Portland-based store ‘Bluer than Indigo’ is located in Oregon’s celebrated Alberta Arts District within a 100 year old building. The location stocks a mix of women’s and men’s products all hand-selected by owner and creative director Jeff Shafer and his team of designers. The labels, mostly produced in Portland or in the USA, include Shafer’s own brands Bluer Denim and Agave. Shafer’s store encouraged customers to exchange an unwanted pair of jeans in return for a $10 credit towards the purchase of any new pair. All collected jeans are then donated to local homeless shelters or recycled into home insulation depending on condition. According to Shafer, “Selling vintage classics and buying back unwanted jeans from customers to give to homeless shelters brings the cycle full circle.” Here, Jeff Shafer discusses his most-loved pieces and the biggest challenge for retailing right now. Interview by Melanie Gropler

Why did you open your store? Tells us the story and your motivation!
I have been a designer of jeans and sportswear since 1992 but never had my own store.  I needed a place to tell the Bluer and Agave story, so I created Bluer Than Indigo to express their aesthetic through interior design and showcase the best of both collections.  The shop is a living laboratory to try new ideas with consumers without wholesale filters.

What is important for you in terms of shop fitting and store design?
My goal is to create a beautiful environment that is an extension of the collections with an atmospheric feel.  I wanted the store to look and feel like denim.  Also, I wanted the store to reflect the Japanese aesthetics of Wabi Sabi.  And it was essential to use only repurposed woods, metals and LED lighting.

What are the anchor Brands? Which brands have you recently added to the  assortment?
Bluer Denim, Schott NYC Leather, Agave Denim, Deus Ex Machina, Wood & Faulk, Bella Dahl, Shwood Eyewear, Japanese ceramics, Ebbets Field Flannels, Retro Brand Tees and tons of locally handcrafted home goods.
Portland-based store Bluer than Indigo
Portland-based store Bluer than Indigo

What are five products you couldn’t live without right now?
My vintage sterling silver Obrey French watch with chain band,  my vintage 1975 BMW 2002, my collection of deadstock Rudolf Dassler Schufabrik footwear, my iPhone, my  Bialetti Moka Express stove top espresso maker, my Agave Kuroki Vegetable Indigo dyed selvage denims and my golden retriever puppy “Stella”.

Which fairs do you visit?  Or do you only order at showrooms?
Mostly showrooms, but I also visit Liberty Fairs and Capsule.

Where do you inform yourself about trends?
I study aspects of culture especially art, music and fashion.  I love to travel and I love to watch people.  I am always hunting for fresh ideas regardless of source.

Did your store’s sales increase or decrease over last year? To what do you attribute your gain or loss in sales?
Increase.  Word of mouth and a compelling store shopping experience.

Do you also operate an online shop? If so, what percentage of your sales are from online business compared to your brick-and-mortar sales?
Our brick and mortar currently does twice as much business as our web store.
Portland-based store Bluer than Indigo
Portland-based store Bluer than Indigo

What makes your store different and in what ways does your store excel beyond your competition?
We work like hell to provide convenience, entertainment and exploration in a physically beautiful environment.  We provide extensive knowledge about all our products.  We tell the stories of our brands and the makers but we never “sell” anything.   We share it.

How do you stay in touch with the wants and needs of your customers?
We are always on the hunt to find things our customers will love and hopefully have never seen before.

Is there a kind of model store for you?  Some shop (worldwide), who inspires you?
I love Collette, Paris, Tenue de Nimes, Amsterdam, Vintage Showroom, London.

What is the biggest challenge for retailing right now?
Customers struggle with the idea of intrinsic value of apparel.  It’s impossible for them to reconcile the cost of products from Uniqlo and H&M with the cost of products from Prada and Gucci and everything in between.  The fact that most everything can be found “on sale” leads consumers to the same conclusion that most apparel industry insiders have come to “always get a deal”.

Which is the most important ingredient for successful retailing?
Know your customer.