book.
Homesteading: lifestyle of self-sufficiency.
For a number of years I've been interested in the idea of becoming more self-sufficient. And as you may know, Portland General Store was born out of this interest in 2007. Finally, we have a home and a plot of land to work with, and I'm very excited to finally get my hands dirty and learn about the growing field of permaculture (and hope to build a chicken coop this summer as well).
My first ever permaculture class was last Saturday. Admittedly I had
my reservations about the class -- was this really worth spending my
entire Saturday rather than quality time with the kids, or working on
PGS stuff? Once shovel and hoe was in hand, however, those reservations
quickly subsided. There I was, the usually loner me, working
alongside a group in a way that we all knew we were building something
together, applying skills we didn't know we had. As for me, I didn't
really know what I was doing; after all, I'm a former city rat with NO
gardening experience whatsoever. I left feeling more one with the
land and its people, felt like I met a group of like-minded individuals, and
gained more confidence and even did a little work around the yard (the real
stuff starts in two weeks when David Homa does a walk-through of our property).
I could go on, but I think pictures speak more than words sometimes.
A nearly finished bed
Good stuff to add to the beds
Lots of digging and soil prep
David Homa and a participant using the A-Frame
Stella the Great Pyrenees
Diagram of how to build a bed
I realize I haven't written much recently, partly, okay, largely, due to the fact that we just bought our first home, a 1963 tri-level in Kennebunkport, Maine. It happened quickly -- we were looking for land, but being total suckers for anything mid-century modern, we saw this house on Trulia and said, "what the hell, let's check it out" on a day when we were looking at a nearby lot. It was love at first sight -- a total diamond in the rough. And the beautiful end lot on one and a half acres further seduced us (future chicken coop, honey bees, and a greenhouse in the plans). Two months of pretty much loan approval hell, and it was finally ours.
The previous owners bought the house for its size and location and not its beauty, and being an older couple, there was a lot of deferred maintenance. That's what we're working on now, and admittedly, enjoying playing pickers of mid-century finds at flea markets, antique stores, and trips to NYC. I spend my free time googling mid-century treasures that are much more attainable on the West Coast, teased by such blogs as The Brick House and Laure Joliet. If only I could swap the goods found on San Francisco's Craigslist with those on Maine's! Meantime, as I sit here on this Saturday morning in our Portland rental (we don't move in to the KPT house until September) enjoying the best scone ever, I can't help but reflect on my journey to Maine, starting PGS, and the future.
In 2006, we decided to move to Maine when we believed that times were changing and that people were moving toward being more self sufficient -- growing their own food, making their own goods (in my case, soap-making and spinning wool for yarn). We read books, including James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency and World Made by Hand (I have a huge reading list of others, happy to send to those who are interested). We traveled around America deciding where to relocate, and it came down to a tie between the two Portland's. We almost chose the Oregon city (especially after spending time at Powell's Books , one of the best bookstores in America). We loved how Oregonians embraced such movements as living off the grid and the slow food movement, and known for its bikeability, music and film scene, and sprouting independent businesses, the "other" Portland has emerged as the capital of West Coast urban cool. It's also a city filled with mid-century houses! In the end, moving so far away from our beloved NYC, and the sun, is what kept us on the east coast. Hence, Portland General Store of Portland, Maine was born.
PGS was born in the kitchen of my small flat in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. By that time, we knew we were moving to Portland, and it was incorporated in Maine. Etsy was founded around that time as well, and a friend at a local wine store advised that I sell my products there. I decided instead of opening a brick & mortar and dealing with the overhead in a new city and in times of uncertainty, that selling online was the better option. I was full of dreams at that time with little money to back them. I designed the labels myself, made everything in my little kitchen, and upon moving to Maine, naively, though charming as I look back, went door-to-door to local businesses with a sheet of tea-stained paper listing prices to try and get accounts! I landed one, a little shop that sold a lot of local and other handmade goods on Exchange Street (a major shopping street in the Old Port). I was still a sort of Sex and the City kind of gal with new dreams of a different lifestyle, though not really sure how they would unfold. With help from my partner, Troy, totally opposite me, the artsy-fartsy went to 5 colleges and finally graduated from art school (he is a serial entrepreneur and business school graduate), PGS went from being a little Etsy shop to an international brand sold in trendy chain stores, noteworthy barbershops, and numerous small independent storefronts across America. This is it in a nutshell. We were both lucky and forward thinking. Parallel brands at that time were Field Notes, The Hillside, and Leather Head (also an Etsy seller back in the day). I often feel a great sense of fortune and camaraderie whenever I see those brands. Now here we are, with our storefront (yes, five years later was the right time to finally have the brick & mortar -- we're conservative), continuing to improve and grow. As the "nose" behind PGS, I learn both from research and even my customers (just the other day a customer explained the difference between nano and non-nano particle size in titanium dioxide, and a few years back we switched to using environmentally friendly palm oil when we learned how its harvesting destroys the ecosystems of Orangutans). New products such as a pomade and candle are in the works.
Back to our 1963 house, the house that I never imagined would be, where we will be living out our little American dream of this uncertain century. The house that inspires a lifestyle entailing all we came to Maine for while still appealing to our tastes -- we love mid-century modern, rustic, being as self-sustainable as we want to be, living in a walkable city near the sea. We hope to have fondue parties, of course using local cheese, but also garden, make tea using honey from our own bees and making soap with our own beeswax (we currently use beeswax from other Maine beekeepers), and eventually, distilling our own wildflowers for our colognes. We'd eventually like to own a farm, and of course, have a flat in NYC.
Our new house
An early label
Short stint at making teddy bears
Baby #1 is born
Baby #2 is born
New labels, and a new cigar box sampler
PGS photo shoot
First trade show - Elements Showcase, NYC
Participate in POP pop up shop in Portland
PGS headquarters, 2012
Lisa filmed by Moosehead Journey making colognes
PGS featured in Details Magazine
Here are our picks -- aside from PGS goods, of course -- for the special dad(s) in your life...
Yamakazi 25 Year Old Single Malt Whiskey
Old Town Molitor 17 Canoe
Pendleton Yakima Camp Blanket
Calico Spearmint Canoe Moc by Quoddy
Finished Dog from Wildrose Kennels
Sales are growing and we're hiring. We're currently looking for a detail-oriented, self-motivated, and fun-to-be around person to join our team! This is an entry-level, part-time position that would entail labeling, packing up web and wholesale orders, making runs to the post office, and other tasks as needed. Amazing growth potential for the right person. Oh and we should mention that you need to be able to deal with a big furry dog and two dapper young boys who will sometimes be hanging around. Naturally, this position is in Portland, Maine. If interested, please call or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.