Portland ceramic company Mudshark Studios touts Oregon-made


0213 FOB Dispatches OregonMade 01From vases that look like trophies to vintage urinal reproductions, Mudshark Studios is an alternative to “Made in China.” The company offers ceramic mold making, production services and product consulting at their 17,000-square-foot Northeast Portland location.

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BY EMMA HALL

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Above: Brett Binford and Chris Lyon, co-founders of Mudshark Studios
Below: A worker pours a ceramic mold
// Photos by Sierra Breshears
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From vases that look like trophies to vintage urinal reproductions, Mudshark Studios is an alternative to “Made in China.” The company offers ceramic mold making, production services and product consulting at their 17,000-square-foot Northeast Portland location, not far from the basement where the company began in 2006. Co-founders Chris Lyon and Brett Binford started out making mostly one-offs for artists like Jim Riswold. By the beginning of 2012, they had seven employees and had expanded into their current location in March. Less than nine months later, they had 26 employees and had already outgrown the new headquarters.

But they didn’t outgrow the one-off productions and small runs of items. Mudshark makes large runs of up to 3,000 items for established designers such as Schoolhouse Electric in Portland and San Francisco-based McGuire Furniture, a subsidiary of Kohler, but it also makes as few as 50 units for smaller local artisans. “We’re the only ceramic subcontractor that will do small runs,” Lyon says. “We’re bringing back local manufacturing in a global economy.”

The company’s goal for the near future is to make that business model of small runs efficient and profitable. As the company matures, it’s getting better at providing quotes to the clients, Lyon says. They help artists alter their designs to be “production friendly.” “A lot of the job is educating designers on ceramics,” Lyon says.

Future goals include expanding to a second building that would handle only larger runs, and then to locations outside of Oregon. “We’ve always kind of had the idea of one in the East or South,” Lyon says. They also hope to have enough employees to allow Lyon and Binford more time to work on personal projects, like the Portland Growler Company (PGC), which they started with fellow designers in the summer of 2010. PGC makes $65 ceramic growlers with wide-mouth flip-top lids, and with Oregon’s beer boom, they have become extremely popular. The company is already Mudshark’s third-biggest client. “Last year we couldn’t keep up with the demand for 100 growlers a month,” Lyon says. “This year it’s the same problem, but with 1,000.”

 


 

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Above: Growlers made by the Portland Growler Company, a spinoff company of the Mudshark founders.
Below: Various molds line a work table
// Photos by Sierra Breshears
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Mudshark worked with Portland Community College’s CLIMB Small Business Development Center to develop a 50-page business plan that helped the company obtain an equipment loan from the Portland Development Commission and a line of credit through Albina Community Bank. The loan allowed it to invest in upgrades such as two hydraulic RAM press machines, add six kilns and upgrade the electric infrastructure. “We’re working on 10 to 15 projects at any one time now,” Lyon says.

The expansion helped them catch the eye of Martha Stewart. Mudshark was chosen last year by Martha Stewart Living magazine as one of 10 winners of the American Made Awards, which celebrate “the rising stars in a new generation of small-business owners.” They were flown to New York City (Lyon’s first time) in October for the American Made Workshop, where a photo of the co-founders was projected larger than life on the walls of Grand Central Terminal.

They were humbled by the experience. “I never had that in mind when we started,” Lyon says. “I just wanted to make ceramics.”

Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.