Find What Matters
Now in our 10th year of existence in our hometown of Portland, Oregon, we reflected on who we are and what makes us Grovemade. Here is our story.
The seeds were planted a decade ago by pure chance when I moved my custom furniture business into a humble workshop backing up to the railroad tracks. Across the street in a run down home we called the “Fight Club House” lived enthusiastic entrepreneur Joe Mansfield. He was somehow running a very successful laser engraving and digital art business out of a spare bedroom. We soon became friends and would often throw a football around in the street—endlessly tossing creative ideas back and forth dreaming up the next big thing. One hot day in the summer of 2009, Grovemade was born. There was no business plan or much deliberation, only a moment where we went all in to “make cool stuff and have fun doing it”. We never expected it would turn into what it is today, with global reach and a great crew of fun-loving, hard-working trail blazers.
Over the last eight years, we’ve been on a winding path to navigate the chaos of the human experience. Through luck, skill, and hard work we have been able to carve out our own version of happiness, with no investors breathing down our necks. It hasn’t been easy, and we have nearly gone under a few times, but we embrace the journey, learn, and get better. The challenge never ends, yet here we are, a team aligned and pushing hard to make great product on our own terms.

We wouldn’t want it any other way...

"The beginning was two friends and our spirit to create. Now we are so much more, a team."

KEN TOMITA
CEO & Co-Founder

Joe Mansfield

Joe is the other half of Grovemade’s founding pair, along with Ken. After six years of life changing challenges at Grovemade, he decided to switch things up and start a new paper goods company called Pacific & West. He continues to laser anything he can fit into his machine, including a line of premium customizable leather goods called Engrave Goods
I'M GOOD AT: RUNNING

Victor Nguyen

Victor, aka Victor Sweet, aka Victor Strong is not only our awesome Production Manager but he’s also one of our most powerful Grovemaders. Victor’s secret for superhuman  strength? A steady diet of hip-hop, rap, R&B and heaping scoops of white hot magma. When through with his morning routine of deadlifting small cars and tiny houses, you’ll find him fishing the banks of the Columbia River, where he reels in trolley-sized carps with his steely bare hands and a visage of extreme aplomb. When not performing unmatchable feats of strength, you’ll find this dynamo enjoying the many tasty tidbits found far and wide in our fair city.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: A MEAN BEAR
FAVORITE GOOD WORD: "THANK YOU!"

Christian Neilander

Christian is a jack of all trades, but don’t call him “Jack”. Event planning? Check. Building everything? Check. Resident wakeboarder? Check. Producing a vodka brand? Check. He came to us from Lake Tahoe and the University of Oregon Product Design program, where he says he built a particle accelerator that fits in your pocket, but we think he was exaggerating. In his spare time he advises on ideal burger toppings and talks about his Subaru.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: COOKIE MONSTER
I'M GOOD AT: MAKING THINGS

Dashia Fontleroy

Dashia is the magical fairy of the woodshop; actually, she’s the magical fairy of everything good about Grovemade and life in general. When she’s not in the workshop, she’s building bookshelves at home or crocheting scarves and hats. Maybe all the gravel she sucked on as a child contributed to her talent with natural materials? Look out small stones, Dashia is a force of positive energy to be reckoned with. She’s also a loving Mom of two, and her true number one passion is family.
I'M GOOD AT: BUILDING THINGS

Kevin Do

Kevin, Grovemade industrial designer extraordinaire, is a man at the height of his particular imaginative talents. That is to say that he's in his prime. Known to his friends as Magiva (majēva), he's powered by avocados, senzu beans, and tins of sardines. Kevin's an inquisitive guy who's dedicated to learning and expanding his skillset. With an earthling-first attitude, he's here to design as well as to improve his sleight of hand.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: GOKU

Sara Segura

Sara is so good at learning about things, that sometimes you say, “When did she learn to do that?” But before you even finish saying that she’s learned about something else! She’s a chocolate enthusiast with a degree in design. She likes to ponder low-waste living and sustainability while biking to work, which is nicely consistent of her. Unsurprisingly, she excels at many things in the shop, from woodworking to customer service and writing.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: KOALA
I'M GOOD AT: LEARNING!

