DIY Culture: Tanner Goods Maker Interview

Words by Jevan Lautz

Tanner Goods strive to create modern products that respect the past. Their philosophy of Worth Holding Onto — the idea that quality, longevity and value are all interdependent — is an approach that extends to everything they do and make. They choose carefully, from the materials they use and the suppliers they select, to the people they hire and the partners they join. It all traces back to those core elements: quality, longevity and worth.

They love having the ability to take ideas from inspiration to design to fabrication, and do it all under one roof in their Portland, OR workshop. Their small team of designers and craftspeople work in unison to carefully consider an item’s intended use, create wear test samples, then put it to the ultimate test: they use it themselves. They put things through the ringer. And they do this long before they introduce it to the public, allowing them to personally ensure each item’s ability to work well and age beautifully over time. We recently sat down to talk shop and learn a little more about how Tanner Goods has been doing it so right with their Co-Founder, Jevan Lautz.

It seems like there is a growing culture of makers and DIY-ers in Portland. What do you think it is about Portland that makes it a good place to be a small brand?   

Portland has always prided itself as being a DIY culture, I think as the popularity of our city exploded more people became aware of our scene. A big part of the reason why I think this scene has always existed and continues to thrive is the certain type of creative person that calls Portland home. We are also extremely lucky that we have a very supportive eco system of like minded people, along with plenty of cheerleaders from other industries who are more than willing to offer up their sage advice.

A lot of us grew up in a world where we were disconnected from the “making” aspect of our favorite products. They were made overseas and we were never involved in the process or had a window to see how or why things were made. Why is this “maker movement” important to not only to Tanner Goods, but how products are created now?   

Some will call the “maker movement” a trend, however we view domestic production as being a more responsible and transparent process of creating a consumer product. One that can truly connect the customer and brand in an impactful way.

For the last handful of years, there has been a resurgence in Made in the USA brands and a focus and appreciation on the process of making things by hand. Do you think this resurgence is just a bubble or more indicative of a larger trend of domestic manufacturing?

I think there is a bit of both happening here, there are larger, well funded brands that are jumping on as a trend, and then the smaller brands such as ours, that truly want to be as vertical as we can be, and own the process from start to finish.

Viability is an issue that often comes up when people talk about domestic production. How has Tanner Goods been able to justify this expense when you could potentially save money with overseas production?

If we only worried about the bottom line profitability then we are in the wrong business. This is of course something we have to worry about, but for our brand being able to tell the story of ideation to production and that it happens under one roof is something that is more important piece of the brand.

Aside from creating jobs at home, what do you think are some of the biggest benefits of local production?

I think you nailed the most important one for me. However not far behind is the premise that we control every aspect of the product lifeline. We are able to be extremely flexible if something from a design or material stand point doesn’t quite jive with our process or brand DNA. If you are a bigger brand or have someone else producing your product for you it’s a much larger ship to try and turn.

Who or what inspired you to become a maker or get involved in this community?

Two things for myself, while Sam (the Creative Director and Co-Founder) will have a different answer. First is my parents and their entrepreneurial spirit they instilled in me at a young age. They opened up an espresso cafe in the 70s here in Old Town called La Patisserie. They were pioneers in a city that is now considered one of the coffee capitals in the US. The second one is not quite as sexy, but I have always looked up to Yvon and what he has done with Patagonia in terms of product and environmental awareness. I became a fan in high school when I could not necessarily afford the product, but aspired to be a Patagonia dirt bag.

Domestic manufacturing is not a new thing, but it is being revived, in your opinion, who is doing it right and setting a precedence for the industry?

Not sure who is doing it right, but I would look to other industries who never left, such as the beverage industry. Beer, wine, coffee roasters, spirits producers etc.

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