Portland Brand Heats Up

On our recent trip to Portland, we stopped by to talk to one favorite brands, Bridge & Burn, who now have their very own retail location.

Name: Erik Prowell

Age: 39

Location: Portland, OR

What was life before Bridge and Burn? Much simpler and less fulfilling.

You went from a comp sci track to becoming a fashion designer. How? Did you receive any formal training in design? I working for a software company and going to grad school, when halfway through my Masters it dawned on me that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life behind a computer. I quit my job and dropped out of school and moved to the mountains outside of Breckenridge, CO to snowboard. My friend and I had started making graphic tees for fun and it slowly turned into a brand called No Star and a full time job. We started doing trade shows, which exposed me to the whole world of apparel. I had some ideas for some cut & sew pieces. A friend I met at the shows gave me a 3 weekend crash course in apparel design and introduced me to a great factory overseas that didn't have production minimums, which allowed me to start small and learn as I go.

What is the meaning behind ‘Bridge & Burn’? It means a couple of things. When I left my programming job to do graphic tees full time, I designed a shirt that had a hand holding a match under a bridge that read, "Never Look Back". It kind of symbolized me leaving the corporate world and striking out on my own. I saw Bridge & Burn as the next phase of my life and had similar feelings as I was leaving the world of graphic tees. I also live and work just off Burnside St. in Portland and love all our bridges, so the name worked on a few levels. Our logo features the St. Johns bridge which was designed by the same guy who did the Golden Gate bridge.

Describe the process of bringing Bridge and Burn to life. Where did you start? How did you even know where to begin? How big is the company currently? I started really small. The first season was 5 outerwear styles and I had 8 wholesale accounts. I already had relationships with stores through No Star and was familiar with the business. The whole development, production, and business side was way more challenging. Luckily I have some friends that gave assisted me along the way. It's taken me awhile to become comfortable with my identity as a designer, since I never studied it or had any idea how real designers do things. I've tried to add a category each season and improve on existing pieces. I worked out of my apartment for the first 3 years and did almost everything myself, from design, graphics, photography, building the website, PR, accounting… you name it. Last Fall things kind of exploded and I hired my first full time employee. Now we have a retail space/office and 6 employees.

What does a typical work day look like? I wake up at 8. Read email and the news in bed, while my morning coffee brews. I like to walk to work and listen to podcasts like Radio Lab or WTF. I'm in the office by 10 and the first thing I do is make a list of the days projects, which usually means copying the second half of the list from the day before. I like to hit up one of the food carts downtown for lunch and take a late afternoon coffee break. Regular work hours are filled with meetings and managing day to day business stuff. I tend to do my creative work in the evening when there are less distractions. If I'm lucky, I'm headed back home by 9.

What inspires you? A little bit of everything. My Dad and Grandfather were big inspirations during my formative years. They really defined what cool means. On a day to day basis, I get inspired by my friends and all the rad stuff they are doing. Portland has a lot going on right now.

What advice to you have to aspiring entrepreneurs? What are some of the hardest and some of the most important things you’ve learned about starting and running your own business? I think the number one thing is to really believe in yourself and your ideas. It's not an easy path and you have to be confident and persistent to make it through all the challenges. My girlfriend gave me an old wood sign she bought at a thrift store last Fall that must have been from a high school gym. It reads Commitment, Dedication, Hustle. Those are the three main ingredients for any kind of success. I'm also a pretty cautious business person. I like to start small and learn as I go. When I began this project, I seriously had no idea what I was doing and made plenty of mistakes, but none of them were big mistakes. Lastly, you can't take yourself too seriously.