Founder/Creative Director of ELSEVVHERE Jasen Allyn Bowes and life partner Allison Claire Bowes pictured together in Tokyo - Nakameguro District 2015.
I like to talk, but rarely about myself. I have decided it's time to do something a bit different than what social media (LinkedIn ,IG, Etc.) could offer and instead start a series of interviews with myself. Rather than a simple Q&A, I decided to create a phone call interview with myself.
Influenced by the 1979 book, "The Telephone Call" by Ed Friedman i posed a series of questions to myself and recorded the answers. The interviewer (me) will be denoted by ME and the answers by JAB (my initials). *i recorded a phone call with myself on Dec 3, 2020, and transcribed on December 4, 2020 at my home in Portland, Oregon.
ME: (phone ringing)...
JAB: ( answers phone) Hello?
ME: Hey Jasen, how are you?
JAB: I'm well, thanks for asking.
ME: Right on, glad to hear it. I was curious if you have a few minutes to chat about yourself with me?
JAB: Yeah sure. What do you have in mind?
ME: I'd like to get start with some insight into defining moments in your life as well as other bits and bobs. Sound good?
JAB: Let's do it.
ME: Let's start with you and your work. Is there a moment in your career or life that you consider a defining moment?
JAB: A defining moment..( thinking)... Just one?
ME: I guess if there are multiple moments, then let's hear em' all.
JAB: I'll start in college as that feels like one of the biggest catalysts for who i am today. I was attending UNM in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I put myself through college while working at a local skateboard and snowboard shop. I was an accomplished snowboarder and an early adopter to the sport in 1987. I decided in the fall of 1990 that i would form a college club- a snowboarding club. This one moment changed my life as the club i formed ended up being one of the largest organizations on campus. I had to learn skills i didn't have prior - organizational skills, management, delegation ( i had officers who i chose to help me) and more. This really lead to me elevating into higher ranks within the industry of snowboarding and offered more attention to me as an athlete and salesperson at an early age.
ME: Wow, that sounds fun.... and crazy. You mentioned multiple moments that defined your life so far. Did this college club thing ever go anywhere?
JAB: Well, the club still exists today which makes me smile. Not sure they know who started it and it really doesn't matter. What matters is people are still getting together because of it and having a good time i assume. (For me) The club led to a job launching a snowboard project for the French ski company Salomon. It was here i learned all about making a product, testing that product with consumers - the French designers and testers were amazing. I learned a ton from them. I excelled working for the brand and was quickly swept away by the leading brand in the industry and sport - Burton Snowboards.
ME: Epic. Burton was one of the first brands in the sport.
JAB: Yeah and they didn't f*9k around. They worked hard and played hard. I wouldn't say there was balance in their madness, but i found some on my own.
ME: How did you find any balance in a company with that kind of grind?
JAB: Back then i rode my board about 115 days a year. (I was) On snow and still working my ass off. That brand taught me so much about business management, "Pull Marketing" , looking for white space, self evaluation, collaboration and the power of the word "NO".
ME: Tell me more about the power of the word No.
ME: (laughing) Ok, fine. Let's keep things moving then. So, snowboarding clubs and jobs helped define who you are. Interesting.
JAB: (It's) Like another life i lived. I think I've lived a few already. You could also say that earlier in life one of the most significant pieces of my existence was being gifted my first 35 mm camera from my grandmother or maybe that i was raised by single mom who's a hard worker. Man. Yeah. Those are both kinda defining moments too. Both really shaped me.
ME: Right, sure. All our parents shape us. Grandparents too. Did you have a tight family life?
JAB: Not really. My parents divorced when i was young. We lived in New Mexico then. My mom was a middle school teacher and my dad (was) a professor at the university.
ME: Was he still a professor at the university when you attended?
JAB: Yeah he was there. But hang on. Let me get back to cameras and mom.
JAB: My mom taught school by day and coached high school girls soccer after school. On certain nights she also worked as a hostess at an Italian joint when i was a teen. It was then that i learned , well forced, to cook. She said, there's what we have for spices , there's the freezer and fridge - figure it out. (soft chuckle) She's always been about tough love and getting past the problem rather than being the problem. She did the same thing with sewing. Now that i think about it, maybe mom my was able to teach me about things that fit her gender back then. (deep sigh, thinking) Hmmmmmmpphh . Interesting. Never really considered that until now.
ME: Helpful i guess??
