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Shop Tour: Portland’s Tender Loving Empire

by Caitlin Kelch

If Tender Loving Empire were in my neck of the woods, I’d be a regular. Brianne and Jared Mees, Tender Loving Empire co-founders of the Portland hybrid handmade retail marketplace and record label, were in the middle of what they called a “do-or-die moment.” They had launched the brand in a 700-square-foot space at ActivSpace in NW Portland, and despite early successes at the record label and retail store, and great community support, the recession and high expenses were getting the better of the business.

While taking a stroll in the West End neighborhood of downtown Portland, they happened upon an empty storefront next to the local boutique Radish Underground. Their friends at Radish Underground helped secure the new space for them and the (now) prime downtown retail location led to a renaissance for their business. Brianne and Jared’s joint passion and determination to build a financially thriving artist & craft community network in a town that could actually support one has grown to a fantastic online store and multiple brick-and-mortar locations. They also just wrapped a five-day music and handmade goods festival called the All Together Festival as part of their 10-year anniversary.

For the interior of their shops, they enlisted Fieldwork Design, who created the plywood fixtures in the shop using sanded, whitewashed and lacquered plywood. The design direction from the crew at Tender Loving Empire was simple: 1) approachable, 2) affordable (plywood!) and 3) beautiful. The end result is a comfortable, clever and truly unique atmosphere for visitors to enjoy while shopping the eclectic assortment of handmade and local goods.

You’ll notice many distinct angles in each fixture. These geometric features were informed directly by Tender Loving Empire’s logo, which evokes the “open heart” and the two sides of their business: handmade goods and music.

Take a tour of their Hawthorne shop below and enjoy the ride! Visit their online store here and see their new Oregon-inspired “Get Cozy” collection right here. —Caitlin

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Housed in a storefront with massive windows, Tender Loving Empire takes advantage of the space facing the sidewalk by adding window displays like the hanging raindrops seen here.

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Wall-to-wall custom plywood shelving and islands by Fieldwork Design make for a neutral and uncluttered background for all of the indie wares TLE carries.

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There’s even geometric plywood seating for shop visitors to take in the entire space from a clean vantage point. Behind this seating area, music and sound accessories take center stage.

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The community values — and message Tender Loving Empire was founded upon — are emblazoned in neon.

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Prints and pillows by local artists, designers and crafters fill the many custom islands.

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You can find a tote for every occasion in this lively spot in the store.

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Tiny handmade figures with multiple functions smile together in a happy group.

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A hanging objects vignette at Tender Loving Empire.

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Vinyl and digital music make the scene in this area of the store that features local music, bands from the shop’s own record label and beyond.

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The TLE shop is filled with handmade goods for every age, including monster plushies, cutting boards and DIY kits.

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Books, jewelry and clothing for children are available, making Tender Loving Empire a great gift destination for locals in person, and everyone else online.

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Locally designed and printed cards and stationery are some of the most popular items in the store.

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A shot of the front of the shop where a circular ceiling installation is visible.

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With its own plywood “awning,” the shop’s counter gets its light from pendant lamps hanging through holes in the wood.

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Another selection of pieces available in the shop.

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Looking from the entrance into the store, it’s no wonder people wander in excitedly from the sidewalk.

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