Justin Abuan

Justin's a laid back guy who enjoys the finer things in life: a Tom Collins, a clean haircut, and the finest of contemporary cinema (Young Guns II; Cool Runnings; The Mighty Ducks). With a voice reminiscent of radio men of yon, Justin's soothing baritone brings an exuberant calm to the woodshop.

SPIRIT ANMAL: EMILIO ESTEVEZ

Lydia Segura

Lydia is a proponent of the ancient Greek philosophy of “Both”, rather than “Either/Or”—ice cream, for example, is something she enjoys in a very equal-opportunity sort of way. She works in the shop at Grovemade, assisting in all levels of production and operations. Again, “Both,” not “Either/Or.” In her spare time, you can find her gardening, as long as that garden is outside. Her heart melts at the thought of fondue, which is a joke she imagines telling her friends at culinary school someday.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: OTTER AND LABRADOR RETRIEVER
I'M GOOD AT: BAKING AND EVEN BETTER AT EATING

Nick LaPlante

Nick is an accomplished toothbrusher. He used to do 20 pushups every night before bed, but he stopped a while ago and hasn’t looked back. Some of his favorite things are coffee, cooking while wearing aprons, throwing anything round, and music. Nick is our resident word-smith and idea generator and customer question answerer. He loves email subject lines and looking at numbers for a long time and then drawing graphs.

I'M GOOD AT: THINKING ABOUT THINGS
SPIRIT ANIMAL: SHEEP

Nozomi Nakayama Ratchford

Nozomi is a world-traveling musician and number wizard extraordinaire. She makes sure all of our business details have nice snug little homes where they don’t get lost or swept under the rug. In a past life, she was a scientist, and we all feel much smarter when she’s around. Her ideal Sunday includes Dim Sum - but she wouldn’t tell us about the rest of the day, because she says she really likes to be mysterious, so there you go.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: MONKEY
I'M GOOD AT: REMEMBERING DETAILS

Mike Vos

Mike is a passionate pursuer of the perfect photo. And, the perfect pad thai. He’s a professional in many senses of the word: professional large format film photographer, professional musician, professional skateboard instructor, and professional positive presence. Mike is also a professional in the woodshop. His favorite letter might be ‘p,’ but let’s not get too carried away.  You can check out his photography here.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: CAT
I'M GOOD AT: WORKING HARD FOR THINGS I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT!

Max Brown

Max, named for the main character in Where the Wild Things Are, knows everything about every movie ever made. He’s got a passion for storytelling, from graphic novels and 80s horror films to Ray Bradbury. His resume paints a picture of a colorful life: projectionist, graphic artist at a modeling agency, bartender in foggy Astoria, photographer and videographer, and illustrator extraordinaire. Check out his illustrations here.
I'M GOOD AT: CRIBBAGE
SPIRIT ANIMAL: GHOST DOG

Sean Kelly

Sean is a man-bear hybrid who rules the woodshop with the ultimate weapon: love. His heart is so big he doesn’t have room for any other organs, and he’s got a PhD in Silliness. Alright, he does have a brain, but, it’s part of his heart -- it’s like a heart-brain. His heart-brain is SMART. This guy is a space camp graduate and a product design genius! He’s also got an amazing collection of embarrassing stories to make you cringe with joy.

I LIKE TO HELP PEOPLE LAUGH.
IF I CAN'T HELP THEM, I MAKE THEM.

Ben Wood

Ben is a fellow of numerous talents. Here at Grovemade, he's our manufacturing engineer, meaning he commands our machinery to do as he wills! He also fixes them when they break and puts them on timeout when they disobey the rules. A dedicated father of two radical daughters, Ben also loves taking them to the backcountry for adventurous excursions. When the perfect river or stream is found, they bring in the fish with Ben's handmade rods and flies. In his free time, Ben is also hard at work inventing a robot that will sing his favorite lullabies as he prepares to dive into his daily afternoon nap. And beware of disturbing Ben when he's at rest—his prototype Lullaby Robot X-25 is also outfitted with lasers.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: CUTTHROAT TROUT

