Jeff Shafer, who founded Agave and then two years ago Bluer Denim, has just tried retail on for size.
The entrepreneur recently soft launched his first brick-and-mortar store, called Bluer Than Indigo, in Portland’s Alberta Arts District, where visitors and residents of the neighborhood can load up on plates of biscuits and other comfort food or shop vegan shoes and locally produced clothing.
The shop sells Shafer’s two denim brands along with recycled Levi’s, bags and even mid-century modern furniture.
“It’s a [way] for me to test my ideas and a laboratory for Portland to engage in Bluer and Agave,” Shafer said of the store. “It’s a more direct connection to the customer.”
Shafer is also testing consumer appetite for locally made products, transparent manufacturing, sustainability and green — tenets that have governed how he’s operated his denim brands.
The largest of the two, Agave, is predominantly shopped by men, who drive about 90 percent of overall sales. The brand has a distribution channel of about 500 stores in North America. E-commerce for Agave is seen as a supplement to wholesale, according to Shafer.
That’s intentional. Prices on the brand’s sites are higher than what retailers charge in a move to support the wholesale business, according to Shafer.
The overall Agave business, he said, continues to be strong and total revenue is nearing its peak year in 2010, although Shafer declined to provide a specific figure.
The 700-square-foot Bluer Than Indigo store is designed with repurposed or recycled items in keeping with the merchandising strategy. The floors are former barn siding sourced from throughout the Pacific Northwest. Fixtures are made from repurposed wood combined with metal.
The location in the Alberta Arts District made sense for the store.
“Alberta [Street] is an area that is 100 percent independent. [There are] no national retailers there and so it’s absolutely nothing like a mall; it’s nothing like a commercial boulevard that has all the major retailers on it,” Shafer said. “It’s a truly independent street, very arts-and-crafts oriented.”
There could be more stores in the works if this door is successful, Shafer said, but they would have to follow the same formula as Alberta with items chosen and merchandised for that area.
“I’m not trying to create a national point of view and a national retail chain,” Shafer said. “I’m trying to create a concept that has an ideology and a point of view.”