As a manufacturer of products built on the belief that quality is of the utmost importance we are always eager to learn about like-minded manufacturers. What makes them tick? Why do they do what they do? The do-it-right and make-it-last mentality is far from the norm in popular consumer culture. The answer is always the same thing, an unwillingness to compromise their values. There is an understanding that what we make informs the world, molds it, and if we can mold it into a better place then there is no higher value.
Fortunately Portland is chock-full of these kinds of individuals. From large companies like Vigor who refurbish the hulls of commercial sailing vessels to make them faster and more fuel efficient, to the countless garage shop makers and basement producers who demand something better than what is currently offered and have decided to do something about it. Out of this fertile community companies have risen that address the party line that “manufacturing is dead in the US,” head-on with an explicit show-don’t-tell attitude. One such business is Portland manufacturer Grovemade, makers of modern and sophisticated wood based office supplies and personal electronic accessories. Their products are designed and produced in their SE Portland facility where they maintain a strict focus on both the quality of their product and the environmental impact of their production.
Founded in 2009 by Ken Tomita and Joe Mansfield, Grovemade set out to build an iPhone case that would be protective and sophisticated while expressing their shared belief in wood as a beautiful, versatile, and sustainable material that has a definite place in the digital world. Their first design was for the iPhone 3, “It had a curvilinear back,” says Ken, “our case was very difficult to make, but we had a prototype and we were ready to launch production when that Apple engineer left his yet-to-be-released iPhone 4 at a restaurant.” Images of the new iPhone spread quickly throughout the Internet. “With its flat shape we new this was going to be much simpler to make,” says Ken. With their iPhone 4 design Grovemade grew quickly and by the summer of 2010 they were employing 10 people. “It was crazy, the learning curve was very steep, but we were working for ourselves and doing what we wanted, how we wanted to do it.”
Since then Grovemade has continued to expand their offerings, drawing design inspiration from Alvar Aalto sparse wood textures and Dieter Ram’s functional fineness of line. They now offer multiple types of smart phone cases available in high quality hardwoods, flexible and protective wooden tablet cases, and their recently launched desk collection.