Interview with apothecary Branda Tiffany.
Who is Molly Muriel? What inspired you to choose that name?
The name Molly Muriel was inspired by my dog. That was her name, and she was my biggest inspiration when I started this company. She was just a pup back in 2002, and sadly left this Earth last year, at almost 16 years of age. So she had a very long and happy life. Her legacy lives on with this business, and she is still a great inspiration.
I read your story on the website. Can you tell us more about the journey from a candle making class to your own line of vegan soaps, balms, and cosmetics?
After spending a good year trying every kind of candle I could find info on, I wanted to branch out. I’m not sure why soap was my goal, but I quickly dove in and tried my first batch. Back then there wasn’t so much information online like we can find now, so I was reading books on fixed oils, fragrances, colorants, and pretty much tried them all. I truly feel that not being able to access so many recipes and info gave me a huge advantage of completely understanding the process of formulation and saponification from the ground up. Through many mistakes and troubleshooting came the beginnings of the product line that exists today.
What does being vegan mean to you? Do you personally practice a vegan lifestyle?
I’m not one to love labels, i.e. vegan, vegetarian, etc. I live my life more from a conscientious standpoint. I’m a clean eater, avoiding processed and chemical derived foods. As for environment, I try to avoid plastic when possible, and use as many recycled goods as possible. Veganism is such an individual thing and can mean different things to many people. Being a lover of animals, I do what I can to respect them in all of my life choices, including the food I eat, the clothes I choose to wear, and the goods I purchase.
What goes into your testing and product development process?
My process begins with research and development. I do a lot of investigation on ingredients I want to implement. I read about their nourishing attributes, as well as potential allergens or irritants. I also dive deep into sourcing to make sure that the ingredient that reaches me is the best quality. As for testing, my friends and family are usually my best test subjects. They give me honest feedback about scent, function, reactions, or anything else that may pertain. I’m so thankful to be surrounded by great people who will take the time to try some of my creations.
What are some of the challenges of marketing, manufacturing, and distributing an independent, plant-based brand in a crowded global marketplace?
Marketing is a huge part of business, it has the largest impact on getting my brand out there. It also happens to be my least favorite part of running a small business. But I’ve found that it’s very necessary to have a great marketing strategy or you won’t get the information about your products to the people that are looking for it. I’ve done everything from trade shows and cold calling to emailing and visiting potential stores in person to try to connect. It’s a lot of work, but can also be very rewarding. Manufacturing can be challenging as well, as I’ve gotten to points where I’ve had to purchase ingredients in larger quantities and make bigger batches, there’s always a learning curve with each step forward. I still go through that now, 16 years in! As for distribution, I’ve realized that my industry, natural beauty/body care, has been on the rise and will just keep going, so I don’t try to compete with large companies. I have a vey different product that will appeal to those folks that seek natural and healthy lifestyles. I do what I can and figure that beyond that the products will speak for themselves, and so far they have.
What are some gifts you would recommend for vegans? (These can be from your store, but they don’t have to be.)
Of course I would suggest anything from my product line. However, one of our lines stands out for vegans. It can be very difficult to find vegan lip balm, most is made with bees wax. We use candelilla wax and floral wax instead, which is so very nourishing to chronically chapped lips. My favorite is the lavender mint. Outside of my product line, I really love Queen Bee products using vinyl instead of leather. They also have a 25% discount buy-back program that rocks! Also, a gift certificate to Blossoming Lotus or Sweetpea Baking Company would be excellent, two of my favorites! Yum!!
What is the most popular item / product among your customers?
Our bar soaps have always been great sellers, specifically the Volcanic Bliss bar. I can’t seem to keep that one in stock. During the winter months we sell a lot of candles, the Spice It Up being a big hit, it has cinnamon and clove essential oils and is warm and spicy during those winter months.
This isn’t a question but I have to say that as someone with perennially chapped lips, your lip balm is truly the best thing I have ever tried. Better than all the national brands. Thank you.
Founder Branda Tiffany
Well, thank you! I find the same thing to be true. I had chronically chapped lips for years and did research to formulate this product for myself. The mimosa floral wax I use helps not only to heal tissue, but is a great protectant against the elements. I’m sure that’s why it has been so great for me 🙂 I’m so glad that you’re experiencing the same thing!!
