Fired by a passion for durable and sustainable clean design, Eric Kaster and Sattie Clark set up shop in Portland's Southeast Industrial district in 2000 and started Eleek (2326 Flint Ave., 314-0456, eleekinc.com), one of Portland's select green businesses for custom design and manufacturing of handmade building parts such as cast recycled metal sinks and hardware, energy-saving lighting and restoration, and custom furniture from reclaimed and salvaged resources. Kaster, a third generation pattern-maker (his grandfather, Willie Kaster, was hired on at Willamette Pattern Works in 1939 and purchased it in 1962), started managing the family business at 22. Jonesing for his own space, he persuaded Clark (who previously worked in the marketing department for Nature's Fresh Northwest, now known as Wild Oats) to help him lay the foundation for Eleek. Clark is now in seven years deep as Eleek's director of marketing and sustainability. Through Eleek, which runs on 100-percent habitat-safe green electricity, Kaster designs products for the built environment, working with architects and homeowners, in addition to designing and manufacturing for commercial and residential projects, interior/exterior installations and custom work. Eleek also has four set lines (designed from 80 percent of supplies coming from within 50 miles of their shop) that it sells through sustainable-building-product showrooms.
Making products from recycled materials was, in a sense, the easy part; running a factory and shipping operation sustainably took some homework. "Eric started designing products using recycled and recyclable materials. From there, we had a lot to learn about what makes a business sustainable," Clark admits. "Six years later, it's still a progression." Early on, a friend who is an environmental resources specialist at a large architecture firm suggested they join the Oregon Natural Step Network, a framework that helps businesses and organizations orient their operations toward sustainability. Now, Eleek's manufacturing process includes earth-friendly details such as recycled silicone molds and wood patterns, reusable and salvaged finishing products, and reused shipping containers and pallets. Last year, Eleek was presented with the BEST Award for Sustainable Practices by the Portland Office of Sustainable Development.
Clark concedes that sourcing materials and services that meet their sustainability requirements can be time-consuming and problematic, but despite such common setbacks, the outcome is that much more rewarding. Portland's burgeoning hub for design and sustainability has also been a major supportive bonus. "People say Portland's a bubble of progressiveness. I don't think it's a bubble so much as that we're creating a focused movement that will gradually filter out to the larger culture," Clark theorizes. "I like to think Portland is to the sustainability movement of the early 21st century what San Francisco was to the cultural revolution of the 1960s."