When I visit a website, or see a logo, I almost always wonder: Who's behind that; Who melded all the creativity and logistics together? In a city filled with small businesses of all walks of life there's one "behind the scenes" business that has helped bring forth the personal branding for so many. Upswept Creative started as a one woman show, Sarah Giffrow, and she was so good at what she was doing, the demand for her work forced her to expand and hire employees. If you're familiar with what being an independent small business represents, you know that having to hire employees is an extremely exciting and pivotal step to take. Sarah Giffrow took her name and changed her business into a "we", as in "We are so excited to work with you", "Look what we're up to" and "We are so sorry it took this long to reply" (it wasn't that long, and who doesn't relate to that anyway, right!?).

From The Fresh Tangerine 2012 Look Book
  • Upswept Creative
  • Fresh Tangerine 2012 Look Book

From The Fresh Tangerine 2013 Look Book
  • Upswept Creative
  • Fresh Tangerine 2013 Look Book

I'd seen the work that Team Upswept had created, like the logo for Claire Vintage Inspired and some photography for local designers, so I started keeping track of the business (you could call it mild stalking). The first time I visited the Upswept Studio I parked next to the 2 ft tall curb on NW Couch and walked a block to discover Sarah working away at her desk that peers out into Old Town-Chinatown. She waved me into the clean and modest studio where immediately a large plush sectional couch invites one to sit. There are large photos hanging on the walls displaying some of the projects she has under her belt, a garment rack with a variety of designers' work waiting for their turn to be shot, and of course a photography studio set-up against the back wall where some of the magic happens. When I asked Sarah to let me take her portrait, she expressed her concern for a black eye that she recently acquired from roller derby (It was just a small bruise on her cheek that doesn't show in the photo). My interest and respect for her grew even more after that! Yes, she's a bad-ass in many forms.
Sarah In Her Upswept Studio
  • Sarah In Her Upswept Studio

It's been a very busy couple of months for her, not just with the actual work flow, but she has had to fill two positions recently, and finding the right fit for a small creative business can be a lot of work. It all fell into place though, and she recently brought in a new project manager and assistant/photo stylist.
Let's get to the Q&A part of the program.

Mercury: Did you attend design school?

Sarah Giffrow: I took the long way around with design school. I started at the University of Oregon as a Journalism major, and switched to Computer Science for a couple of years, and then I finally landed on Multimedia Design as my major after I'd already been at the University for 3 years. They had just introduced the Multimedia Design program, so a lot of it was new and experimental, but I had been doing web design since I was 15, so a lot of the the skills I used, both then and now, were things that I learned on my own.

My first time doing SLR photography as at the University, too—I took a B&W film photography class as one of my art electives, so we did shooting, darkroom, and everything. I didn't start thinking of myself as a professional-level photographer until several years later, though.

How exactly did your business get started and how has it evolved?

Upswept Creative is growing into a full-service boutique agency, so we do branding design, web design, and photography for local businesses, and we also have some awesome people who work with us for content strategy and even copy-writing. A lot of our photography work is for Portland fashion designers, and it was being involved in Portland fashion that really inspired me to start my business.

I've been doing photography for local fashion designers since I got my start as a photographer in 2007, and I saw a lot of them making beautiful and amazing things. But, as I got to know them better and work with them more, I could see that they needed help building a brand that people would recognize, and that'd really show off the quality and spirit of the work they do.

When the studio first started, it was just me doing everything, and I wasn't even sure what my business would look like yet! I had some photography clients left from my previous photography business, and it was the first time I'd really thought to bring my design and web skills together with my photography. It's been a learning experience figuring out what works for us, and who really fits with us, because not every client is a perfect fit. An agency can do great work, but if it's not a style that feels right for a particular client, that can be frustrating for everyone, whether you're a fashion designer or an entrepreneur.

Now I have two people working with me, and also some awesome experts who bring their talents to us when we need to call on them! We respect their ninja skills and we love them as people. Working with people we like is a big guiding principle of what we do. We love people who are really excited about their work, and we want to help them build a life where they can do what they love.

From The Clair Vintage Inspired 2013 Look Book
  • Upswept Creative
  • From The Clair Vintage Inspired 2013 Look Book

In terms of projects, what are some of your favorites?

Oh, wow, it is so hard to choose! I've gotten to work on some really fun projects, and there are still some that I love looking back on even months or years after the fact! I think one of my favorites was working with Carolyn Hart [www.carolynhartdesigns.com] on re-branding her clothing line. I'd been shooting with her for several years, and I felt like I had a good sense of her style, and of what makes her clothing special. The logo was all about clean, modern lines with a touch of glamour, and we overhauled her web site to match that modern look. She loved everything we came up with, and it just thrilled me how perfectly it all came together.

We also got to redesign the Rose City Rollers web site, and that was a real privilege, because I'm also a skater with the league. The league has gotten so huge, and their site was in serious need of a redesign, so I was so happy to put my skills to work for an organization that I care so much about. We've gotten so many comments about how much better the site is, since we re-vamped it!

I've also done a lot of really fun photo-shoots. I love working with Alyson Clair at Clair Vintage Inspired every time we get together, because we always do really fun collaborations. I mean, really, who doesn't like working with glitter and cute animals? I started working with Hubris Apparel not too long ago, and I love some of the location shoots we've been doing. My past shoots with VK Designs and Fresh Tangerine also stand out in my mind as being really fun. And that's just a few ideas from client work—I could probably sit here all day and keep thinking of past work that I've loved making.

Claire Vinatge Inspired 2014 Look Book
  • Upswept Creative
  • Claire Vinatge Inspired 2014 Look Book

Luxe salon Photo Shoot
  • Upswept Creative
  • Luxe salon Photo Shoot

VK Designs
  • Upswept Creative
  • VK Designs

Carolyn Hart F/W 2014
  • Upswept Creative
  • Carolyn Hart F/W 2014

Sarah was also at the 2nd night of Open Season where she took photos of Mag-Big's 30+ look collection. To see even more of her portfolio, visit the Upswept website.

Mag-Big at Open Season
  • Upswept Creative
  • Mag-Big at Open Season

Mag-Big at Open Season
  • Upswept Creative
  • Mag-Big at Open Season