We had a chance to catch a moment with Erik Prowell recently. Erik is the founder and creative director at Bridge and Burn, a Portland Oregon based clothing brand with rich design taste layered against beautiful fabrics with a northwest aesthetic.
Erik is a long time friend of ours at ELSEVVHERE. We have worked side by side in the trade (fashion) for quite some time. He is a very kind natured man, very humble and extremely intelligent. All of these traits show through his work. Not often do you get to have heaps of time with such a busy guy. He works super hard day and night to make sure his brand is etched into the mind of fashion loving folks in the USA and abroad which leaves little time for niceties. As many successful people will tell you, " keep pushing for greatness, one day it will cross your path in a major way". Erik embodies this mantra 100 percent. We know that while he has already achieved such great success with Bridge and Burn, that he is just barely scratching the surface of what is possible. We feel fortunate to have talked him into a visit with us.
In our ongoing series of Q and A with those that design, we asked Erik to help us gain some insight into his world. Below are excerpts from our interview. We also snapped some Ilford 3200 Black and White with him while we sipped some yummy 21 Yr Tsaketsuru Japanese whisky with him in our studio. Lastly we have added some shots with the same film in his atelier and flagship retail location in Portland, Oregon. We hope you enjoy knowing Erik as much as we do.
And if you're ever through Portland look him up. You'll be super glad you did.
*The following q's were posed to Erik Prowell , founder of Bridge and Burn on Dec 5, 2017.
ELSEVVHERE: How goes today? What are you up to?
EP: It’s great. The sun is actually shining. Road my bike to the office and am working on some fun projects.
EW: It’s Tuesday. Are there some days that are usually more difficult than others in your world? What is the toughest day of the week in your schedule? Is there one? Why?
EP: Mondays are my least favorite. Lots of meetings and planning. Planning is not a strength of mine.
EW: Let’s back up a moment: We met in the PNW, but did you grow up in Portland?
EP: I was born in Portland, but grew up in Bend, OR. I’ve called Portland home since 2005.
EW: Does Bridge & Burn relate to Portland in any way?
EP: It was founded in and inspired by Portland and the Pacific Northwest. The name of the brand was partly inspired by the live/work space I launched the company from which was located just off Burnside near the bridge. It was also my goal to design good looking rain jackets that could withstand our long, wet winters.
EW: So, tell us more about Bridge & Burn? What’s your favorite part about the brand?
EP: I founded it in 2009. The first collection was 5 jackets each for men and women and I’ve tried to expand the line every season. This Fall we introduced our first knit wool sweaters. My favorite part of the brand is the product. Nothing makes me happier than when we’re able to create a new piece of clothing that is exactly as I imagined it.
EW: Where did inspiration for Bridge & Burn come from?
EP: Initially, I just wanted to make a functional rain jacket that could be worn everyday and not look like you needed to go summit a mountain while wearing it. I soon found out it’s hard to make a living in the summer when you just sell outerwear, so I started making other clothes too. The goal is to make wearable clothing with a clean, timeless sense of design.
EW: How long have you been at building your brand? What do you think was a key move that you made to make your brand such a success? Or was it a series of moves?
EP: Our first season was Spring of 2010. The best move I made was to open our flagship store in downtown Portland in 2013. Before that I had a part time employee, but did almost every aspect of the business by myself. Once the store was up and running, I was able to hire more help and focus on expanding the line and growing our business.
EW: How about a little background on you? Did you go to school for design?
EP: I got into apparel in a really round about way. I have a degree in computer science. I was half way through a masters degree in computer science with an emphasis on cognitive science, when I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life behind a computer. I quit school and my job and moved up to Summit County, Colorado to snowboard and figure out what I’d do next. I still did a little freelance coding and also started making some graphic tees with a friend of mine. Doing graphic tees slowly turned into a full time business, where we selling to boutiques and big stores nationally and internationally.
While doing the tees, I had an idea for a custom sweatshirt I wanted to do. I had a good friend who quit her design job and was teaching at a fashion school. I knew she had some time on her hands, so I asked her to help get them made. She was super into teaching at that time and said, “I won’t do it for you, but I’ll teach you how to do it.” She then gave me a crash course in apparel design and introduced me to an amazing boutique factory in China that specializes in high quality, low volume production runs. The rest is history.
EW: Does place have influence in what you make? Ie: Where you were born or grew up – do you feel that influences what you do and make?
EP: For sure. A lot of my inspiration come from vintage military and heritage menswear. I grew up wearing my Dad’s and Grand Dad’s Pendleton and Woolrich pieces. Those influences are definitely visible in the line. Especially our Fall collections.
EW: Where do you find the inspiration for your creations? Do you pick themes or ??
EP: I’ve never really developed things with a theme in mind. I hired an amazing designer a couple of years ago and have transitioned to more of a creative director role. Liesel, our designer, starts out with a story and color theme in mind, but at the end of the day, we end up designing things around the amazing fabrics we’re able to source. Since we do such small production runs, we work mostly with available fabrics that are sourced abroad. Once we have all the fabric swatches and start picking our favorites, the direction of the collection starts to reveal itself.
