Creative Genius: Papa Wolf Supply Company
Find out how these savvy retailers are aggregating great American handmade goods.
I live in a small New England town, but I’m lucky to know some incredibly interesting people doing really good things. One of those people is Rian Bedard, a pal of mine who is the nonstop, “What’s next?” driving force behind Mr. Fox Composting, a residential and commercial compost pick-up and delivery service. We’ve worked on a few projects together, and I’ve roped him in to make a few of my events zero waste, so when I caught wind he was launching something new, I wanted the inside story. What I found was Papa Wolf Supply Co., a partnership he struck up with two friends, Ian Ciesla and Louis Chan, that focuses on bringing handmade goods produced in America to a small retail location in a renovated mill building here in the seacoast region of New Hampshire.
The products these guys are selecting are fantastic, each with a story of an American maker who lovingly produces each piece. (I was able to grab Rian and Ian to come show me the space, but Louis wasn’t able to make it that day, so you’ll have to do your best to imagine him in the photo above.)
What is Papa Wolf Supply Co.?
Papa Wolf Supply Co. is a retail space specializing in quality, handmade products. Every item has a unique story that shares the passion of the craftsman/maker behind the product with the consumer. This creates a stronger connection between the maker and consumer, engaging that consumer on a much more intimate level.
Will Papa Wolf Supply Co. be a strictly bricks and mortar experience, or will you retail online?
PWSC is excited to open its One Washington Center location, to feature all of our great product offerings, and engage in the community. That being said, our goal is to share our ideas and reach other like-minded individuals, so in expanding our network we will have an online store as well.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Ian: I was born in New York and graduated from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. I have a deeply rooted primitive need to constantly express myself in a visual way, always with pen in hand, prepared for these inspired forces to surface. To share these personal discoveries externally, I’ve become an artist, designer, maker, music enthusiast and adventurer.
Louis: I was born and raised in New Hampshire. I received a degree in accounting and finance at the University of New Hampshire. I have always been interested in fashion/apparel and unique goods, particularly well-made items whether made in the U.S., Canada, Europe or Japan. I firmly believe that every dollar you spend is a vote so I think my choice in belongings, clothing and lifestyle reflect that mindset.
Rian: I was born in North Carolina and moved all over the country as a military brat. I’ve always had a passion for apparel, shoes and quality made goods. I worked in retail growing up and had a chance to work at the corporate headquarters for PUMA before my focus switched to local and American-made goods. My life was forever changed in 2007 when I moved to California and randomly decided to take an urban permaculture class. The course made a lasting impact on me, teaching the effects waste has on our planet. After completing the program, I returned to New Hampshire in 2008 determined to create lasting change here in my home state. Today, I have even more reason to want to clean up our community – my ridiculously awesome family – my wife Heather and two sons Fox and Desmond. I love to surf (wish I could do it more…) and my family fervently supports local food growers. I’m passionate about inspiring people to make small changes to their daily habits so they too can make a big difference to our planet.
Where did the idea of Papa Wolf Supply Co. originate?
Rian: It was a play off of Mr. Fox Composting. I had started to experiment with using leather and wanted to start another brand to focus on stuff I was making. I presented the idea of turning it into a retail space to Ian and Louis. They were very excited and said yes. Louis and I met a while back and talked about our passion for high quality U.S. made goods. It was a dream of Louis’ to have a shop. Also, Ian was working on his new line, MATH, and this was a great way to get him fired up and have a retail outlet to sell it from. It was also a way for him to channel his creativity.
Ian: Rian approached me, and asked if I would be interested in being a part of a retail space. I had been working on the “MATH” product line and was looking for potential retailers. With my design background and retail experience I jumped at the opportunity. The timing I guess was serendipitous.
Rian, how does PWSC tie in to Mr. Fox Composting?
It was inspired by the fun I was having creating the Mr. Fox apparel and accessories.
Ian, as a graphic designer and someone with experience in product design, when did you get passionate about American-made products?
I have been very fortunate to have met and become friends with very talented people in the design community. Living (in New York) and working alongside these individuals, elevated my own design process to a higher plateau. Seeing what these other friends/designers were creating made me aware of the beautifully crafted product that was possible to achieve right here in my own neighborhood. Being surrounded by this cultural movement, it was only natural that my awareness of U.S.-made and quality-made product grew. We will also be selling all of the Mr. Fox gear out of the shop.
Aside from your own lines (Mr. Fox Composting and MATH), what other products and goods will you be selling? How have you chosen the products you retail?
We chose brands and products that we would be proud to own: Cooperhill Axes, Megan Stelzer jewelry, backpacks by Topo Designs, Proof Eyewear, Jumbo’s of Maine, Coalatree Organics, Moniker Goods leather products, Benjamin Bott Design leather products, Riverswift Carpentry, Nor’east Woodworks, Lakeside Sauces, and Salvaged Skateboards.
These are brands that have really great quality products and things that we would use ourselves. We want to have a great selection of everyday products. Some brands connected with us through Instagram. We’ve actually made friends with a lot of the brands we’ll be carrying through Facebook. Other products are from local people that we have relationships with from being engaged community members.
Rian and Ian, since you are both “makers,” what advice would you give others out there with an idea about a product they’d like to make?
Ian: Don’t be afraid to fail. If you are really passionate about an idea, follow it through.
Rian: I think now more than ever it’s easier to get your work out there. Through Etsy and Big Cartel, you have easy access to selling your goods online. Also, with the shift of focus on local and U.S.-made products, the opportunities to sell goods in brick and mortar stores will increase. Not to mention — Instagram is a great tool to connect to buyers of your product. Go for it and don’t be afraid to screw up!
What do you see as the end goal of PWSC?
We would love for this to become a larger brick and mortar boutique retail space, and for PWSC to have its own private label line of products/apparel each season. Our goal is to educate consumers about good quality U.S.-made goods and offer a high level of customer service. Get consumers to shift the focus on cheap goods to high quality products that may cost more, but will last a lot longer.
Let’s talk details — how’d you manage that pallet wall? That’s Made + Remade in action.
Rian: We are on a really tight budget and wanted to figure out a way to make the space look bigger and have something that would really get people talking. We had to spend about 40 hours on the wall to complete it. One of us was breaking down pallets while the other placed the boards. A lot of the boards needed to be pre-drilled and then we hammered them into the wall. We also had to make second cuts to fit boards in place. Anyone that’s seen it has been blown away by it. It’s added a great dimension to the space and we are practicing reuse!
Ian: It took some good old fashion determination. Collectively, we knew the space needed a certain “vibe,” with the product representing an outdoor lifestyle/adventuring aesthetic, the wood pallet wall seemed right, and achievable with our initial budget. We only paid for nails, so we got a nice return on investment.
Any other DIY projects you have planned for the shop?
Rian: All the shelving is reclaimed barn boards and the hardware for the shelves was also recycled. We will be building a register table, which will also act as an area for guests to sit down and try our very own coffee! We might have a few more projects up our sleeves, but we don’t want to give too much away, so folks will just have to stop in to see for themselves.