Welcome to Portland.
For this Store Spotlight we leave behind the beach and boardwalk of Venice and head north to the birthplace and global headquarters of James – Portland, OR.
Stumptown, Rip City, PDX, or the place where young people go to retire. Whatever you want to call it, The James Brand is proud to call this weird little city our home. Portland boasts a wealth of rain, endless craft beer, a thriving coffee culture, and boundless access to the gorge, Mt. Hood, and world-class skateparks.
Portland also enjoys a plethora of unique retail spaces that are at the forefront of the lifestyle, fashion, everyday carry, and design movements across the Northwest. We caught up with the founders of two of Portland's premier retail storefronts – CORD and MACHUS – to talk accessories, tools, everyday carry essentials, men’s style, design aesthetic, & Portland retail.
Check out the interview with the owners of MACHUS and CORD below and make sure to stop by and pay them a visit the next time you find yourself in our hometown.
MACHUS is a family owned business that opened November 11th, 2011 in the centrally located Lower East Burnside neighborhood in Portland.
MACHUS' mission statement is simple: To curate a store with the most compelling designers in the contemporary men’s market. We often forgo working with the obvious larger labels to select upcoming, emerging designers. Personal connection is of the utmost importance and with smaller brands we have the opportunity to know the designers and hear their story. We believe in every brand we sell and feel that our designers are the most progressive minds in men’s fashion.
CORD features a collection of "Ranked & Well Stowed" objects. Made. Found. Designed. Local. International.
The James Brand: Portland is historically an industrial city, do you draw any inspiration from the city’s industrial roots?
Justin: Absolutely. The baseline design aesthetic for the store is modern industrial. White and concrete is the foundation for what the rest of the store stands on.
Carey: Yes and no. I’m more inspired by Portland’s current existence. I think it’s the diverse culture of entrepreneurship and self-reliance that Portland makes possible (and its close proximity to nature) that inspires me more than its industrial history. Although, I do love the bridges that span our rivers and specific industrial vistas, like the rail yards on the east waterfront—visually, architecturally and from an engineering standpoint—so I guess that would be my historical industrial draw.
TJB: Over the last decade or two, Portland has become an epicenter of design in the Northwest, how does what you are doing fit in with that scene?
J: I feel like we are on the forefront of that movement but my motivation is more personal... I want to have the best store I can have. If that means bringing new designers and brands to a city I love like Portland, then it’s a win all around.
C: Design certainly informs much of what you see when you visit CORD, whether in the products we offer, the specific way that we’ve organized the space or the visual identity of the business itself. And while I only have an indirect relationship to Portland’s design community at large, I’d like to think our space resonates with designers and creative types as much as it does with people who have a love for forests and wide open spaces.
TJB: How has the balance of city and outdoor lifestyle of the Northwest shaped your approach to the style, layout, and vibe of your store?
J: The Pacific Northwest is a hub for outdoor activities. It’s not like NYC, LA or Paris in that regard. We have sport as part of our DNA. Whether it’s skiing, fishing, biking, surfing or just exploring, we love it all. We want a good selection of clothing and accessories to reflect that sport interest, just in a more design conscious way.
C: I’d say the last 35+ years of my life have shaped CORD, which just happens to be located in the NW. I grew up bouncing from ski town to ski town with my parents and sister (California, Arizona, Colorado). My dad was a ski instructor in the winter and a carpenter in the summer, so skiing and building shaped my childhood. The mountains, the deserts, the stories, the tools, the ski equipment, playing sports and going to art school shaped CORD. My lifestyle has always balanced city life and the outdoors as long as I can remember. CORD, for me, is that juxtaposition of providing objects to make our urban lives more purposed while at the same time providing another set of tools for finding solitude and meaning in nature.
The layout of CORD comes, in part, from years of visiting art museums. Pottery exhibitions have always been a favorite—the considered objectification of a single piece within the larger context of a curated show. You are allowed to draw your own conclusions about what you see or ground your understanding in explanatory wall texts. I do something similar at CORD by removing all the noise from the products in my shop (packaging, branding, etc.) and placing them in such a way that they can be considered, experienced and ultimately explained. My choices aren’t arbitrary; in CORD you find products that are a reflection of my lifestyle, objects and tools that I use, love and appreciate.
