Strike the Match: Highlighting Our Favorite Bridge Burners

Words by Chris Zimmerman
Photos by Bridge & Burn

It’s easy to get caught up in life’s pre-established routines. Land in a cush job, buy a house, start a family and before you know it, twenty years have gone by but you’re left feeling like you missed the opportunity to pursue your true passion. For a lot of people, this is the life they lead and end up looking back with regret. But what does it take to risk everything, make the leap and follow a dream? There have been many people throughout history who have bucked convention, set off on their own paths and burned their proverbial bridges while never looking back.

The story is similar for Bridge & Burn founder, Erik Prowell. His course of action not only coined the name of their company, but also the series, “Bridge Burners”. Defined by those who took a similar leap of faith, Bridge Burners are highlighted through this Portland, OR, company, seeking to inspire others on the cusp of something big, just looking for a little nudge and some confidence to make it happen.

On Thursday May 3rd from 5-7pm in our Seattle store, we’ll be partnering with Bridge & Burn to host a panel discussion and Q&A session with a handful of people who have taken the leap, burned their bridge and been successful. Hear their stories, learn from their hard-learned lessons and hopefully leave inspired to take a similar leap. If you can’t make it to the event in person, be sure to tune into the Facebook Live event to see it all go down. Here’s a brief backstory on each of the panel guests, all with their own tales of bridge burning.

 

Erik Prowell – Bridge & Burn

(Photo: Bridge & Burn)

Well on the way to earning a computer science degree, future Bridge & Burn founder, Erik Prowell decided he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life hunched in front of a computer screen. With little-to-no knowledge of apparel design, Erik did come full of passion and enthusiasm, which led him to deviating from his course and starting his first t-shirt brand. The first graphic ended up being more prophetic than he ever imagined, featuring a hand holding a match to a bridge and the words, “Don’t look back.”

Now, eight years since the launch of Bridge & Burn and 13 years since Erik decided to take the leap, he hasn’t looked back. Continuing to set the standard for functional design, beautiful detailing and incredible fit, Erik and the rest of the team at Bridge & Burn are moving full steam ahead. Erik’s story isn’t too different from other pioneers, unafraid to dream big and follow their passions.

 

 

 

 

Michael Paratore – Mohinders

(Photo: Bridge & Burn)

A lot of people come back from trips to foreign lands with newfound inspiration, perspective and souvenirs, but it was a pair of hand-woven slippers from India that were the catalyst for Michael Paratore to start Mohinders. With a full time career as a corporate lawyer in San Francisco, Michael found himself constantly day dreaming of starting a company. Thanks to the support and encouragement of his wife, along with his longing for something different, Mohinders was launched.

The fact Michael had no experience in the shoe business didn’t slow him down, and he soon found himself back in India, meeting and talking with local vendors and craftsman, looking for a way to produce the same slippers and bring them back to America. Eventually, he learned of a Bangalore-based non-profit cooperative working with artisans to improve their workflow and help them better manage their finances so they could break free from a cycle of poverty. It was Michael’s passion and curiosity that led him to finding a way to bring an authentic Indian item to a new market, while working with the locals and being able to stay respectful.

 

Matt Pierce – Wood & Faulk

(Photo: Bridge & Burn)

While some people make a hard right turn from one career to the next, Matt Pierce from Wood & Faulk had a few more turns in his route. His path began while living in his hometown of Wichita, KS, working as a contract negotiator and procurement buyer for the airline industry. After hearing a fellow co-worker had been there for 12 years, Matt was terrified and abruptly quit. Instead he went back to school and got a degree in graphic design. With a second career as a web designer, Matt moved to Portland, OR, bought a 100-year old house and began fixing it up, documenting the progress on his personal blog.

Eventually, Matt’s blog continued to grow, a steady flow of small leather projects, woodworking and furniture hacks. It got to the point where his side hobby was beginning to overtake his full-time career—both literally and figuratively as supplies soon filled his home. Since then, Wood & Faulk has grown into a full scale leather goods and accessories brand. While Matt continued doing freelance web design and Flash animation, Wood & Faulk began collaborating with local Portland brands like Pendleton and Poler, with distribution growing in the process. It got to the point where Matt was finally able to take on Wood & Faulk full time, realizing his dreams after the past 15 years.

 

Marcy Landolfo – Communion

After spending 15 years working in the airline industry, it was a shoulder replacement that sparked a change for Marcy Landolfo to make a change. Though going back to school and getting a Master’s in Urban Planning, Marcy soon realized she was not cut out to spend 40 hours a week working at a desk job. When the her favorite local boutique clothing store was closing, it left a void in the market for quality, affordable fashion items in Portland and soon Marcy took the leap and opened her own store in its stead, Communion.

Starting out with little experience and sales tools didn’t stop Marcy, but it did make her extra careful and conservative in the first year. This slow approach allowed her to gain a better understanding of her customer and knowledge of the business, forcing her to rely on her ability to network, resourcefulness and find her own solutions. Though all the trials, tribulations and stress, Marcy and Communion have embarked on a journey to run an effective business while being an owner and a boss at the same time. Now six years later, Communion continues to evolve and grow while Marcy continues to evolve and grow herself.

 

Moderated by Molly Hawkins – We Are Unicorns

(Photo: Sunita Martini)

As the moderator of the Bridge Burner panel, Molly Hawkins actually has a pretty similar story to that of the panelists. After working at Seattle-based evo for seven years as the company was in its early growth stage, Molly helped usher in the new digital age, utilizing social media, grassroots marketing and building local relationships. Eventually word of Molly’s outgoing personality and marketing expertise grew into a series of side jobs.

Soon those side jobs began growing and Molly left her comfortable position as Marketing Manager to start her own social marketing agency, We Are Unicorns. Now six years later, Molly’s company has grown and, like all startups, had its fair share of growing pains. Through all this experience, her unwavering passion and commitment kept it together as the company continues to evolve and adapt to an ever-changing market. Not only does Molly’s story make her a Bridge Burner, but she has the personality and skills to be a great panel host.

 

 

 

What ties this group of Bridge Burners together is not just the fact they took a risk and followed their passions, but that they were able to stick through the less-glamorous side of owning and running a business. It’s the non-creative aspects that are oftentimes the most challenging, but being willing to learn, ask for help and persevere is what makes them stand apart from the crowd. We’re pleased to welcome all these Bridge Burners into our store on May 3rd to learn from them, hear their stories and get inspired. Head to the Facebook event for more info, to RSVP and to tune into the Facebook Live video stream during the event.

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