Google maps still shows the lot at N. Mississippi and Failing as an empty one; a few food carts use to sit next to a large grassy area encased by a chain link fence. In actuality, the lot has a brand new building that provides a home for new residents of the district (which seems to be a major trend in North Portland in general) as well as a retail space that's been inhabited by a very interesting new little shop called Wanderlust + Wildhearts. The owner, Courtney Keene, is a designer who graduated from FIT in NY. She is a passionate traveler and lover/collector of fine handmade goods from her worldly adventures. She studies the design aesthetic while on her trips and brings back inspiration to invest creatively in both her jewelry and clothing lines, both sold in the shop.
She buys all her stones and metals from trusted sources, finding special stones like the Dzi (pronounced, ZEE) that in Tibet is a spiritual stone worn as a symbol of good luck, and ammolite, which looks similar to amber but is a different fossilized material that only occurs in one part of the world. The clothing consists mostly of simple cuts with textiles that are dyed and bleached to make each garment one of a kind, with screen printing done by her man, Murf. The house collection also includes bags made from handwoven textiles. She also decided to start selling her personal collection of Navajo and Zuni jewelry, consisting of hard to find rings, bracelets and necklaces. (Some of the pieces in that case are so unique that if you're a collector of such, your heart will melt).
The only way to get the whole story is to ask questions, and we did just that.
Mercury: Tell me about the products you design, do you make each piece?
Courtney Keene: My design aesthetic is heavily influenced by my upbringing on a rural Adirondack farm, a love for adventure, and a passion for design-based storytelling. We travel internationally every year and personally source handwoven textiles for our bag collection from fair-trade textile centers, weaving villages, and individual weavers. We also seek out stones and interesting pieces that can be incorporated into our jewelry line. Many of our stones are purchased directly from families of miners. We pay whatever price these skilled artisans ask for their traditional craft, and then ship all raw materials back to our shop in Portland where our collections are produced from start to finish. I make all of the jewelry, but with the help of a fantastic local metalsmith; Spooltown does all the cut-and-sew production of our bag line; and my fiancee, Murf, screen-prints all of our hand-drawn artwork.
We focus on small run production, and the majority of our bags and jewelry pieces are one-of-a-kind. I have no interest in creating pieces that will be mass-produced, and my fingerprint is probably on everything in our store. We want people to leave our shop feeling really inspired and exhilarated about this incredible world we live in, and to feel like they are getting something very unique.
Do you have other designers in your shop too? What are the factors in choosing items?
We carry several other brands in the shop that also have great stories we can stand behind and support. The main factors for me are craftsmanship, sustainability, and innovative design... I try to bring in other designers that work well with my aesthetic but have real feeling and inspiration to back them up.
Teeki leggings are made entirely in LA out of recycled plastic water bottles, and have unique, colorful prints that really compliment the textures of my jewelry line. Una Pluma is a Portland-based apparel company that works exclusively with organic cotton and is fair-trade out of Nepal. Bella Sisters is another Portland-based designer who up-cycles vintage woolen coats and recycles materials into one-of-a-kind contemporary jackets.
We are really excited to be carrying several works from the "Moksha" series by local Artist Melanie Ooi, of Blue Lotus Henna. Mel hand-paints her incredible Henna mandalas onto American Bison and Longhorn Cattle Skulls, then adorns the horns with antique textiles, dried roses, and other treasures that she has collected from her own meanderings around the globe. Murph also has a fantastic collection of rare literature that he carefully selects to satisfy the weary poet and rogue.
What do you have coming up?
We are really excited about an upcoming trip to the Zuni reservation of New Mexico in two weeks, where I am hoping to establish a direct connection with contemporary silversmiths. I have a great collection of authentic, vintage Navajo and Zuni works, which we sell a lot of in the shop, but our ultimate aspiration is to support a contemporary artist.
The vibe when you walk into this shop is all excitement and wonder. If you get a chance to meet Courtney, it will immediately make sense why. She is driven, welcoming, and warm, and she is determined to get you excited about what she's doing—not in a salesman kind of way, but as a genuine learning experience.