Leah Meijer, Artifact Creative recycle
CC Muses: In Greek mythology, the muses were Zeus’ daughters and the goddesses of the arts, sciences, and literature. Today, in fashion and beyond, a muse is a source of inspiration. Next up in the series is Leah Meijer, founder and CEO of Artifact: Creative Recycle.
There’s so much we could say about Leah and her approach to business, but one of the things we admire most is her commitment to honoring the story of our “stuff”. As Leah will tell you, every item in the world required resources to be made: raw materials, labor, time, knowledge. From the moment it was designed, made, sold or given away, it became part of someone’s story. Extending the life of our things, and keeping them in circulation as long as possible, is a commitment not only to environmental sustainability, but to community. And one look inside Leah’s shop on SE Division is a reminder of the creativity and inspiration that can come from this process. For this mindset, Leah is a CC Muse, and we are thrilled to have her on the blog!
What’s your name, and what do you do in life? Tell us about yourself!
My name is Leah and in life I’d say my greatest passion is creative ideation and seeing those ideas come to life. I live for that moment of combustion, the “Aha!” moment, the feeling of excitement when the dots connect. Speaking it out loud feels akin to a cave woman discovering fire so it’s likely a primal feeling embedded deep within our human DNA. That feeling of “Aha!” is what keeps me inspired to keep improving and growing. I am also a cat lady and had 120 miniature cat figurines as a kid to prove it. One of my life’s greatest regrets is selling off that collection.
Tell us about Artifact- what is it? How did you get started, and why?
Artifact is my baby! We opened our doors in 2013 but the manifestation of the store began much earlier. Growing up, buying second hand was instilled in me as common sense and an everyday endeavor. After working for my mom at Village Merchants for over 10 years, bins picking as a main source of income, and garage saling through it all, I definitely had developed my own sense of identity within the resale world. I had an opinion on style, presentation, curation, and the experience of space that I wanted to share. Artifact is a reflection of me and by opening the store, I was sharing out loud my point of view with the world. I feel humbled that I get to express myself in this way. It’s a mix of all eras, styles, countries of origin, and points of view so long as the things are dripping in design, craftsmanship, style, & art. Although technically Artifact is a consignment resale store buying, selling and trading things, we see ourselves as visual storytellers who are blending community driven values with design and style, to help keep things out of the landfill.
What do you think are some of the biggest problems/challenges in the retail industry and how are you working to address them?
Waste! Single use items and business to business supplies create an incredible amount of waste in the retail industry. The public has no idea how hard it can be to source local options that are environmentally friendly. It’s for this reason that we have actually opted to not participate in some typical retail products, such as offering shopping bags to customers. By saying no to certain standards of retail it has forced us to think of more creative solutions. We do offer recycled grocery bags that customers bring in but we do not buy new bags to give away. We have also streamlined how we attach tags to our garments and have gotten rid of the massive need for plastic fasteners (the plastic “thread” that often attaches a tag to a garment). These are single use random pieces of plastic that have no other purpose past attaching the tag. I tried to find biodegradable fasteners or a recycled option but there literally isn’t one. This is how we came up with the solution we have now of using our security tags to attach reusable tags. We also have started to use soap and other back of house supplies from places like Mama and Hapa’s [zero waste shop] where you can refill your supplies in bulk in a recycled bottle over and over again. Whenever possible, we are assessing our back of house supplies and processes to use and waste less resources.
What is something you’re proud to bring to this industry?
Pizzazz, inspiration, and community. It’s important to me that when someone comes to Artifact that they feel a kinetic energy. Displays are time based works of art. Customers feel inspired to bring their personal style to life. Then, beyond the beautiful displays, there’s an understanding that there’s community, neighbors, history, and real people behind every item. What I mean is that the item you’re buying might have been Sylivia’s. Sylvia is in her 70’s and doing her Swedish death cleaning process (yes, it’s a thing!) and she’s selling the jumpsuit she wore when she was 17 having a grand old time in a bar in Sweden. She loved it, and now you’re financially supporting Sylvia in her next adventure in life. Hopefully with how we are artfully displaying this jumpsuit you can sense the human history and connection behind this garment. I am proud that people leave Artifact feeling connected to and inspired by the items in the store, and in turn, they will add their own history and adventures to the items they purchase, continuing the life of the item. These are true Artifacts. I am proud to help facilitate these connections.
