Carey Portzline and Meri Kemp started Thread & Whisk in 2015.
When a product designer and a chef joined forces, they created Thread & Whisk; a slow movement business where meticulously designed products are made by hand. Carey Portzline and Meri Kemp started Thread & Whisk in 2015 as a Portland, OR based company. Their clever innovations of familiar objects like the apron, market tote and trivet are the results of the collaborative design process they have honed to perfection. The phrase, “elevating the everyday,” is present in all of their products as well as their blog. Just visiting the Thread & Whisk website brings a sense of calm, careful work and the love Portzline and Kemp have for the details.
“It was like rubbing two sticks together for a while until a spark finally hit,” Kemp says about the inception of Thread & Whisk.
Thread & Whisk Inception
In the beginning, Portzline and Kemp knew each other through their children’s school. They were both freelancing and looking for their next professional phase. For many years, Portzline had used her industrial design education in product design roles with corporations such as Nike. Kemp, who first received a degree in journalism, later graduated from culinary school and worked in the fast-paced environments of restaurants.
The Thread & Whisk blog explores themes of entertaining, delighting and gathering.
When the opportunity to take a trip together to Paris came about, their friendship grew. As they wandered the streets of Paris, the idea of Thread & Whisk was just beginning to sprout. When Portzline and Kemp returned to Portland, they started working on collaborative projects and making things together for fun. They realized they worked well as a team, and they didn’t want to just do it for fun anymore. The idea to focus on well-designed items for cooking and gathering came naturally because it brought their two backgrounds together. They established a rhythm of working together and the enthusiasm to create a company grew.
At this point, Portzline and Kemp created the Thread & Whisk website and began to build their brand through blogs and visual content. The website gradually filled with recipes, DIY projects and tutorials for making and ideas for gatherings. Today, their blog continues to be delightful and full of fun surprises. Blogging is, of course, a marketing tool for driving traffic to their website but for Thread & Whisk it is also a central theme of their ethos. Entertaining, delighting and gathering can be encouraged virtually as well as in person. Explore this article on making a sachet to see how Portzline and Kemp capture the moments and details that enhance day-to-day life.
Product Development Process
After the Thread & Whisk site had been developed and populated with great articles, the two friends began designing their first product to sell on the site. They started with an apron. Not just any apron, but an apron that is comfortable, light, easily adjustable with pockets and a detachable dish towel. Now seven years later, they have expanded to home and tabletop products and their initial apron continues to be one of their best sellers. Their two current apron styles are functional and beautiful with genius details. See all the little details of the Grace and Rowan apron featured here.
The magic of Thread & Whisk lies in the collaborative design process they have developed. Portzline and Kemp describe this process as a spiral that begins with a problem that needs to be solved. This spiral is where the simple genius of their current product line was born. The Dahlia Tote started with a personal experience. Portland is a hilly city and Kemp and Portzline had traversed these hills with pots of food for gatherings on many occasions. None of the totes on the market at the time met their needs for carrying food items across town with ease.
So, they started (as they always do) with a list of what the new tote needed to do, carefully researched what already existed and brainstormed how this new product could solve their problem. At this point in the design process, Portzline worked independently on doodles and mini mockups. Her goal was to delight Kemp with what she showed her and then discuss improvements.
The first product the team developed was an apron that was comfortable, light and included a detachable dish towel.
“Meri is the most amazing editor while still being kind,” Portzline says. The back-and-forth steps of iterating and editing were repeated until they fully refined their idea. “We always strive to distill our ideas into the clearest and simplest version of the product,” says Kemp.
Their final stage of product design is wear-testing and finalizing costs. From idea to product release, the Dahlia Tote took approximately 9 months.
Marketing & PR Strategies
Marketing and selling their products are challenges that Portzline and Kemp have taken on with the same intentional focus that they use in the design process. Since Thread & Whisk products are sold almost exclusively online and direct to consumer, Portzline and Kemp prioritized digital marketing and sales strategies. They started out with DIY channels such as social media and email newsletters. After realizing that their key customer base was not teenagers on Instagram, it was 35–45-year-old educated women, they focused their efforts appropriately. Pitching their press releases to publications that their key customers read was a game changer. Now, you can find them featured in Real Simple, the New York Times, and Martha Stewart. Portzline and Kemp also credit their marketing growth to Wolf Craft which they discovered through a podcast interview with CIA. They worked with Wolf Craft to edit and review their website. These updates made a huge difference in their ability to convert visitors to customers and tell their story. See the tips and tricks they learned from this before and after article about the Thread & Whisk website.
Portzline and Kemp have a specific process that they use to develop products that they describe as a spiral that begins with a problem that needs to be solved, then moves to sketching and finishes with wear-testing and finalizing costs.
Working Across Time Zones
While their business has come a long way from their first apron and their first website iteration, Portzline and Kemp are still learning something new every single day. In the early part of the pandemic, Portzline moved from Portland to Michigan. At first this move seemed like a big challenge, but now they consider it to be an asset for their business ventures. Thread & Whisk is now local in Grand Rapids, MI as well as Portland, OR. And they support two local economies as they work with sewers and makers to assist with production. Because of the bond they have created as friends and business partners, Portzline and Kemp find it relatively easy to manage working together from two different locations. Using tools like Facetime, Excel, Dropbox, Apple Notes, many phone calls, and shared calendars, they keep their business running smoothly. They joke that they have one brain between the two of them.
What’s next for Thread & Whisk and this dynamic duo? In the short term, the end of the holiday season rush gives them time to reflect and develop their goals for the next year. In the long term, since Thread & Whisk has now expanded geographically, Portzline and Kemp are excited to explore in-person markets across the country. At the end of the day, they are still makers by nature and their goal is to continue to create, have fun and enjoy the intuitive and organic processes of their work.