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Bridge Burners Vol. 13 - Jasen Bowes / ElsevvhereDec 05, 2017
Creating 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, he trusted his smarts and his strong work ethic, and took the plunge. In that spirit, Bridge Burners is a series showcasing people who are taking a similar leap.
Dust peppers the air in a back-alley flea market in Sayulita, Mexico, as a man grinds cochineal bugs with a mortar and pestle. The powdered carmine would be boiled in rainwater, mixed with potash and set aside for weeks. But this was only a demonstration for tourists—Jasen Bowes one of them. The man’s named is Jesus, and he nods at Jasen, gesturing at the ground insects and a tin of paint already mixed. He draws flower patterns on a polished tequila bottle to sell as a decanter. The sun flashes off the bottle, and Jasen buys a trove: shot glasses, decanters, and cups; and when Jasen returns home a week later, his friends heckle him for not bringing them any treasures.
If they only knew the half of it, Jasen thinks, the history behind every paint stroke.
This is how Elsevvhere was born, not as a business idea or a brand or a production company, but as a way to share experiences, cultures, and lives with another community across the world.
If any of us had truly traveled down a long road of luck, it would Jasen Bowes, founder of Eslevvhere.
Fresh out of college in 1996 with a degree in Psychology, the Illinois-born first and a half-generation snowboarder—with the attention of professional sponsors—took his first job in Utah as a sales rep to help launch Solomon’s original snowboard. Wide-eyed and eager to usher this board into the world, Jasen absorbed everything in this environment. His academic insight into the inner workings of the human mind mixed with his natural charisma and understanding of sales quickly caught the attention of his colleagues and competitors, which helped catapult Jasen into his next role with Burton Snowboards, remaining in Utah through the 2002 Winter Olympics and then leading him to Seattle, WA. At Burton he got his first glimpse into product design, and maybe more importantly, he met his future wife and Elsevvhere co-founder, Allison.
After back-to-back dream jobs, though, Jasen realized he was no longer cut out for the corporate life.
“We weren’t used to having time. At Burton, it was ‘snowboarding’ twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and there was always a massive rush toward a deadline. I was only the third or fourth sales reps to ever resign. It was a great life, but we wanted our time back.”
Though Jasen didn’t detonate his relationships at Burton, he did—with Allison, now his wife of three months—take an incredible risk to follow their passion and start their own company. Together, they left cush jobs and a comfortable life to make an uncharted leap—opening a showroom of their own where they could handpick and promote the brands of their choosing. Hauling down I-5 from Seattle while buzzing past timber lorries, they landing in Portland, OR, where they would start all over. They used their fashion, sales, and marketing know-how to help springboard products they loved, as well as capitalizing on all of their previous contacts.
“We finally had time to think about how to go about our lives,” Jasen says. “That made all the difference.”
Playing by their own rules, these brands often skyrocketed.
It wasn’t long before Levi’s came knocking, but they didn’t want Jasen’s help with their jeans, but to help launch a new skateboarding-focused product line, where Jasen would spend four wild years, working as the synapse between sales, marketing, and the product—aka their Brand Manager.
“I always try to create lasting experiences through product and imagery,” Jasen says. “The moment it hit me to create Elsevvhere was about two years into the gig with Levi's, having already racked up 250K travel miles around the globe. All the ideas about the importance of images and their stories that had been swirling in my head since my teenage years, while wandering around with my Pentax K1000, suddenly came crashing together.”
But Jasen didn't want to be a travel blogger; he wanted to take it a step further.
“I wanted to build on a story with a tangible item that the reader could own. I didn't want it to be commercial, rather the contrary. I wanted it to be so unique and impossible to find that when the reader received their item they could feel a part of the path that I walked. I didn’t have any real design experience at the time. I'm not sure I do even now,” he says with a smile.
Although he and Allison already rolled the dice once when they started their showroom, this would mark their second major shift in lifestyle and livelihood.
“I knew it was time to make a move, so I quit the epic job I had with Levi's and launched this design and travel concept Elsevvhere.”
This next leap was not about topping his salary or the clout he had with Levi’s. Creating Elsevvhere was about nourishing the soul of the artist, because as John Keats reminds us, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”
Elsevvhere has brought to life camera straps, lens cases, travel candles turned sake cups, buck knives, and felt sombreros, and though each has its own unique story—often with a combination of unexpected materials and fabrics—the most mind-boggling product is the antique quilt baseball cap.
“No one imagined that peanut and chocolate would be so good together,” Jasen explains, “until someone tried it. I’d been collecting quilts for years, I call it ‘hoarding with a focus,’ and I knew I wanted to create something with them.”
Regularly obsessed and inspired by the objects around him, Jasen collects without too much restraint or worry.
“My brain naturally builds systems and patterns,” he says. “I look at a bunch of items and create synchronicity. Even if it takes years.”
Collecting brass castings, limited edition pencils, thrift-store nude paintings, discontinued Polaroid film, and vintage photography books—or simply holding onto a sales receipt or a food wrapper from his travels—these objects eventually tell their story. While traveling in Japan, Jasen found himself fascinated by a selection of strange plastic c-clamps with suction cups at a hardware store, buying without hesitation, and not just a dozen or two dozen, but the whole lot—hundreds—knowing they would reveal their usefulness someday when he looked back upon this human-sized scrapbook of his adventure.
“These things help me live a slower life,” he says. “I built a couple window boxes in my studio where I collaged items from my trips to New Mexico and Japan. Pencil cases, cassettes of boybands, vintage textiles, a takeout menu, an ornament I made in the third grade, and random promotional material. When I see it all together, it reminds me that we’re only here for so long, and that I need to soak up life.”
Partners in Elsevvhere, Jasen credits Allison as the one who keeps him in check.
“She handles the budget and is the analytical one,” he says, “which is important, because when I see something, I don’t just buy a few of them, I’ll buy a hundred. She keeps me from having piles of stuff up to the ceiling.”
“I didn’t want it to be something expected like a bag. Plus, baseball caps are in right now,” he jokes.
Examining the antique quilt baseball cap, I could not help but be reminded of the short story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, in which a successful, grown child returns home to her roots and requests her mother’s heirloom quilts—which were still used for warmth—to hang on her walls as a decoration symbolizing her heritage.
Although these baseball caps could be hung on a wall like a work of art, Jasen re-appropriated the historic artifacts for everyday use—they are wearable history.
“That’s part of it,” Jasen says. “When I started making these, I knew they’d be hard to copy, which is the business part of my brain working, but the other half knows that we, as a species, are in an age where we lack attention, and these pieces try to expand that attention. In a way, they demand it.”
“It's a hell of a workload to make it happen. It's never intended to be big, and in most cases it's too difficult to explain even,” Jasen says. “Elsevvhere’s meant to make the world a place where people can experience a community they might otherwise never know.”