Tell us about a milestone at Artifact or something you’ve done that’s felt especially cool
I am very proud of our summertime Funday Flea $1 Sale. As a person who has a million ideas, this one has stuck and we’ve seen it grow over the years. It’s also super fun! There’s nothing more satisfying than the combination of smiles from how giddy people are with their $1 finds and the end result of everyone’s purchases adding up to a substantial financial donation for a local nonprofit. It’s the most win-win situation I can think of. Giving back to our local community is one of the pillars of Artifact and this event helps us bring that value to life. To date we’ve donated over $20,000 to a wide variety of organizations and it will only keep growing!
For those that aren’t familiar, the Funday Flea $1 Sale is the last Sunday of the month during the summertime in the alleyway next to Artifact. All of the items for sale are the donations from sellers throughout the month and expired store merchandise. We then donate all of the profits to a different local nonprofit each Funday Flea.
What does “thoughtful consumption” mean to you?
There are many questions to ask yourself when deciding if making a purchase is consuming thoughtfully, but to keep it simple, I believe full-heartedly in Consign Couture’s slogan that “the most environmentally friendly product to consume is the one that already exists”.
Has running a secondhand shop changed your relationship to shopping/clothes, or your personal style? How so?
It’s definitely changed the way I experience shopping. In second-hand I love that you get to shop so many brands, styles, and options all at once to the point I actually find myself bored at single brand stores.
Owning a business also changes the way I experience other businesses, not just second hand shops. You know how audio engineers will tell you it’s very hard for them to watch a movie without being immersed solely in what they notice in the sound of the movie or tv show? For me as a business owner, be it Fred Meyer, Anthropologie, a restaurant, or a kayaking excursion, it’s hard to not pay attention to the systems, processes, customer service, atmosphere, lighting, smells, or cleanliness that a business employs. It almost doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in because regardless, you are constructing an experience for people. So it’s fun to see what experience has been set up for me and to learn from it. I have so much respect for other business owners because I know it’s not easy to control so many variables and more often than not, I’m inspired by my experience and feel energized to take these ideas back to Artifact.
You’re making a Portland “must see” list: what’s on it?
- Walk to the top of Mt Tabor
- Eat at G-Love and Eem
- Order an Elote donut from Doe Donuts
- Explore all of the “neighborhood quadrants”: Alberta/Mississippi/Williams, Division/Clinton/Belmont/Hawthorne, Sellwood, NW 23rd/Pearl.
- Visit the city’s rose gardens: Ladd’s Addition circles, Peninsula Park, Washington Park
- Do some berry picking and visit Cistus Nursery on Sauvies Island, stay until golden hour, end with a drive over the St. John’s bridge
- It’s in Woodburn, but hands down the BEST ice cream shop I’ve ever been to is Paleteria Y Neveria El Paisanito. You can walk out with a customized bag of different flavored popsicles.
Three small businesses you love?
Rosemary Lane Esthetics – I can’t pass up an opportunity to shoutout Kira, the best eyebrow and eyelash finesser in PortlandThe Valley Maker – Infusing homes with deep love and attention, these women know how to help anyone organize, declutter, and create a beautiful home environmentCollective Wellness – A badass woman-owned space focused on empowering every kind of body
The best thing you’ve watched/read/listened to lately?
A good friend turned me onto the podcast, Dare to Lead, specifically the episode where Brene interviews Lisa Lahey on Immunity to Change. It’s a thought tickler for sure. In this episode she gets us to notice why we do what we do and how we are holding ourselves back from our own dreams and goals.
Something you’ve learned recently?
Training for a half marathon has helped me experience first hand the value and pride that comes from improvement through process. This is the first half marathon I’ve ever trained for. Being a beginner again humbles you and feeling yourself improve incrementally is very exciting. This experience has made me want to get out of my comfort zone and be a beginner in other endeavors. Sewing… and perhaps learning Dutch, are next on my list.
A person or business you admire?
My mom! She is the OG treasure hunter who still can’t pass up a free pile and views repurposing and recycling as her religion, she is the super woman of “recycle, reduce, reuse” and were it not for her, Artifact would still be an un-sprouted seed.
A simple luxury that you enjoy?
Nowhere to be, laying in my backyard on a summer day watching my cats stretch out in the sun, while a summer breeze rustles the tree branches above.