Keckeley Habel

Keckeley is sometimes just so stoked that she’s not sure where to start. Which means she glides through the shop and headquarters, conquering any and all tasks. A Montana native, the Big Sky state has inspired a life-long pursuit of motion - from Sweden to London, the Appalachian Trail to upstate New York. She’s touched down in Portland to get to know all there is about biking and skiing… two things, which, if you’re in the know, you’ll know involve lots of fast movement.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: LOON
I’M GOOD AT: TRYING NEW THINGS

John Rasmussen

John is the master process-optimizer and efficiency aficionado in our shop, where he gets his hands dirty each day building beautiful products. He is a Portland native, and, so, naturally, he’s also an accomplished rock drummer. He has a rad collection of bikes, which he uses exclusively for cruisin’. He likes the Flaming Lips, and suggests that if you see them live, you should pay attention to the drummer.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: SNOOP DOG
I’M GOOD AT: DRUMMING AND MAKING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC

Ken Tomita

Ken started the company with Joe in 2009 under the impression that eventually there’d be free pizza. Ken is a design nerd and furniture designer with a passion for photography and collecting weird things, like fruit stickers. He’s an active field trip enabler and enjoys bribing the team with Trailblazers tickets and empty promises that someday we’ll all get to see his expertly curated apartment. Check out some of his furniture designs here.

I'M GOOD AT: DANCING TO 90s MUSIC

Christopher Stepanian

Christopher keeps to a strict diet of one movie per day, to keep the doctor away. Naturally, this involves lots of inside time, but don’t worry, he also believes in going outside. Some of his other favorite things are designing furniture, playing video games, and eating tacos. In the shop, he leverages those skills (primarily eating tacos) to coax beautiful shapes from raw materials.
I'M GOOD AT: SURVIVING
I’M GOOD AT: RE-WATCHING THE OFFICE THE SECOND I FINISH IT
Grovemade resides in a 5000 ft2 former auto repair shop in the Central Eastside Industrial District, nine blocks from the Willamette River. Natural light streams in through the windows and a cool breeze rolls in through the wide open garage doors. Our typical day begins with the whole team huddling up at 8AM sharp. Portland native Victor Nguyen gets us started with a round of enthusiastic applause and random noise making. He goes through his production updates and gives everyone a chance to speak. Then he motions us to put our hands in the middle and leads a loud cheer “1-2-3, TEAM!!!”. So starts the day.

We hustle to our desks and workbenches. We do design, manufacturing, customer service, finance, and marketing all under one roof—there are many different kinds of work to do and so little time to do it.

“We start the day together, as a team. I always finish the huddle feeling confident that it’ll all get done”

VICTOR NGUYEN
Production Manager
A primal cry echoes through the design department space. 3rd generation Oregonian Sean Kelly has unleashed his uncanny Chewbacca imitation. He’s been at Grovemade since college, starting as an intern, moving on to production manager, and finally to lead designer. He has all the trappings of a full fledged adult—house, family, a charming three year old daughter—but he may be the biggest kid of us all, and we doubt that will ever change. He is a consummate designer, and he works hard to come up with the latest and the greatest for our customers.

His area is flooded with inspiration boards, sketches, and cardboard models. Many of our visitors ask, “How do you come up with your ideas?” and of course, there is no simple answer. Creative inspiration is finicky, elusive to pin down. With Sean you get the feeling that his joyful spirit has something to do with the products we ultimately see.
In the next room Christian Nielander is hard at work making a batch of leather wallets. Originally from Reno, he recently graduated with a degree in product design and is at the early stage of his career. He’s a learning machine—he tackles every job with no excuses, and he’s become the go to guy to get stuff done. He’s the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ at Grovemade. At such a small place, it’s easy for this to happen organically.

A few feet away Dashia Fontleroy is operating one of our two industrial lasers. She left a good career in commercial construction to come work with us, and has never looked back. Dashia laser cuts leather parts for our many products, engraves our logo on the bottoms on products, and makes many other small parts. Today, she’s working on fixing a small quality issue she found in the leather on our laptop stands. Maybe no one would notice, but she sure does and she won’t be stopped.

"Do Better. That’s what I think."

