Inside Portland’s Maker Movement: A Conversation with Kelley Roy, Author of ‘Portland Made’

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Sometime in the last couple of years, I started hearing the word ‘maker’ used to describe people who…make things.

I wasn’t sure what to make of ‘maker’. Why not ‘artist’? What makes someone a ‘maker’? And would the term, like ‘artisanal’, become obnoxiously ubiquitous?

Then, earlier this fall, I learned of a new book (launching at Powell’s this Wednesday, Dec.2!) called Portland Made: The Makers of Portland’s Manufacturing Renaissance. Intrigued, I set up an interview with Kelley Roy, author of the book and founder of ADX, a 14,000 sq. ft creative hub and fabrication shop in SE Portland, and Portland Made Collective, an advocacy center for Portland’s maker movement. (Yes, it’s a movement.)

Through talking with Kelley, touring ADX, and reading the book, I’ve realized why ‘maker’ is really the only title that could ever encompass all the creative people and industries associated with it.

The book alone (which is a beautifully-designed mix of text and images) features people who make everything from small-batch brandy to ceramic light fixtures to leather belts. Flip through its 168 pages and you’ll find the creative minds behind such businesses as ice-cream shop Salt & Straw, glass manufacturer Bullseye Glass, and The Portland Razor company, known for its handcrafted (and affordable) straight razors.

What connects these vastly different ventures is the use of tools, hands and creative thinking to craft something tangible—to make something. And, as Roy explores in the book, each maker is part of a larger maker ecosystem in Portland in which collaboration and partnerships are central to the movement’s progress.

On Wednesday, you’ll find me at the two-part launch party for Portland Made, which kicks off at 7:30 at Powell’s with an introduction by Kelley Roy and a Q + A panel with featured makers. (You can RSVP here.) Then there’s the after party at 9 pm at MadeHere PDX (with local snacks, drinks, live music and handcrafted Portland Made products to peruse).

I’m thrilled to feature author Kelley Roy on the blog today, who dives into the process of creating the book and the future of Portland’s maker movement.

KelleyRoy

Can you tell me about the advocacy center you founded: Portland Made Collective (PMC)? When did it start?

We formed it in 2012 and started building a membership and marketing it as a brand for Portland makers in 2013. We estimate there are 10,000 plus companies in the Portland region that are makers and artisanal manufacturers. That includes craft brewers, street artisans, fashion…all those industry sectors. It’s important for small companies to know they’re part of something bigger—it  keeps us motivated. We’re marketing ourselves collectively as a city and connecting the bigger, more established companies with younger newer companies.

How specifically does PMC help its members?

It’s a marketing platform. We have a website where we tell their stories, and we host regular events at MadeHere PDX, our retail partner. We help people move into that retail space, giving them exposure to new markets and connecting them with opportunities around the the world to sell their products. We also do advocacy, helping with securing real estate for their companies to grow into. Our primary goal is to help them increase their sales with access to new markets.

What inspired you to create this book?

The book is creating another platform to tell these stories. I’d been getting a lot of people who are interested in the movement telling me, “you should do a book.” I didn’t feel like I had time, but between the writers and photographers I have for Portland Made, I have a team, and the editor and book designer from Cartopia [a book Kelley co-authored on the food cart movement] were available. I spent the first part of this year locking myself into a room out at the coast, writing and refining. It gave me a chance to reflect on everything I’ve been doing for the past five years, which provided clarity on what’s next.

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Who is the audience you’re aiming for?

We’re getting inquiries all the time from people around the world such as economic development directors, city planners, and the design community who are interested in putting structure around the maker movement in their cities. People are wanting to create a hub like ADX to bring it all together. I go into this in the book, developing partnerships with academia, the public sector, vocational schools—there’s a lot of asset mapping of your community to see what already exists and then figuring out how to pull those pieces together to show people what’s being made. The book shows how that plays out in Portland, and we want to use it as a platform to say ‘we can help you do this in your city’. We’ll be taking the book on the road.

Do you have a timeline and tour of cities in mind?

It will be in 2016. We’re going to start on the west coast, doing tours of different manufacturers and makerspaces. We’ll do events showcasing Portland-made products around locally-made products. We’d like to show what’s being made in America city by city, showing the collective impact of the movement nationwide.

The book details the history of the maker movement in Portland. How far back does this history go, and what’s something readers might be surprised to learn about it?

Because there are so many people who are new to Portland there might be some surprises, but Portland is known for having a long history of manufacturing. Between our lumber resources and the early pioneers of Portland, there has been a lot of agriculture and food products. The things that are being made now are a reflection of what was being made here originally, and a lot of those older companies are still around.

In the current wave, a lot of things got started at the beginning of the recession. It was a perfect storm with the mentality in Portland of people wanting to figure out how to to do things themselves. We’re very independent and resilient, and we’re conscientious consumers. When we buy things, we want to know it’s from people who are mindful.

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What was most challenging about making the book?

There are so many people and the book can only be so long…I feel like I could have created the Encyclopedia Britannica. I wanted to include everyone, but I also wanted to focus on the variety of companies and industries to show the whole spectrum.

In your view, what’s the economic impact of Portland’s maker movement?

These companies are paying taxes which means they’re supporting schools and community infrastructure. Through these businesses being successful and consumers buying from them, it pays itself forward, keeping the dollars flowing within our local economy.

It’s one thing to buy from a Portland retailer, but if you buy from a local maker, that dollar has seven to eight times the impact in the local economy. If we keep those dollars here, it’s only going to benefit our community.

How does Portland’s movement different from that of other US cities?

Portland Made was part of a roundtable at the White House last May—they were trying to cull best practices from around the country. One of the biggest things we noticed is that Portland is very entrepreneurial in its approach. The movement here is being led by people who are just starting companies, joining forces and going for it. Two places that emerged as being similar were Philadelphia and San Francisco. In other cities a lot of it’s coming out of academia or government. It’s more institutional, which makes it very methodical, whereas here it’s fast paced, creative and risky. I think that’s what makes it exciting for people. It feels more fun, more impactful and more relevant to this next generation of people and consumers.

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What do you think is the future of Portland’s maker movement?

I feel the future is bright and things are trending for every industry whether it’s craft brewing or fashion or food products. I see an ADX for different industry sectors, a space that can help incubate, teach and train, and that could be replicated in different cities around the country. This is needed in our new economy. We need hubs where people can come together, that are affordable and accessible and provide resources. If you look at higher education, people aren’t wanting to go to college and be in debt for the rest of their lives. There is a different pathway into economic opportunity, and this is potentially the role these makerspaces can play.

Thanks so much, Kelley!
Portland Made: The Makers of Portland’s Manufacturing Renaissance is available at Powell’s and online at Crowd Supply.

As you can see, it makes an excellent coffee table book. :)

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Happy Monday, everyone.

~C.

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7 responses

  1. So interesting! I’ve always used the term maker (“makers gotta make!”), or at least it feels like it, but maybe that’s because I grew up surrounded by lots of “makers” and grew up here? I’ve always loved that Portland is so entrepreneurial in every industry. Such a great community! Thanks for sharing this conversation. It’s inspiring!

  2. What a great post, thank you! This is such an awesome movement and as usual, Portland is on the cutting edge. Love the PDX Made shop and can’t wait to see the book.

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