TLE's first "mission state" 2006 It was 2005 and we had a problem. We were living in suburban Southern California and were depressed by the endless string of low quality, anti-community, homogenous retailers with bad lighting and disinterested, detached service that surrounded us. Places that did nothing to support or promote creativity in any way and rather seemed to choke it out of communities. Simultaneously we were lucky enough to be surrounded by a broad range of hyper-creative people and we were in love with their broad creative human spirit. From rock and roll to fiber art, metalwork to letterpress and poetry to pottery, they all 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.
Side question for you: Do you get that too when you see amazing art? Like get butterflies in your stomach and the chills at the same time? And then for a little while you feel like you are livingJared selling music and comics in 2007
inside of that creation, you feel fully alive and like you’re living with your whole heart. There’s not an English word for it but the Spanish word for it is duende. Well, connecting with these artists and their work gave us that feeling nearly every day.
So, what was the problem then? Well actually there were two problems.
First: the wasteland of low quality retail institutions was feeding this artist isolation and disconnection. Artists had no simple real creative outlet or champion or establishment that would promote their work the way these huge big boxes promoted their huge big box junk (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 or and awe-inspiring pieces of pottery 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 - the crux of what makes creativity worthwhile to us humans - 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. TheseBrianne painting the walls of the very first TLE story on NW 18th & Lovejoy 2007
ramshackle events, though ephemeral, were powerful because they connected artists and art lovers in a real world, 4 dimensional way— 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 - like plugging a light into a socket - were illuminating to many of the artists. We realized we had to create a permanent space where this kind of artist championing and idea exchanging could happen every single day.
In search of greener pastures, Jared and I moved to Portland, Oregon where we met dozens of artists who were in a similar situation - lots of inspiration but very few outlets. We got serving jobs and saved our tip money in a shoebox that said “Tender Loving Empire”. The name illustrated the seemingly 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 and met tons of musicians. We put out a compilation and called it “Friends and Friends of Friends” in honor of all the amazing people we were meeting and the amazing art they were creating.
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). It was a light, bright airy place where seemingly disparate artists could show their work and regular people could come in and get that amazing electric feeling connecting with it. It was a dream come true. It was the nexus of creativity that we and others like us had been yearning for. People gravitated to it.
Fast forward to today and there are 5 TLE stores which hundreds of thousands of people visit each year. We’ve put out over 90 albums on Tender Loving Empire Records and have paid artists over $6m since starting this thing. There’sJared Mees & The Grown Children @ The Knitting Factory NYC - 2008
50 amazing people working here who have such a zeal to serve artists, promote creativity and champion positivity that it inspires us everyday. Our little t-shirt silkscreening operation has grown into a family of apparel and accessory brands like Brave New People, Seekers/Finders and Genuine Portland Articles. And then of course there’s the 700+ jewelers, printers, sculptors, apothecaries, painters, rockers and misfits we work with daily to improve their work, educate people about their process, sell their products and get them paid.
More importantly, it’s amazing that we are not alone in our pursuit of solving this problem of disconnection. There are so many of you who are excited to support creativity. There are so many of you who, like us, wish to surround yourself with beauty, whether it’s through a song that you can’t get out of your head, a cup of perfectly roasted coffee, or the artistry of the handmade vessel that holds it. There are so many of you who are hungry to learn and discover new things and wish to contribute positively to our 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 creations, and to be compassionate and kind.
Thank you and welcome to Tender Loving Empire. We’re glad you’re here.
- Brianne & Jared Mees - 2019