Marcus Harvey launched his company Portland Gear on Black Friday back in 2014—with only two T-shirts and a website cobbled together the night before. But those humble beginnings led to much bigger things for the Portland native and University of Oregon grad.
These days, Portland Gear's signature “P” hats are a common sight around town. You might even spotted Harvey's white-and-turquoise 1973 VW Westfalia, emblazoned with that same “P,” selling shirts, hats, and accessories at the Saturday Market. In just four years, Portland Gear has amassed nearly 70,000 Instagram followers and opened a brick and mortar in Southwest Portland, where Harvey features collaborations with Water Avenue Coffee, Widmer Brothers, the Trail Blazers, the Timbers, and the Thorns.
That success has spawned demand for something more than T-shirts: branding know-how. Over the years, high school and college students have flooded the local apparel company with requests for internship and shadowing opportunities. So last summer, Portland Gear (which has since grown to a six-person team) debuted Brand Camp, a hands-on opportunity for students to learn about marketing, social media, and entrepreneurship. Brand Camp received 300 applicants for its free, three-day camp in 2017, and selected 28 lucky students. For its second year, Brand Camp grew to two four-day camps, which ended on July 12.
“The students are mostly from the Northwest,” says Eli Abramovitz, Portland Gear's ops director. “But we had a guy from Vancouver, Canada, and someone flew in from Ohio. Last year it was all on us. This year we actually have local companies sponsor the teams.”
Working with sponsor companies including Water Avenue Coffee, Wild Friends, Rumpl, Provenance, Moonstruck, and Keen Kids, campers have a chance to solve real-world marketing obstacles. The slick new video Water Ave posted on Instagram? That was the brainchild of six Portland Gear campers.
This year, the day-to-day of Brand Camp included work sessions and field trips to homegrown businesses, Providence Park, and the Moda Center—with a guest appearance from Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum—all culminating in a group presentation for friends, families, and the local businesses. This year also featured a social media panel with a number of Instagram gurus: Johnathan Dahl and Brian Delaurenti of the Gay Beards, Tea Bar's Candance Molatore, and Nesrin Danan, the self-taught music and lifestyle photographer behind the dreamy @Blackprints.
Looking ahead, Portland Gear hopes to expand its local business partnerships, bring in more national and international students, and become a biannual operation, with both summer and winter sessions.
“There's so much value in it for us, the kids, and the businesses," Abramovitz says. "It's not going to go anywhere.