An afternoon a few weeks ago I walked into the two-car garage off of Alberta Street to ask Seth Neefus and Owen Johnson a few questions. Once used for storage, the garage has been gutted and re-purposed into the fully functional workshop and studio space for Portland-based line Red Clouds Collective. Industrial sewing machines, prototypes, drafting tables, and craftsman tools adorn the space. It's apparent: these fellows work hard. Neefus and Johnson represent two primary components of the 9-plus person Collective and after a few attempts to meet at local coffee shops, the pair ask if I'd just like to stop by the workshop. I, of course, obliged.
You see, I've visited their workshop before. Whether for summertime campfires, jam sessions, or new design exploration, the Red Clouds Collective home base seems to serve as a gathering place for friends and makers. This is because, at its base, the line is a natural extension of its community's lifestyle. In fact, Red Clouds first developed in response to this. From tool rolls, to backpacks, to iPhone cases, each design addresses a specific need encountered by Collective members. Neefus elaborates, “Products are constantly being developed as we go, out of necessity.”
- Jason Levins
- Neefus wears RCC's Catamount pack
I have also noticed a large degree of creative overlap within RCC that reaches far beyond product manufacturing. Mediums include photography, video, screen-printing, musical performance, sewing, leather working, and woodwork. The line functions as an amalgamation of these pursuits. “There are so many different elements of handmade things.” Neefus states, “We have done all of these things in our lives, so this brand was created as an outlet to bring that all together… Anything we enjoy doing can be brought into the brand.”
This emphasis on handmade methods is a driving force behind production. Owen Johnson has been a strong presence in Portland's bike messenger community for over a decade, and his handiwork reflects his experience. Each bag is skillfully and carefully crafted at the sewing machine where Johnson perpetually resides. Johnson emphasizes the importance of “quality, industrial machines that can sew through leather, canvas, and even your hand.”
- Jason Levins
- Owen Johnson at his trusty sewing machine
The Collective's balance between hard labor, experience, and creative impulse results in products that are both superior in quality and design. Perhaps the line's most visible item is the Goodbook, an iPhone case developed to “consolidate the many items we carry in our pocket.” On its fifth incarnation, the Goodbook now offers a wallet, iPhone case, and sketchpad in a convenient fold-able design, and it is all executed in the highest caliber, hand-sewn leather.
- Red Clouds Collective
- Goodbook 5
Other RCC products include recent collaborations with Hand Eye Supply on a sailor's knife sheath and with Mama Bird Record Label on a limited run of magnetic beer koozies (for optimal beer access while working on motorcycles).
This spirit of collaboration runs through the entire line, like the Taylor Brubaker Apron Tool Roll, the David Wien t-shirt; each item grows from a “group of individuals whose lifestyles and creative energy inspire the products we create,” and it is all happening right here in a NE garage in Portland.
Find out where to find Red Clouds Collective locally here.