In July 2006, I moved from Ashland, Oregon to San Francisco for creative writing school, and a soap company was but a twinkle in my eye. I joked that I saw all kinds of cool people driving on I5 the other way, moving from the Bay Area to Portland! Indeed, around that time was the beginning of the Bay Area exodus. Creatives seemed to be migrating to either Oakland or Portland.
Over a decade later, I’m headed back. In fact, I’ve been back for almost a year. If you regularly order from us, you might have noticed the return address move from San Francisco to Oakland, to a different address in Oakland, to Sacramento, briefly back to Berkeley, and now to the Portland, Oregon area. Half of the soap company, our designer-at-large, Adam, has actually been in Oregon since 2015.
A Farm in the City?
Metaphor has been an odd mix of idealism and commercialism. We set out to make natural products, but we put them in smart-looking boxes and charged gift shop prices. When this project began, I dreamed of a network of urban farms grown on the tops of buildings throughout the city. I did live in Oakland for a few years, in a building next to a huge vacant lot where my partner and I managed to grow the majority of our vegetables. Much like the Amish farmer from our collective imagination, I made value-added products (soap) to pay the non-food related expenses.
A Greater Vision
But beyond some sort of pastoral fantasy, I wanted to create a sustainable lifestyle. A way of living, but also a business model that would bypass the fossil fuel economy and send ripples out into the world inspiring others to do the same. There was a bit of Kantian imperative. I wanted to embody principles that I could say if everyone followed, the world would be significantly better.
The Limiting Factor of an Urban Farm is Rent
Something I’ve been struggling with for a few years is that not everyone can run a Metaphor Organic. Not even close. To really make this lifestyle work, you have to win coveted shelf space in gift shops and grocery stores. Most farm and gift markets already have soap vendors, and most craftspeople I’ve met do it as a side hustle. You can make a small soapmaking operation work in roughly the space of one bedroom. However, in the Bay Area, you can make more money per month renting out that bedroom than we gross most months.
Back to Our Roots
Still, it wasn’t rent that drove us from the Bay, so much as friends and family live elsewhere, mostly in the Northwest. While I spent a lot of time successfully existing in the City, I never was able to shake off my small town Oregon instincts. Metaphor will continue, though I don’t expect it to ever serve as our main venture. There may be some adjustment, as a large part of our brand identity involves being a local Bay Area company. Maybe, if I am fortunate in a couple years I’ll be able to buy a plot of of land and build a small cottage. The property values even in the small towns are racing skyward, as it seems everywhere is gentrifying, but it will take quite a while for this process to spread to every little patch of ground. You can’t plant fruit trees, and then dig them up every few years with rent doubling again and again.