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Retail Realities: Bluer Than Indigo in Portland

“To me, it starts and pretty much ends with the fabric—so as a designer, I’m fiber and fabric driven. It’s about finding a material and bringing out the best in it by doing out the least amount possible,” said Bluer Than Indigo Creative Director Jeff Shafer.

Shafer has straightforward principles, from store to design. There’s nothing overtly “trendy” about Bluer Than Indigo, Shafer’s still-developing brick-and-mortar, located in Portland, Ore. Like his denim designs, Shafer went for texture and boldness, over camp. “Some [denim shops] are what I call ‘old timey,’ which to me is kitsch. I know it works with consumers, but I’m not into it. I don’t ‘harken back’ to the ‘good ‘ol days.’ I believe in living in the present. When you get to walk into a store, there’s a smell, there’s a sound, a feel and vibe. Instead of just seeing it with your eyes, it just sort of washes over you.”

Instead, Bluer Than Indigo acts as a frame for the craftsmanship involved in denim. “The primary elements that went into the store design were things that really worked with shades of indigo, more raw shades. Using metal surfaces. Whether you have leather patches, or you have paper patches, there’s always some sort of shade of brown that end up in the jean. It could be in the stitching. In this case, it was all done with repurposed wood, mostly [local] barn siding that was used for the floor. Repurposed wood for all the wood fixtures, all recycled.”

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Virtually every fixture and accent is handcrafted, including two indigo-dyed (by hand) tapestries personally fashioned for Shafer by Betty de Paris, a Paris-based creative trained by Japanese indigo dye masters. The walls are painted white, then indigo—at the eight foot line—and finished with LED lighting for atmosphere. “The impetus was to create an environment, a brand experience that connects directly with the consumer in a three-dimensional space, and also for it to be a laboratory and a place to interact with consumers to get direct feedback,” he explained.

Keeping it in house, Shafer features his two signature denim lines—Agave, and the more recent, Bluer. Apothecary needs can be met with New York City’s O’Doud’s branded line of washes and candles. As for other clothing and accessories, he has a few overriding rules of engagement. The product must be as “local” as literally possible, and carbon-sensitive.

“We focus in on Portland-based brands. The real cost of producing products—the carbon cost— [comes from] growing the cotton on one continent, spinning in one continent, weaving it in another, selling in another, and distributing it in another. So the theory I work off of is that all products, or most products, especially the ones that can be, will be produced at their destination. So, basically more and more products will be local. That makes it closer to market; it means the local economy is supported, and we’re not paying carbon fines to bring stuff across the planet,” Shafer said.

He continued, “One of the things, for example with Bluer, is that 100 percent of the product is from the United States—cotton, pocketing, buttons, rivets, the cut and sew. As far as the store, it’s all local sourced. One product we do really well with is Wood & Folk (leather goods) and Shwood Eyewear. I like heritage brands, jackets like Schott, and Filson bags. They don’t have to be heritage brands, but they have to have that passion for what they do, and have the willingness to get one thing perfect.”