You’ve been in business since 2002. Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I would say, put your focus on feeding your soul before your bank account, and this can be a very sustainable venture for you in the long run. Of course we have to be practical, but true happiness comes from choosing to do something that we love and the money will follow. Don’t give up, just keep your eyes and ears open, and listen to others’ advice, whether you take it or not. One of the worst things we can do is to be stubborn and let our ego get in our way. If we move that aside we can be very successful in all the ways that matter.
UPDATE: Queen Bee Creations closed its Portland retail location in 2020. You can still shop for Rebecca Pearcy’s newest designs on her website, at rebeccapearcy.com.
Interview with Queen Bee Creations founder Rebecca Pearcy
Can you describe the first bag that you made? How old were you?
Rebecca Pearcy outside her store.
I’m not sure what the first bag was that I made, but I do have a few sweet hand-sewn or crafted items that my mom saved from when I was tiny. My favorite is a little fabric elephant that is just so beautiful in that handmade by a child way that is inimitable. I was probably 3 or 4 when I made it? I have loved making things with my hands for as long as I can remember and my mom really fostered that in me. She is a fine artist and did all kinds of crafts with me growing up. Things really took off when I learned how to sew on a machine and I started sewing my own clothing, both from store-bought patterns and improvising my own designs. While I like to make and sew all kinds of things, sewing clothing is my favorite, so I didn’t start making the bags that led to Queen Bee until I was in my early 20’s. I used funky materials like fake fur, shiny vinyl, upholstery velvets, and vintage / upcycled materials. One of my first bag designs was a mini backpack out of shiny vinyl with a Wonder Woman comic image laminated and sewn onto the front with clear vinyl.
Who is the typical Queen Bee customer? Is there one?
I think a lot of our customers are similar to me – they are in my age range (I’m 45) and are pretty practical, so they want something that is functional, that is good quality, that will last, and expresses their sense of style or individuality. And they are excited to support a woman-owned business that they can feel connected to and good about.
Have you ever gotten pushback for using faux materials like vinyl instead of leather? Or do you find that consumers embrace the trend?
No, not really. Occasionally someone will scoff at the non-leather material but leather & faux-leather are entirely different beasts (so to speak). People choose them for different reasons. We are known for working with vinyl, which we did for many years, but a number of years ago we stopped making our bags with vinyl and switched to using PVC free faux-leathers. We also work with a lot of waxed canvas and some leather for handles and straps (along with non-leather options). Leather is an amazing material, in terms of it’s qualities and durability. Faux-leather is waterproof, a lot more affordable, and comes in lots of colors. It suits the rainy PNW active and non-fussy lifestyle well.
What inspired you to expand into screen printing?
In 1997, after I finished college in Washington, I went out to Philadelphia to do an apprenticeship at The Fabric Workshop. It totally changed my life – I felt like I had found something I really really loved. At the heart of my love of making is my love of fabrics. And at my apprenticeship I learned how to design patterns in repeat, make silkscreens of my designs, and print them in repeat on a 25 yard long table. It was so fun and satisfying to create my own fabric. Because of the space and equipment set up needed to do this type of printing, it took me a few years to get to the point where I could print my own fabric. That’s when I launched the Rebecca Pearcy Textiles line. Currently we have a 23’ long print table in our studio where we print all of our fabric. It’s still my favorite part of what we do and I’m working on expanding it even more to include apparel and more housewares.
Screen Printing in the Studio
How many people do you employ in Portland?
I have eight wonderful employees! They are an awesome team that include 2 production sewists, 2 production workers (cutting, prepping, finishing), 2 retail folks, an operations manager, and a bookkeeper. This small but mighty team does it all. We do all the designing, sewing, printing, production, shipping, website management, retail store buying and selling, marketing, managing the workflow, and management of the business itself.
The Studio from Above
Describe the role that Portland has had on your business and brand. Do you believe the city is still a viable home for small and emerging businesses?
Portland has been a great place to run a handmade, creative, small business. People here “get it” — many choose to live here because there’s so much going on in the creative / making realm and are stoked to support the businesses that make Portland, Portland. From attending college at Evergreen, to living and starting Queen Bee in Olympia, WA, to relocating to Portland in 2002, I have always thrived on the hotbed of creativity in the Pacific Northwest. But the way the city is changing and developing rapidly could pose a threat to businesses like mine being able to continue thriving. So that is cause for concern. Part of what made Portland so relatively easy was affordability, for space, for homes. If I was just opening my business right now and looking for space to operate out of, I’d be hard pressed. I hope that the city can preserve and value it’s artisans that bring people from all over the world so we can keep trucking on and keep making Portland a truly special place that offers diversity, variety, and beauty that you can’t find just anywhere.