MACHUS : SE Industrial
“Cord and Machus are very different shops but share a lot of similar values. They are right at home here in PDX, but in some ways are polar opposites along the same axis. Both are highly-curated. Both are run by interesting, opinionated, helpful people. And both have collections that are completely right for their customers.”
– The James Brand Founder : Ryan Coulter
CORD : NE Alberta
TJB: Each of Portland’s major neighborhoods has their own unique style, what drew you to your current location?
J: The Lower East Burnside area is “in development” as the city would say. It has a long way to go for their high-rise plans, but I love being close to the water and close to downtown without the feeling of actually being downtown. We still feel like we are on the Eastside.
C: Chance. My husband, Myles, and I moved here from Seattle in 2008 for a job offer I took. Even before the move, though, Myles had been looking for a space to open a small gallery and bookshop. By chance, after grabbing dinner one night on Alberta Street, almost 10 years ago, we saw a small vacant storefront that fit his budget. Without really looking elsewhere, he opened Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books a couple months later. The opportunity to expand came in 2011 when the adjacent storefront became available. But rather than create one single large space, we decided to design a small second storefront. After experimenting with a sublet situation that never really worked, we ultimately decided to once again remodel the space and open CORD. That was in summer of 2013.
Chance aside, Alberta has proved to be a great location for both businesses. I don’t think we would ever relocate. Over the years we’ve gained a real following within the immediate community. And while initially it seemed we filled a retail void for people living in N/NE, it now seems that we are a destination, for both tourists and all Portlanders alike.
TJB: What are some things that your typical customer values in the products they purchase?
J: We really only bring in brands that we have a personal interest with and we generally know the designers or people on the team. It makes the selling process that much more genuine.
C: Quality, uniqueness, originality and, I suppose, me. I don’t mean to be egotistical, but I have learned that a retail shop can, when done right, bring like-minded people together. The shops that I’ve always loved have this same quality—the regular presence of a shop owner that you get to know over the years and get to talk to. Maybe you even become friends. I love sharing stories with all my customers. Half the time it isn’t even about a product, but it’s through genuine conversation that these stories often lead to a customer making a purchase.
TJB: A core piece of the James DNA is the idea of practical, not tactical. How does that idea play into what you are trying to accomplish?
J: We are not the typical store for pocket knives. The design element for James is exactly what we are looking for in a knife and If it were more tactical, it wouldn’t fit in.
C: Practical utility is the most efficient way to approach anything. Whether that be in design, chopping wood, preparing a meal, exercising, etc. The cleanest lines are the ones I’m always striving for. Timeless. Simple. Tried and true. Buy it once, don’t buy it again.
TJB: How would you say the design aesthetic of James fits alongside the brands you stock?
J: High-design yet practical and well-built. These are general traits for anything in the store.
C: Pretty much how I answered the last question.
TJB: Everyday carry products are often equal parts personal taste and classic function. Where do you see the future of the category?
J: We do really well with smart, small design. The Elko and the Hooks are great examples. I think those items are best for us in the fashion industry.
C: Honestly, I don’t see my business in terms of categories. EDC is a contemporary marketing term for something that is part of everyone’s daily living experience. We all carry and use things on a daily basis that do or do not fit neatly into the “EDC” category. So, I guess the future of this category is infinite and how one defines it.
TJB: What do you have in your EDC kit currently?
J: iphone X with a pelican case, James Elko, all black of course, 1992 Rolex Explorer and that’s it.
C: My current kit is: Smith sunglasses, Suunto AmbitPeak3, James Chapter Bone + Black, M&U Key Ring, Uncle Bill’s Sliver Grippers, Leatherman Brewzer, Alice Park Wallet in Red, TEC Accessories Python Clip, iPhone 6 w/ Lifeproof Realtree camo case, George Sawyer Mokume band, and a Pilot G-2 pen.
Our team at The James Brand is proud to support MACHUS, CORD, and all of our retail partners. Thanks for following along and make sure to stay tuned as we journey overseas for our next Store Spotlight.