EW: How often do you make new collections?
EP: Right now we do two main collections and try to sprinkle in a capsule collection or two each year, as well.
EW: We know you like to shoot your own photography, that you’re really into photography in general. What do you find about photography that makes you happy? Do you have any photographers you look to for inspiration?
EP: I just love creating imagery. I’ve had a camera since high school, but started taking the craft seriously when I started Bridge & Burn and couldn’t afford to hire a real photographer. I love the challenge of shooting in natural light and working with what mother nature gives you. I love the work of Helmut Newton and Peter Lindbergh. I’m drawn to dramatic images that tell a story. I’m also inspired by the Instagram feeds of @nordstrom_brian, @dantom, @ioe, @josecabaco, @vinkjohn and @tobiasregell
EW: And rumor has it you have a new drone for photos. I see you playing with it a bit on your instagram feed. Do you mind talking about what you think of your new equipment?
EP: Yeah! I bought myself a little Mavic Pro this Fall and have been loving it. I’ve never worked with video before and love trying to learn a new process. I’m amazed about the perspectives you can get with it and having been trying shoot lots of dramatic nature and urban clips in the early morning light. Wish I had more time to edit things…
EW: You have a new retail store in LA? Tell us about that. Was it easy to launch a new store? What’s next for Bridge and Burn?
EP: I’m really excited about our new space in LA. I’ve been wanting to open a store down there for a couple of years and finally found the perfect location. It’s in the old American Apparel factory complex which is now called Row DTLA. They’re doing a great job of bringing in a wide variety of independent brands and boutiques. I can’t wait until the restaurants open up this Spring.
EW: Is it difficult having a personal life and managing your brand and two retail stores? Tell us how you make that all happen? Do you get a personal life?
EP: A work/life balance is my biggest struggle. I’m really hands on and it’s a challenge to let go. I was planning on taking a good amount of time off this last summer and road trip around the country. I ended up signing the lease for the LA store in June and that totally changed my plans. I have a very understanding girlfriend and she’s been great at encouraging me to take time off and travel. This year we’ve drove a camper van around Maui for a week, toured Maine in the Fall, and will be spending Christmas in Mexico City.
EW: We met a long time ago, when you had launched a separate brand called La Merde- maybe even before that when you had No Star t shirts rolling hard. You were on target back then for making what the market needed. How do you get your trajectory on what you design? Do you have any influences you care to share?
EP: Honestly, I think it’s all luck. The t-shirt thing started as a fun little art project, but we couldn’t have timed things any better. Tradeshows had just started to become affordable, online retail was just starting to develop, and my sense of humor happened to be on trend. Back in the day, I remember you saying how smart I was for doing outerwear with La Merde and Bridge & Burn, as there was a real hole in the market at that time. It wasn’t anything I researched though. I just wanted a good jacket that I wanted to wear myself.
EW: What advice do you have for someone who is starting out and wants to launch their own brand?
EP: Start small, test the waters and figure out what works. Believe in yourself and don’t give up.
EW: What is a typical work day like for you?
EP: I spend too much time in front of the computer. In the morning I respond to emails and try to put out whatever little fires have started that day. In the early evening I get to focus on whatever project I’m working on at the time.
EW: What do you do for fun or to let of steam?
EP: I love to drink beer, watch basketball, travel, and take photos.
EW: What brands do you admire? Why?
EP: I’ve always been drawn to Margaret Howell. I really respect what Ace & Jig does. You can recognize one of their pieces from block away. Filson outerwear is always fantastic, but it doesn’t fit me.
EW: Do you travel often? Where is your most favorite spot so far? Why?
EP: I travel a fair amount, both domestically and internationally. Hawaii was amazing and I’m planning on going back again next year. Would also like to explore Vietnam more.
EW: Are you reading any books lately or have a favorite podcast? What draws you to this?
EP: ’ve been reading a lot of biographies lately. Right now I’m reading about Jann Wenner, the found of Rolling Stone magazine. My regular podcasts are Freakanomics, How I Built This, Radio Lab, and Market Place with Kai Ryssdal.
EW: We know you have had some collaborations? We personally love the collab with Kiriko last year. Are there more collaborations to come soon?
EP: We have a things in the pipeline. Excited about a project with Justin Gage who does Aquarium Drunkard.
Rapid Fire Q’s. **These are meant to be off the cuff speed q’s and answers…
EW: Say you’re having a dinner party. Who would sit at your 4 person dinner table if you had it your way?
EP: Terry Gross, Chris Rock, me, and my girlfriend.
EW: If you were a car what would you be?
EP: Early 80’s Landcruiser
EW: Sum up Bridge and Burn in three words.
EP: Northwest Inspired Apparel
EW: What is something people do not know about you?
EP: Years ago I shot video while running with the bulls in Pamplona with some friends. Somehow my footage made it onto CNN.
EW: Roulette or Craps?
EP: Roulette. Never learned how to play craps.
EW: Anything else you want to add?
EP: Thanks for the feature!