Do you have a favorite handbag?
My current fave products of ours that I use the most are:
The Ramona Tote
The Becca Backpack
The Hip Holster
What designers and artists have influenced your work?
I’m a huge fan of Marimekko, for their amazing and colorful print designs, as well as Vera Neumann. And I love lots of Japanese fashion, design, and textiles. I admire Frietag for their business model of making one-of-a-kind bags from up cycled truck tarps – they were an early leader in this. I adore Bonnie Cashin bag designs from the 60’s / 70’s.
Queen Bee Creations, 3961 N Williams Street
Artist and mom Maria McConnell makes beautiful, accessible prints and decals inspired by Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
How long have you been making art?
Since I was a kid, but professionally for four years.
What types of work are you best known for?
Landscape paintings and decals!
State of Oregon Decals
What inspired you to start? What inspires you to keep going?
My grandpa, travel, and my crazy imagination.
Your studio name is Bittersweet Canvas. Where does that come from?
Honestly I don’t remember, I believe I randomly thought of it.
How has living in Oregon impacted your work?
The beauty and diversity in our landscapes are the heart and soul of my work.
How has technology impacted your work?
It’s enabled me to have my etsy ship!
What is your favorite medium to work in?
Watercolors and acrylics!
What are you most proud of, creatively?
Mostly that I get to work from home with my two year old!
Pacific Northwest Decal by Maria McConnell
Shop for this and other decals on Etsy.
Interview with Portland comics artist Andrea Rosales
Artist Andrea Rosales
Can you summarize for our readers briefly what happens in Nine Twilights?
Nine Twilights is a magical girls meets Norse mythology coming-of-age action adventure webcomic series written by Anne Mortensen-Agnew, drawn by myself, and edited by Chris Hansbrough.
The comic tells the story of 16-year old Wanda Dusekova, a Romani girl from the Czech Republic who discovers that she is the modern reincarnation of the Norse god Odin. With her mentor Baldur (The Norse god of light and life, and her son from her previous life as Odin), she has to journey across the world to find the other reincarnated Norse gods (other teenage gals) to join her in fighting against various monsters and beasts from Norse folklore such as draugar and frost giants in order to prevent a second Ragnarok brought about by an unknown foe.
This comic isn’t your usual coming of age story as Wanda and her friends have to not only navigate their own lives, but they also have to deal with the consequences of the decisions they made with their past lives as the Norse gods. Each of the girls have different circumstances compared to their past lives and it makes a great difference in the types of decisions they make as they come to terms with their new powers and responsibilities.
The central theme of the comic is being better than you were before, and having the courage to make the right choices having a second chance at life. This comic explores those themes of redemption and internal strength in depth.
Many of our lifelong passions and inspirations can be seen in the pages of Nine Twilights. This comic is inspired greatly by the likes of Sailor Moon, Thor, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to name a few. What we were drawn to in these stories were the ideas of reluctant protagonists struggling to find their way as heroes, making sacrifices to do the right things, and growing in tremendous ways as individuals.
How did you and the writer and the editor find each other and begin working together on this project?
Anne and I know each other from college. We both went to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California and were introduced to each other by mutual friends within the animation program there. I was a graphic design major and animation minor and Anne was a screenwriting major, so we find a lot of common ground and overlap in our interest in wanting to tell stories via comics and animation. Anne and Chris met online by arguing about a long-dead RPG video game series from Konami (Suikoden). That argument turned into a friendship and Anne told Chris that she had a concept for a comic series. Chris told Anne he was a comics editor and they teamed up and went about their search for an artist. In the summer of 2014, they came to me, Anne recalling my interest in creating comics, and the rest is history. We started working on concept art of the comic in late 2014 and early 2015 and made our launch in fall of 2015. Our first chapter concluded in early 2017. Currently we are in the middle of chapter two and our teamwork and friendship is going on strong. We meet pretty regularly to chat story, go over pages, coordinate social media promotions and plan convention appearances.
