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West America

Our interview with Jordan Hufnagel on building camping supplies and the story behind his new brand

by Graham Hiemstra in Travel on 10 August 2012

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There comes a time in many peoples' lives when things just seem to be moving too fast, and there just aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done. This overwhelmed feeling spurred Portland-based bicycle builder Jordan Hufnagel and motorcycle maker James Crowe to start the adventure outfitter brand West America. A passion project for the two, West America makes handmade camping supplies and apparel capturing the free spirit that brought the brand to life.

While the product line itself is fairly basic, the story behind West America is a rich one filled with countless stories of friendship and travel with a genuine, pioneering spirit. To learn more about the young brand, we recently caught up with Hufnagel before his upcoming motorcycle trip for which the brand was formed.

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What is West America all about?

West America is about that constant evolution that we all go through, and being true to ourselves. It's about not being scared of the changes you want in your life and working hard to make them happen. A couple years ago James and I found ourselves buried in a mountain of work that only seemed to keep growing, while not getting us any closer to the lives we really wanted. After some big challenges were overcome and some rough conversations between the two of us, we committed to making those changes and somewhere along the line we thought up West America.

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What does West America make?

West America makes whatever James and I are stoked on at the time—currently that means a small line of camping gear, and paraphernalia—while simultaneously creating an outlet for James and me to document our work, good times and travels.

You make bicycles, James makes motorcycles. Who makes the camping gear?

We both make the camping gear. James and I really yin each other's yang here in the shop, so working together designing and making things works out great.

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How did the idea for this specific camping gear (camp grill, skewer, utensil) come about?

It all happens very naturally around here. Having a full metal shop, we have the privilege to make the things we want exactly how we want them. We are going to be on the road a long time, camping most of the nights. So we wanted gear that was going to pack easy in our limited space, but also create comfort. After bouncing around some ideas of what we wanted to make, we landed on these items to start.

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Can you elaborate a little on the ongoing design process?

At this point we're just scratching some sketches out as ideas pop in our heads and showing them to each other to get feedback and make refinements to the plan. Then one of us will make a prototype that we can beat up and get a feel for. Sometimes one prototype is all that happens and the product gets dumped. But, if we're happy with what we've come up with we'll make some final repeatable plans, order materials and will work together producing a limited run.

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A foundation of the West America products seems to lie in the idea that they'll all be used on a future motorcycle trip, can you add anymore to this?

We started planning this motorcycle trip to South America a couple years ago when we made that commitment to change and started thinking up West America. Like I said earlier, we had found ourselves buried in work. Me with bicycle orders and James with three different and very important full-time gigs. I was spending every waking hour at the shop and going a little crazy. I felt like I'd been stripped of the privilege to act on my spontaneous nature, and also had this huge drive to be doing more than one thing with my life. At the same time, James was being pulled in every direction too. Between our shop, a hot rod shop he worked at that was sponsoring his green card application, and having to be in school full time to maintain a visa here in the US (he's Canadian) he had no time to do anything besides work. Only sleeping a couple hours a night, things came to a tipping point.

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You know, just hit the reset button and find out who we really are...

At the time, I wanted to move away from Portland. The only thing keeping me here was sharing a shop with James. He's my best friend and ultimate shop partner. But life here was beating him down pretty hard and it looked like a move back to Canada was just around the corner, so I also felt like there was no reason to stay. It honestly was a pretty crazy emotional time. Then real late one night at the shop, we just broke it all down and committed to making this trip happen. Leaving all the stress behind and going off to have the awesome journey. You know, just hit the reset button and find out who we really are with out all the expectations and stress again. Now here we are a couple months from going. It's a crazy feeling, knowing that it's happening so soon.

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You seem like a firm believer in the "journey-over-destination" idea, as a designer and builder how does this mindset fit in with West America?

Totally. For the trip south our only plan is going, and letting the rest just take shape on its own. West America is the same. We just want it to be whatever we are into at that time, or whatever we want to make. Right now, it's camping and motorcycles. At some point we both want to build homes and I can totally see us making house wares as we want them, or bike stuff, or backpacking gear. You know, whatever is rocking us at the time. Also, I think it's important to keep in mind here that destinations are just a part of a journey, not the reason for them.

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Can we expect to see more products added to the collection anytime soon?

We have a few other things in the works, but we also have tons of work to finish up before we take off so we'll see what happens!

Keep an eye on West America to stay up with the product development and the eventual documentation of Hufnagel and Crowe's South American adventure.

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