When a company’s motto is “Made the hard way,” it’s easy to envision its employees regularly injuring themselves on the assembly line, or resources being shipped in from ridiculous places all over the world. However, in Grovemade’s case, the phrase more accurately means that each gorgeous wooden product they sell—iPhone cases, iPad sleeves, watches, etc.—is made the best way, with all of its materials (primarily maple and walnut at this point) sourced domestically and all of its detailed design and production work performed locally, in a 5,000-square-foot studio conveniently located right beside Base Camp Brewing Company in SE Portland. “The first item in our line (a bamboo iPhone 3 case) took me about 9 months to create,” says Ken Tomita, a former furniture designer who founded Grovemade along with his friend Joe Mansfield, who worked in digital art and laser engraving, in 2009. “We always brainstormed ideas with each other, and this one just stuck. But the only real similarity between what I was doing before and now is that wood was the shared medium, so there was definitely a learning curve.”
“In the beginning, our only goal was to make one quality product. Then over time we slowly added on similar things. Now, five years later, we’re much bigger and we’re trying to move toward being a really nice design company, rather than just a case company,” notes Tomita. They recently introduced a professional desk collection, a stylish wooden watch, and are looking forward to introducing more non-Apple-related items in the future.
“The design and production process can be very complicated, with a lot of back and forth, but it’s important for us to push the limits of the materials that we work with, and we’re always trying to improve our process,” he says. What started off as a team of two has now grown into a group of 20 fun, creative co-workers. “Half of our studio is filled with people actually making stuff, like a woodshop. The other half is office space, where designers, accountants, shipping/fulfillment people and others work,” says Tomita. There’s just enough room left over for a ping-pong table (to help keep the ideas flowing, of course). “Our company focuses a lot on ourselves—on our people, the way we work, the way we live and the way we treat each other. We believe that if we take care of that stuff, then some really good products will naturally occur as a result,” he says. “We also know that our business cannot exist anywhere else. Even if we were still in Portland, but out by the airport, we wouldn’t have this amazing team, making wonderful things together.”