Why We Should Keep Portland Weird
For most of us, mastering the unicycle or the bagpipes might be daunting enough on their own. Combining them into one act that’s endured for over a decade? Probably impossible. But for Brian Kidd, maintaining his balance and lung capacity has been the easiest part of being the Unipiper—building and maintaining his brand has proven far more challenging. Luckily, though, he’s learned a lot in 11 years, and he was kind enough to share some of his experiences with those in attendance at July’s Maker Meetup, kindly hosted by Portland Apparel Lab (PAL).
Before Kidd spoke to us, Dawn Moothart, co-founder and owner of PAL, gave us a quick rundown on PAL, a workspace for small apparel companies who might not have resources like industrial sewing machines. PAL also hosts classes to build community and invites all to, in the words of Moothart, “bask in creative juices.”
Next, Portland Made Director Jim Hassert initiated a Q & A session with Kidd, starting with the origins of the Unipiper. In short, it involved a salvaged unicycle, some free bagpipe lessons, and a beer-spiked dare from friends. From there, Kidd gave us a few pointers on how to keep your brand successful, fulfilling, and above all else, yours.
Stick to a set of core values.
For the Unipiper, some guiding principles include being weird, inclusive, and Portland. One might think that it’s easy enough for the poster child of “Keep Portland Weird” to uphold these values, but there have been times when he’s had to weigh situations to see if they were truly serving his values. For example, a boutique hotel downtown once approached him to make an appearance for a special event, which he initially agreed to. But when he got to the hotel, he realized that the vision actually included a political skit where the Unipiper would play the part of a protestor. Realizing that this wasn’t terribly Portland or inclusive, Kidd ducked out.
Do your research.
When others approach you for collaborations, make sure there’s mutual benefit and that it won’t put you in a sticky spot. When a little company called Uber approached the Unipiper to be Rider Zero during their [illegal] rollout in Portland, Kidd admits he skimped on research.
Own your audience.
Social media is a great tool (Kidd finds Instagram in particular carries a lot of weight for him), but at the end of the day, the audience you have on any given platform isn’t really your property. And with algorithms constantly changing, it’s tough to know how visible your content is. Kidd (and Hassert) strongly recommend collecting email addresses to ensure you’ll be able to keep in touch with your followers.
In addition to dispensing advice, Kidd answered a few FAQs (yes, he does have a day job; yes, he does have a face; when Hassert cheekily asked if there was anything under the kilt, Kidd was quick to say yes—a unicycle) and he even hung around for photos and to give everyone free Unipiper magnets after the presentation ended.
Words by Katey Trnka
Photography by Sarah Toor