A few years ago, friends and fellow metal fabricators James and Jordan decided to create a brand that produces everything from bicycles to snap-backs. Their portable camping gear is what caught our eyes. They’re motorcycle riders, so they can’t afford to have lots of extra weight packed on during long treks through the backwoods of our fair country. So they created gear that they themselves could use. But they haven’t quit their day jobs. Instead, they’re working to keep West America fun — a passion project that allows them the creative freedom to not care about making mad money off it. That’s probably what will help them succeed. To get some backstory on their interesting lives, we asked them a few questions. Here you’ll read about their lives in Portland, Oregon, their life on the road and how they’re making everything fit together so neatly.
Tell us about your jobs before West America, what did you do for a living and why did you decide to switch courses?
James: For the past 10 years I have been working in the metal fabrication industry — the last five of them out of the shop that I share with Jordan. Most of my work revolves around custom motorcycles and prototype machine work, but we get a wide range of jobs through the door. The beginning of West America was not the end of my fabrication work, it is more an outlet to create all the things that we dream up that don’t fall under our “day jobs.” We created West America at a time when we were very burnt out on our work life and it has allowed us to balance our lives and get out of the shop much more.
Jordan: For the last seven years or so, I have been making custom bicycle frames and components. It has been an incredible environment to constantly learn and develop my metal fabrication skills. With more skills comes a desire to make more things. I have a ton of ideas that I want to make happen outside of the bike world. West America is that outlet, like James said. On top of that, the way I was interacting and running the bicycle business, it took all of my time in the shop all day and left little room for playing with other unrelated projects. This trip is kind of serving as a nice break from how I was using my time to how I want to do things in the future. It’s been invigorating and the long hours on the motorcycle alone with your thoughts have really got me excited to get back in the shop when I return and make some new things happen.
Describe your camp gear. What do you make and how did you come up with the designs?
The current line is small, but it is based around items that cater to motorcycle camping. Small/Simple/Durable. The grill and skewers were the first couple items made and are based around campfire cooking since we don’t usually bring a stove or cook wear on the motos. We are lucky to have a full metal shop at our disposal so we can prototype and test/change things very quickly. The trip has given us loads of ideas and inspiration and we are stoked to get back in the shop and expand the line when the time comes.
How do you guys spend your time now? How do you balance your road trips with making stuff and running a business?
James: Not much balance these days. We have been on the road for four months working our way towards Patagonia and won’t be back state-side till fall. It doesn’t mean that we have not been dreaming up new projects but for now things in the shop are on hold. We are lucky to have a third member, Joshua Porter in Los Angeles who handles the shipping and the business end of things while we are out on the road and out of Internet. When we get to a city, we try to post up for a couple days to update the blog and catch up on things.
Jordan: Yeah, totally not much balance right now. The hope is that when we get back and are in the shop all the time again, all that we learned before from being burnt out and all that we are learning now, plus this break will give us a good foot hold to get back to life in a much more balanced way.
What are your greatest challenges?
James: We are extremely dedicated to American manufacturing. The hardest part about what we do is making and sourcing USA-made products that hit a decent price point without sacrificing anything. I feel like it is getting easier and there are a handful of great companies that share this passion. We have been lucky to work with some amazing manufacturers that have been at it for a long time.
Jordan: I would add that the previous question really hits on our personal greatest challenge. Balance. I think it has been the greatest motivator over the last few years. Finding balance.
What are your greatest rewards?
James: When people reach out and share their stories with us. Wether they went out and bought their first Enduro bike and have spent the summer blasting around in the dirt, or that they quit there shitty job to explore the backroads of this beautiful country. Our biggest goal at West America is to inspire, inform and educate. To make people think twice about their day, to not fear change but rather to fear comfort. Comfort kills the human spirit.
Jordan: Totally. That has all been a huge driving force since the beginning with West America. Also, being self-employed with our metal shop over the years has been a lot of hard work, but it has also allowed us to be available to those we love when they need us, when we need them and when good times are to be had. That’s an incredible reward that I try to remind myself of all the time.
What are your hopes for the future of West America?
James: For me, I hope to keep it fun. I want it to remain an outlet for projects and collaborations that inspire me. As far as a business, I don’t ever want to rely on it. I feel like once that happens, the passion will be gone. I see our product line growing naturally and hope to bring more heads into product development to diversify the audience that we can reach.
Jordan: FUN. Whether it’s in the shop or out in the woods, I just want it to be something that we are having a blast with. Collaborating with friends, making weird ideas happen, going on fun trips. West America was started as a fun outlet and stress-release and I hope for it to stay that way.
Where do you hope to see yourselves personally in 10 years? Do you have a specific goal in life, or are you just taking it as it comes?
James: A bit of both, goals are good but being able to change and modify them is just as important. Living in my van outside my shop in Portland for the last six years served its purpose and allowed a lot of freedom but I am definitely ready to invest some time and money into a bit of land. Not sure where yet, but it’s been big on my mind for a while now. Two years ago I found the lady of my dreams and we are both working hard to make it happen. Ten years from now all I hope for is a healthy life filled with family and friends, a nice little spot to call home and a motorcycle that runs.
Jordan: James and I see the future through a very similar lens. I’ve lived a life up till recently that has allowed me to be very selfish with what I do. Ten years from now I will be nearly a decade into marriage with my amazing fiancé Tabitha Ouellette and I’m very much looking forward to life with her and my soon to be step daughter, Beatrice. A life that is all about “us,” and not “me.” They are some incredibly complimentary souls to mine and I can’t wait to see where we land and all the awesomeness that we get into. We’ve been talking a lot about some land outside of town where I can have a shop and she can set up her Complimentary and Alternative medicine practice. She’s crazy-smart. Whatever we’re doing though, I’m sure it will be exactly what we feel we should be doing. Tabitha, James and I have made it a constant practice in life to be doing just that and I don’t see us straying anytime soon.