These 3 Portland Brands Support International Makers

Sandals to stylish baskets, these local entrepreneurs expand a community-minded ethos around the globe.

By Eden Dawn October 17, 2018 Published in the November 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Sseko Designs

From the furniture crafters and metalworkers at Southeast’s shared ADX space to the all-female fashion collective that calls the 811 E Burnside building home—Portlanders have the art of teaming up to make cool stuff down to a chic science. But one subset of our stylish entrepreneurs is expanding the city’s community-minded ethos to support and highlight other makers around the globe too. They provide underserved artisans with infrastructure for the American marketplace; Portland gets a community-based, international style infusion. Now that’s a win-win.

Sseko Designs

In Uganda there’s a nine-month gap between high school graduation and the beginning of college, created with the intention of allowing students time to raise money for school. But, in this patriarchal society, opportunities for women to make bank are few. For nine years, Portland-based Sseko, founded by Liz Forkin Bohannon, has hosted a safe space in Uganda where young women can live and work together during that gap, earning college money while crafting Sseko’s signature leather sandals. So far, it’s helped more than 100 women fund their educations. This year, Sseko expanded its offerings: the floral caftans, sleek, two-toned leather boots, and custom bags on its site are the work of artisans across Kenya, Ethiopia, and Peru.

Via Raiz

What began as a pop-up shop devoted to Mexican crafts went full brick-and-mortar in May when Jennifer Bolaños opened the doors to Vía Raíz on NW Thurman Street, chock-full of modern designs—white leather equipale chairs and geometric espresso cups to glazed clay planters. Using childhood trips to her parents’ home state of Michoacán as inspiration, Bolaños works with designers from all around Mexico, focusing on makers who incorporate cultural significance into their contemporary works: a stylish basket hand-woven from palms that grow in Mexico’s southern mountains and shaped into a black home accessory, or an achromatic virgin wool blanket woven in central Mexico and complete with fuzzy tassels.

Helado Rosa

Brandi Herrera and Zachary Schomburg’s Helado Rosa is named for the pink ice cream sold by a bike vendor in Sabinas Hidalgo, the Mexican town where Herrera’s grandmother grew up. The couple—also poets and artists—took the color as the inspiration for their online shop, where goods are sorted into palettes like rosa, azul, and palma. They stock each section with hand-loomed pouches, colorful huaraches, and textured lampshades they find while traveling, using Herrera’s family’s connections to buy small quantities of goods, paying artisans full price per item instead of buying wholesale on the cheap. Plus, the duo donate 10 percent of sales to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a nonprofit civil rights group.

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