JAB: In hindsight, yes. In practice as a teen, not so much. But i dug in and figured it out. And it's a blessing in my life now as i can cook anything for anyone , anywhere. I can go to your fridge or pantry and whip up something tasty where most people just see ingredients. So if you have me over i can make you a meal and sew your napkins. Beat that.
ME: Maybe your calling was to be on a cooking show or a fashion design show? Project Runway meets Iron Chef.
JAB: (laughing out of control) Nah, (I'm) pretty sure that's not my calling. I do enjoy being very talented in culinary arts though. I also love the challenge and keep pushing myself to get better all the time. My sewing skills are still quite simple.
ME: Nice. What about your grandmother?
JAB: My parents got married young. I was a surprise baby. I'd like to think of it as welcome bundle of joy. Anyhow, in the early days all the grandparents kicked in to help raise me as i was the only grandchild and the only child. Is that what you meant by your question?
ME: Not really. I was referring to the grandmother that gave you a camera.
JAB: Oh yeah, sorry. Avis. She's a legend. She gave me the camera and 13 and changed my life. I have won many awards as a young person with my camera. For a while when i was younger i thought that would be my path for work. Then my camera system was stolen on the summer after i graduated high school and i didn't have any money to replace it. I went about 20 years not shooting because of that situation. It sucked. But...........in recent years i started shooting again. Maybe from 2015 or so. Since then camera has taken me to super interesting places where I've produced work for magazines, blogs, brands and this site. Not sure what i would do without my cameras. I love that side hustle too. It's important to have plenty of creative (influences) to keep balance in my life.
ME: Do you still have that camera she gave you? You said cameras as if there was more than one.
JAB: About 12 off the top of my head, but not that original Pentax K1000. I do have my grandma Avis' old Nikon FM2 though. (It) Has her initials stamped in the metal on the bottom. I love it and shoot with it from time to time. Others are all different types for different needs. Some are film and some are digital. Mostly film though.
ME: Film. They still sell that stuff?
JAB: Hell yeah they do. I like it better. It can't be rushed, there's no cheating and it's always great to see what turns out and what doesn't. No chimping.
ME: Let's get back on topic.....(pause), but chimping does sound like something i want to know about.
JAB: Right. Defining moments. Funny how they all really roll up into what i do and who i am these days. Well, after Burton i married. My wife worked for Burton too (And 2 years later we had a baby girl- Austen). We wanted to get out and do something else, so we resigned. No one ever resigned at Burton from a sales job. (It was) too prestigious and too much power. We were over it. So we left and started a sales agency in the fashion industry instead.
ME: Seems logical.
JAB: Yeah, not really. I don't always do (*think) logical. I like to see what's out there, maybe what people are missing. It comes to me. I can connect the dots in the back of my mind - most often before others see it. Maybe it's synesthesia. I see patterns and build associations where others don't see them. The talent for launching brands is one example. This (the) move to fashion was one of em. Even starting ELSEVVHERE had been influenced by it. For fashion, I saw data in my mind lining up saying sport and fashion would merge. I was early , found good brands (and they found me as a result) and built a reputation with clients and brands before others even thought about making a jump like that.
ME: So you see things. That kinda sounds a bit out there. You're ok with that?
JAB: I'm totally O.K. with it. Once you get to know me you know how incredible this talent is. I don't think i grew to see it as something that defines me right away. At first it seemed just like luck. But now after 20 plus years doing amazing things i can say it's in me ( this talent). Hindsight is 20/20 right?
ME: Right. When did you start to consider this something you could count on, that you saw as a talent?
JAB: I think i realized it was something i could monetize when Levi Strauss came knocking at the door in 2011. They had heard (about me) from people inside their company. (They heard from) People i had crossed paths with in the past. They called asking if i could help them launch a new category for them globally, with a focus on North America. It was for skateboarding. Jeans for skating. There was a guy in Europe named Fillip. Me- (I signed a two-year contact). A couple marketing guys inside Levi's. A couple of product guys. That's it. We were all challenged with building a company within their company. It was such an epic opportunity to showcase all my talents. Well, maybe not cooking. ( laughs).
ME: That does sound epic. What did you do?
JAB: Man, pretty much went off the rails on all topics. They wanted to get it in the market, take over the market etc. I was in San Francisco at their offices like once a week and i live in Portland, Oregon. I flew alot back then. Ahhhhh COVID- no travels these days. Anyway i was the synaptic puzzle piece between their groups. Like a cross-functional glue to keep everyone moving forward on my plans to launch and grow the new category. We wanted to make Levi's cool with a new generation. That meant we had to do it right. Growing up as a skate-rat i had the know how as to how to show up, but also did a ton of listening to all the skate shop owners, local skaters etc. It was super a super exclusive project that somehow had to be inclusive and needed to grow quickly without selling out.
