In the cycling world, "women-specific" can mean everything from pink jerseys to bicycles emblazoned with flowers—the phenomenon known as "shrink it and pink it." But the Portland Society (portlandsociety.org), a fledgling local nonprofit, was formed with the assumption that women who ride bicycles have more in common than a love of cotton-candy colors and blossoms.
The group's mission: to bring together women who are passionate about business and bicycling to create a forum for business development.
"It's counterintuitive, but the point of having a women-only organization is that you can have a space where gender isn't an issue for once," says Elly Blue, one of the group's founders. "It's the same reason you don't have people driving cars in the bike lane."
Blue, a bicycle activist and writer, and fellow cyclist and freelance writer Ellee Thalheimer formed the Portland Society last year after throwing an event to showcase women-owned cycling businesses. They decided to expand the group's scope by inviting any women with an interest in cycling and economics.
Sound like a big tent? That's the point. One year post-conception, the Portland Society roster includes 40 members whose job titles include naturopath, banker, social-media strategist, bicycle wheel builder and Web designer. Their common ground—a love of pedal power—attracts not only a range of professional backgrounds but also bicycle interests: athletes, revolutionaries, weekend riders, mountain bikers and mechanics.
The Portland Society Fund, a project of Umbrella—a nonprofit that offers administrative support to community projects—recently awarded its first round of annual grants to women who have plans to "develop their leadership and professional skills to promote vibrant, welcoming public spaces and active transportation in Portland." The three recipients—Michelle Week, Laura Koch and Lindsay Caron Epstein—received awards ranging from $250 to $500.
Week will apply her grant toward a certificate through University of Oregon's Sustainability Leadership Program. Koch will use her funds to attend the Winning Campaigns training offered by the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking in Seattle. Epstein, a Portland State University student, plans to self-publish a zine about being a bicycle commuter after taking a course in graphic design and publishing.
Blue says the strong applicant pool for this year's grants proves the prowess of the Portland Society. "I think we'll end up being a major force in the community, promoting our vision for Portland in which women have all the support and resources they need to be successful leaders, without gender being an issue, and bicycles are a joyful and normal part of everyday life,â she says.
GO: A benefit gala for the Portland Society Fund, with a silent auction and presentation by Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, is coming to Madison's Grill, 1109 SE Madison St., portlandsociety.org. 6-9 pm Thursday, May 26. Tickets $5 in advance, $7 at the door.
THERE'S GOLD IN THEM THAR HATS
After six years of success, Caroline Paquette, owner of the one-woman cycling cap company Little Package, eschews the idea that she must grow her business. She doesn't want to make production caps for Nike, branch out into jerseys or hire employees. The experienced seamstress and former nurse prefers to maintain the status quo by sewing Little Package caps one at a time, on Juki sewing machines, in her small Northeast Portland apartment.
"I'm a stubbornly old-fashioned hippie, and a small one-person business is very sustainable for me—physically, emotionally, financially and ecologically," Paquette says. "Cheering people up with my caps keeps me going."
A majority of the caps are custom-made for individuals, with the exception of a few bulk batches for local bike teams, frame builders and other groups. Paquette, who likes to ride on long, self-supported tours or single-track trails, founded Little Package in 2005 when she couldn't find a cycling cap that fit her own "big head."
Since then, cyclists of all stripes have ordered her small-brimmed caps to keep the sun, rain and sweat out of their eyes. They've come from as far away as Rio de Janeiro and Japan. Customer requests range from earflaps and decorative ribbon to the repurposing of favorite shirts into hats. For the DIY'er, Paquette also sells sewing patterns.
SHOP: Little Package caps are available at shop.little-package.com.