Bridge Burners Vol. 1 - Shannon Guirl / Caravan Pacific

Bridge Burners Vol. 1 - Shannon Guirl / Caravan Pacific

The creation of Bridge & Burn required a leap of faith.  Founder, Erik Prowell quit his job as a software developer, lit the proverbial match and threw it, burning the bridge of working for anyone else behind him. With no formal training in apparel design, he trusted his smarts and strong work ethic and took the plunge to start his own business.  It is in that same spirit, that we have decided to start showcasing the people who are taking a similar plunge.

We kick off this series with Shannon Guirl from Caravan Pacific.  A former television editor, Shannon lived what she describes as a sweet, comfortable life in New York and yet, was wholly unsatisfied. She was craving new surroundings and access to nature. She felt the urge to slow down and concentrate on simpler pleasures of life, knowing on a deeper level that she could be doing more.

“It’s one of those things that just hits you. Something that you’re headed towards most of your life and don’t really know it.  I was kind of dabbling and experimenting with all of these different things -- silk screening, slip casting, making pottery, a little turning on the side.  I knew I was going to leave New York, but I still was decorating my apartment. It seems wherever I go, I like building a little nest around me.  I was collecting these mid century modern table lamps. I just love them and I thought they were a beautiful combination of materials and style. I bought this one and it arrived totally shattered it into pieces . . . It was like it turned itself inside out and I could see how it was built and it kind of made it the process less mysterious and more accessible to me.”

That broken lamp launched Guirl into chasing the knowhow to build it. While Shannon struggled working her day job, she took classes to master her process. About this time, Brooklyn was buzzing about Portland, OR and Shannon thought it sounded like the kind of location she was seeking.  After a year or two of making plans to do something new and experimenting creatively, Shannon moved to Portland, bringing something unique to the community. No out. No exit plan. She packed up her apartment and made the move just in time for the ADX processes prototype show in 2010, introducing her first lamp. Within a few short months after the show, she set Caravan Pacific in motion with a Kickstarter campaign for 20-30 lamps, with a goal to raise $8000. The response to her project was overwhelming and she ended up raising over $50,000.

Shannon marks moving into the Makery earlier this year as a milestone in her career.  In some ways, she notes that she still feels inexperienced and the space has been a great way to problem solve with others. “You’re all kind of just moving forward together in this way. Some people feel trapped at their day jobs, like life is slowly ticking away, sand through the hour glass kind of stuff. I think it just takes a lot of determination and foresight and plain craziness to go do your own thing. I really admire people who go do that. It’s really hard. It’s really tough sometimes. But there’s always a way to figure something out. “

What’s been your biggest challenge?

“I’m figuring it out. I’m building a business and creating really great lighting-- really beautiful, high quality lighting people can use for years. I’m learning to become a maker.  To create something from raw materials and bring it to this place where you feel like the quality is good enough to sell it to someone. There are constant challenges. I’m keeping my brain active.  I come into my day and I’m leaping from one thing to the next. I don’t have time to stop and think and process, I just have to keep going and keep things moving. I came into this job without any knowledge or experience of ceramics or woodworking and I’ve been getting quite an education  just making this business run and figuring out how to do those things.”

What’s been your biggest reward?

“Becoming part of the community of makers and people who are exploring that. I  came here to become part of that. And it totally exceeds my expectations. How welcoming people are. What they’re doing. Where they’re taking it. I think it’s a really great place to be right now. It’s really different than any other city because of the way people interact here. They are friendly but they go beyond that and want to share stuff with you, they want to collaborate with you. And they have good ideas. They aren’t afraid to explore or just try something a little bit off the beaten path. “


What’s your biggest piece of advice for others starting out?

“There’s no precursor, when you get into business or have this wild hair. There’s no one saying ‘This is a good way to get into business.’  So much of business is new now because lot of business moved off shore. Prior to that you had a father passing his business onto his son. That, kind of, skipped a generation or two and now we have people who want to do that again and they’re just sort of walking around in the dark trying to figure out how to do it.

Save as much as you can because your business always takes more money than you think it will cost.  I would have managed money and time so much better.  Saving as much as I could before I started my business--A really good landing pad.  Do as much as you can by yourself or with friends. Keep that bottom line low. Creativity high. There is always another way to figure out a solution. “

Early mornings, late nights. Does is still seem worth it?

Working hard is not as difficult as working hard for someone else.  It’s definitely worth it.

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Photos by Cara Denison