DASHIA FONTELROY
Maker, Quality Tzar
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Now onto the woodshop where our cheery master woodworker Phil Riggio is crafting our speaker. Phil has been a professional woodworker for 23 years. His winding career has taken him from California, to Hawaii, and now back to Oregon. He tackles our most demanding woodworking jobs, and produces consistent, beautiful products. After work, if he isn’t taking you out for a beer at the brewery next door, he heads back to his own woodshop to make custom Ukeleles for high level clientele. It’s only fitting he builds our speaker from beginning to end.

Our products push the boundaries of manufacturing technology while also being grounded in hand crafted quality and uniqueness. They pass through many hands before they leave our workshop. The final step is perhaps the most analog where “the guy with the huge beard” Alex Boepple will meticulously hand wrap each product with great pride and send them on their way. If you catch him at the right time he might even show off and wrap one with his eyes closed. He always writes a little thank you note to make sure they know they are much appreciated and it has made him a (minor) Instagram celebrity of sorts.
Missouri native Dixie Griffin giggles as she is assisting a customer online and the conversation has improbably evolved into a discussion about her secret gumbo recipe. “I love my job....” she says out loud to no one in particular and laughs. When she is done she will quickly run back to the woodshop to run our CNC machines and help out in production, fluidly moving to whatever the team needs.

Max Brown is making minute adjustments to the composition of his next shot, jumping back and forth from the camera to his computer. Among other things, he is our photographer now because one day we needed one and we handed him a camera and told him to learn it. He works closely with marketer Nick LaPlante who recently joined us straight from getting his masters degree in microbiology. Burned out on science, he originally applied for a woodworking position but we only had an opening in marketing. He adjusted his cover letter and we believed in his process over his experience. Lets just say that it has worked out well.

"I had never even picked up a camera before and now its like my main thing. It comes down to trusting people, you know?"

MAX BROWN
Graphic Designer & Photographer
Head of operations and marketing Jim Hassert is telling another one of his strange anecdotes mixing strategy, family stories, and a fable or two. The crew cranes forward listening intently. Some of us aren't getting it but it doesn't matter—we all dig it and clap anyways. He ends his pep talk with the phrase "we are on the threshold of greatness!!!" for what seems like the hundredth time. You know he wholeheartedly believes it, and many of us do too. Admittedly Grovemade was not well organized in the early days. Somewhere along the line we moved from trying to keep things from falling apart to proactively making our culture and operations better every day—and Jim is at the heart of that movement, whether he’s working closely with our admin team of Nozomi Nakayama and Christopher Donn, or brainstorming with Victor on how to improve the knife manufacturing process. Even with lots more work to do, we’re glad to be here.

“Small business is a life adventure. When the people and the process come together, it all flows—aspiring to be great starts with doing something you believe in.”

JIM HASSERT
COO & CMO
When you walk through here the fancy machinery and old fashioned handwork is easy to see, touch, and feel. But great work comes from a place that is not so easily defined, not so easily attained. Our drive is the common thread that underlies everything. On an elementary level we believe that if people actually want to be here, results will take care of themselves. Even after all this time maybe that original plan to “make great stuff and have fun doing it” was not so bad after all…
Grovemade every day carry collection: key ring, wallet, and iPhone case.
Minimalist titanium steel key ring with detail of the bottle opener.
Minimalist titanium steel key ring with bottle opener.
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Minimalist titanium steel key ring with bottle opener.
That brings us finally to the question of why? Why are we here? Why are we doing this hard work?

We’ve thought about this for years and boiling it down to a simple statement has been elusive. Perhaps it’s too personal, different for each of our realities. Maybe showing up with a smile and a team-first attitude is the best way to describe it. But we learned this year that there was more to it than looking inward. We sought out our fans and customers, and were surprised at where that led us.

"I love seeing how our customer’s passion takes them to all kinds of cool places, doing amazing things."

DIXIE GRIFFIN
Customer Relations & CNC Operator
We discovered that you, our fans, come from all walks of life and from all corners of the world. The diversity was stunning. But we also learned that a shared purpose unites us all—to do great work and to live intentionally, caring and thinking deeply about who and what we choose to associate with. We are so proud to contribute even in some small way to your path.
In short, you inspire us to keep going. Thank you!

Further Reading