ME: (laughing) Sounds easy.
JAB: Not even (close). I reworked trade show booths so we didn't show up looking bougie. I worked with product and merchandisers to make sure we had the right price range and assortment. I set up launch events that we're grass roots and methodically planned to paint Levi's as a small brand versus a corporate behemoth with the marketing dudes. I built and managed a team of sales people in the field to get us in the right stores. It was non stop. But 18 months in we were in all the best stores and we were already taking floor space from the top brands in longbottoms. We were a solid #2 (market position) in a year. Needless to say they were stoked. I guess that's why they offered me another 2 year contract.
ME: Niiiiice. Another contract. 2 more years.
JAB: It was great. It's funny because while all that was going on i was also a partner in a design/build firm that working in fashion accessories called ITC.
ME: Wait , you weren't just doing the Levi's gig full time?
JAB: Oh i was ( doing the Levi's job full time). I was also a lead in our company working in business development, but it was way more than that. I was blending the worlds a bit and sprinkling in all my experience to each project. I worked to find and build new clients, produce branding for our ingredients brand Polylana, launched our sustainable sock brand Arvin Goods, worked on trend forecasting, trend travel, and also had an influence in what we made and sold to clients.
ME: How did you manage all that work and travel?
JAB: I just did it. It was easy actually. All the pieces fit together and helped the other. It was very symbiotic. I think it was at Levi's and ITC that i really learned what mattered to me. I was traveling so much, consuming, i was like a sponge traveling the world. This is when ELSEVVHERE launched, when Arvin Goods launched and when i really fell in love with making life slower and with intention. It's the time when i decided that less is more, making things in a circular or sustainable manner has to be the future and that it's best to grow your own food if you can. I think when you slow things down you can really see what the future can hold. I've said before that we work too hard to actually ever be really successful. I think I'm paraphrasing Bill Gates if i remember correctly, but it's really true.
ME: (slight laugh) a slow life for a guy who's logged more miles in the air in a year than most in a lifetime......and how's that going for you?
JAB: It's going. I'm always learning, always moving the needle forward. My garden pretty much failed this year, but my flowers grew and i used them to make natural dyes. I like hard work - it's just in my blood. Maybe that (work ethic) came from the way my mom raised me. Well, my dad too. Both of them raised me to work my ass off, appreciate what was given to me, plan for all possibilities (that really came from my dad) and to make sure i stayed humble(and that one was from mom). I can see things emerging that i am really excited for now that I've slowed life down. Sustainable lifestyles will be the social and cultural capital of the future as an example. Selling this new lifestyle in a way that helps us all live better lives will be the prize to those that know how to craft it to be inclusive.
ME: Interesting. So, would you say your advice to people is live a slow life, consume less, work hard and stay humble? How would anyone know about the first couple concepts if you're not out there beating people over the head with the message? Seems that style (of not promoting yourself) doesn't work too well in a society that self-promotes every second these days though.
JAB: That's probably why most people don't ever hear these stories- my mom was outspoken about being humble. I don't talk about myself or sell myself to peeps very well. I really like it that way. As far as the concepts though, that's different. That's marketing. You can still be humble, but market concepts. I guess it's all in how you build the message. You can go wild and blast everyone with a message, but i think there's an evolved way to show it through curation, messaging, case studies, brand associations and more.
ME: Me too. So you're saying your parents baked humility into your DNA? Is that a weakness?
JAB: Yeah, eventually that cake crumbles on those who bake it. I think it's a strength to stay under the radar. I think that's why i was so successful with the Levi's gig. Go wild, go crazy. Grow as fast as you can. I'll take the " I'm the guy in the corner of the room" vibe when i can. I still get approached being that guy. I'm just not the guy provoking you with all types of who-knows-what to get your attention. I believe If you need me, you'll find me and when you do we'll make magic together.
ME: Hey that seems like a good stopping point. We never really got to much more than pivotal work influences in your life. Let's make sure on our next (call) that we dig deeper into ELSEVVHERE, how you spend your free time, what you're reading etc.JAB: That sounds great. Thanks.
*All images by Jasen Bowes except for phone image by Annie Spratt @anniespratt courtesy of Unsplash.