Our Story

It was 2005 and we were living in suburban Southern California where we were lucky enough to be surrounded by a broad range of creative people. We were in love with their creative human spirit. From rock and roll to fiber art, metalwork to letterpress and poetry to pottery, they really moved us. We believed deeply then, and still do, that there’s something mystical and vital that happens when someone falls in love with the creation of another, that there’s something delightful that happens when people draw and sew and sing.

But there were two problems:


Jared selling music and comics in 2007

First: The artists that inspired us had no champion or establishment that would promote their work the way the huge big boxes promoted their way less meaningful, mass-produced stuff (yes, this was a pre—Etsy, pre-Bandcamp, pre-Renegade world).

Second: The effect of this was beauty dying on the vine, with no-one to experience it. Brilliant songs languished on Sharpie'd CDs and awe-inspiring 5 color prints rotted in a closet. Jared and I were fed up and disheartened that the beautiful things which made our lives sunnier weren’t reaching much beyond us; that countless potential connections between maker and witness just simply weren’t happening. Like religious zealots, we needed to spread the news of art and beauty and connection. We couldn’t stand it any longer. Something had to be done.

Our first attempts at this "something" were a series of hastily organized, guerrilla exhibit/concerts at abandoned office buildings and cheap motel rooms in weird out of the way places. These ramshackle events, though ephemeral, were powerful because they connected artists and art lovers— spreading the joy of creativity and forging bonds that lasted long after the night was over. People actually bought stuff! We silkscreened shirts and people left wearing them. These connections were illuminating to many of the artists and we realized we had to create a permanent space where this could happen every single day.

Brianne painting the walls of the very first TLE story on NW 18th & Lovejoy 2007

In search of greener pastures, Jared and I moved to Portland, Oregon in 2006 where we met dozens of artists who were in a similar situation - lots of inspiration but very few outlets. We got service industry jobs and saved our tip money in a shoebox that said “Tender Loving Empire”. The name illustrated the contradictory idea of a giant utopian civilization that could be a strong and stable place to live because its ethics and laws revolved around love rather than the classic empire-y stuff. We spent all our spare time and money silkscreening album covers and comics and novels and t-shirts from the crowded second bedroom studio of our apartment. We went on tour with Jared’s band The Grown Children and met tons of musicians. We put out a compilation and called it “Friends and Friends of Friends” in honor of all the amazing new indie music we encountered on the road and at home.

Anyway, it all came to a head in 2007 when we dove in and rented out 800 square feet in the Activespace building on NW 18th and Lovejoy and opened the first Tender Loving Empire Store (with no business experience and right before the recession - LOL). But somehow, with lots of help and lots of luck and lots of hard work, it worked! 

Fast forward to today and there are 7 TLE stores which hundreds of thousands of people visit each year. We’ve released over 100 albums on Tender Loving Empire Records and have paid artists over $14.7 million since starting this thing. There’s over 60 amazing people working here who have a zeal to serve artists, promote creativity and champion positivity. Our little t-shirt silkscreening operation has grown into an extensive line of apparel and accessories we make via our own House Brands, Cascadia Goods and Day Made. And then of course there’s the 700+ jewelers, printers, sculptors, apothecaries, painters, rockers and misfits we work with daily.

Jared Mees & The Grown Children @ The Knitting Factory NYC - 2008

More importantly, there are so many of you who, like us, wish to surround yourself with beauty. There are so many of you who are hungry to learn and discover new things and wish to contribute positively to your community and your world. This is what it means to live wholehearted - to deeply appreciate life, to let yourself be affected by people and their voices and creations, and to be compassionate and kind.

Thank you and welcome to Tender Loving Empire. We’re glad you’re here.

- Brianne & Jared Mees - 2023