How has your time in Portland shaped your artistic style and evolution as a creator?
I think that growing up in Portland shaped my artistic evolution significantly in that the fact that it was almost always raining meant that I was indoors much of the time, reading and/or drawing. All those rainy days resulted in many drawings and paintings! I grew up in the Aloha/Beaverton area and I fondly recall my parents often taking my siblings and I to the libraries near us. It was my love of reading that inspired me to want to tell stories of my own. I also loved spending days at Powell’s City of Books downtown and perusing through galleries in the Old Town Chinatown area and around the Pearl District. I always gravitated towards comics and the presence of comic shops and major comics publishers has been a significant source of inspiration to me. Growing up in Portland definitely meant I read a lot of comics. I went to university and lived in Los Angeles for a few years before moving back in 2016. Since coming back to the area it has been incredible to see how much the area has grown and changed. I’ve certainly taken notice of the growing big comics scene here of incredible creators and it’s something I’m excited to be a part of. I think Portland has always been a major hub for creative folks from all walks of life and from all sorts of different places and I hope it will continue to remain so for the foreseeable future.
As a woman and person of color in comics, do you feel like you have a supportive community in the local region?
As a woman I’ve definitely noticed a really encouraging community of ladies making rad comics and I’m over the moon that I’ve been able to befriend many of these fantastic artists through conventions and I look forward to meeting even more! I feel like I’m greatly supported with the friends I’ve been able to meet through comic-creators meetup groups around town. I like to frequent “Crafty Night” on Tuesday evenings brought to my attention by the amazing Rebecca Hicks of Little Vampires Comics and I love hanging out with the PDX Comic Crew Group organized by incredible Nichole Robinson that meets every Thursday night at the Books With Pictures comics shop. Being a part of these groups has helped me a lot in being able to combat the sense of isolation I’ve tended to feel in creating comics. I’ve been making comics on my own for a while and it’s really nice to feel like there are places I can go to work on them with other creators, I’m far from so many of my friends still in Los Angeles, and in other places, and while I keep in touch with them, I have also made new friends in Portland and it’s great to be a part of this growing community. This year I’ve been able to connect with incredible comics creators such as Terry Blas (Dead Weight, Briar Hollow), and Luis Silva (Creatively Queer Press). I’ve met more Mexican comic artists and other creators of color and it’s refreshing to be able to meet folks who have similar experiences and share in my wish to create comics that are more inclusive and offer cultural representation for a new generation of comics readers. I’m endlessly impressed and appreciative of just how welcoming, supportive and encouraging these communities have been.
Who are your greatest influences?
My greatest influences art wise have been Marvel superhero comics, Studio Ghibli films, classic Disney animated films and Japanese shojo manga, as well as art nouveau, art deco, impressionism, Mexican folk-art. From all of these artistic styles and mediums, I’ve been drawn to the expressiveness and energy of characters, and the vibrancy of the colors. The compositions of these art styles and movements have also been exceptionally influential to my work as an illustrator, graphic designer and illustrator.
Out of all the Norse deities, who is your favorite?
Of the Norse deities, my favorite has to be Freyja, the goddess of love, fertility, beauty, wealth, wisdom, life and war. She’s a member of the Vanir, who were gods that specialized in fertility, wisdom and the ability to see into the future. I love very much that she rides around on a chariot drawn by cats. While Freyja is very revered among the gods and is graceful, her incarnation in the Nine Twilights is a bubbly, clumsy, energetic girl named Aishwarya “Aish” Narayan who loves playing games on her phone, taking selfies, and living her best life. To an outsider she seems to be taking a lackadaisical approach to life, but Aish is always ready to get down to business when monsters come to attack. The Aish/Freyja character is considered the “tank” of Wanda’s team of magical girls, as she has the strength to easily dual wield a giant battle-axe and a chain whip sword at the same time. It makes for some fun battle scenes to draw. While the Aish/Freya character hasn’t been introduced yet to the main Nine Twilights storyline, readers can see her in action in the Nine Twilights mini-comic up for sale on Gum-Road right now.
Nine Twilights posts on ninetwilights.com on Wednesdays!
My artwork can be seen on my portfolio site: http://www.andrearosales.com/
My artwork can be purchased via my online shop, Good Walrus Goods: https://www.etsy.com/shop/GoodWalrusGoods