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The Three R’s

repurposed toilets

Making stuff is coming back into style. After a long hiatus, appreciation for the art of craft it seems has returned in the form of a desire for home produced custom goods. Americans are waking up to a new old dream of custom manufacture but with a sustainable twist. Local is the name of the game again, as well as merchandise that is durable and custom tailored to a user’s particular needs. Cutting down on shipping and planned obsolescence is one of the most “green” ways to continue to consume. Not to mention that having a relationship with your craftsperson is not only more satisfying in the almost intangible ways that community building often is but it also reinvests within your immediate community for tangible benefits. Studies have shown that dollars spent at local businesses tend to have longer lingering benefits for the local community than dollars spent to major multinational
conglomerates. Portland, Oregon is an epicenter for the DIY, custom craft and sustainability movements. We boast a highly educated, skilled and creative populace with some of the greenest ethics in the United States. Readily available workshop and studio spaces in the form of warehouses long abandoned by early and mid 20th century industrialization have provided spaces for artisans and engineers alike to practice their craft, while websites like and have provided market space and visibility. Local ongoing craft fairs, such as The Portland Saturday Market have also provided venues for small scale artisan manufacturers to sell. Many people have been reexamining our society’s relationship with cheap mass produced over packaged and sometimes toxic goods shipped at great expense (global pollution) from overseas. Its nice to see human ingenuity stepping in once again to solve a problem, but perhaps this time with more holistic awareness. When Emily and I decided to found FAB PDX we were consciously deciding to get in on the front of this wave sweeping away the assembly line and offering services for those with custom needs. We are about the three “R’s” – reduce, re-use and recycle.

First, reduce, don’t buy stuff designed in Sweden, made in China and then shipped with fossil fuels to your doorstep. What does that have to do with you? Its cheap? Someone once told me, “quality is remembered long after price is forgotten,” and if you’ve owned any rapid assembly press board furniture for a few years you probably already realize this. What about its characteristics? Doesn’t “celebrating diversity” also mean having your own aesthetic, or perhaps a local aesthetic similar to a local dialect? We live in a time of the ability for unprecedented customization, building a more durable good tailored to your specific needs assures it relevance for an extended period of time.

Second, re-use. So much today is being completely discarded for land fill even when particular components are fine. Why not reincorporate these elements into new goods and products. Even packaging can be up-cycled into new goods. I frequently find packaging that is more durable than the goods it houses, why not intercept it from the waste stream as well? The right skill set and tools can allow for repair and re-use in many creative forms. The possibilities are virtually endless as we pick through a 100 years of trashed goods.

Lastly, and its last for a reason, because it takes the most energy, recycle. Breaking down the component materials to items and sorting them for resurrection is a critical step for the scraps. At FAB PDX we save only the tiniest bits for this. Once something has been chopped into the most meager of fractions it waits in a container until that container is full enough to be worthy of a trip to the appropriate recycling center. Some materials, such as metal, we even get paid for disposing of in this way. It is a critical responsibility for ethical management of your waste stream. We have even begun to compost our food scraps from the break room for appropriate re-use in home gardens.