It Started With An iPhone Case - IMBOLDN
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The best business plans don’t always sound particularly exciting at first. They may generate a brief spark—a vision of a bigger and brighter future in the years to come—but they’re typically indeliberate, humble, and simple at heart.

It was precisely that unassuming start that has catapulted Grovemade into the unpredictable sphere of success that it enjoys today. They specialize in immaculately crafted leather and wood accessories for the home and office, along with lifestyle-oriented pieces to give your world a little boost.

When the brand’s CEO and co-founder, Ken Tomita, relocated his custom furniture business into a small workshop near the railroad tracks in Portland, he had no idea that it would spur the invention of an unrealized dream.

Just down the road was Joe Mansfield, an enthusiastic and successful digital art and engraving master who befriended Tomita. The two would spend days spitballing ideas and concepts, many of them landing on the simple premise that it would be enjoyable to simply create “cool stuff,” as they very accurately described it.

And so Grovemade came into existence in 2009, largely because the two entrepreneurs were committed to developing an iPhone case that was both structurally sound and stylish. Crafted of handsome American hardwood, the sleek accessory started it all—and lit a fire that propelled Tomita and Mansfield to continue imagining, creating, and developing more.

The Case for Change

It was the iPhone case that paved the way for the brand’s success. Both men were committed to using wood, a material that they felt was worthy for its sustainability and versatility. They also recognized that it stood out from the pack—and in a world filled with all kinds of quirky phone covers, that was tough to do.

The process has been perfected over the years, but the underlying vision—to design something sturdy, reliable, protective, and beautiful all at once—has always been the ultimate goal. That’s precisely why each piece undergoes rigorous production before it ever reaches your hands. The first step: use a piece of solid hardwood as the foundation. Employing an Austrian laser, skilled artisans carve out meticulous cuts in the material. The results are sharp and precise, from the minuscule speaker holes to the button cutouts.

Then it’s time for assembly, during which the case’s four pieces are intricately glued together and properly aligned before undergoing a custom curing process in a temperature-controlled oven. Precision is the key word here. The Grovemade team goes a step beyond traditional measures to design its products, using machining equipment typically reserved for medical and aerospace professionals. It’s this level of dedication to artisanship that transforms the end product into something more durable than you might expect.

Wood, of course, needs a little bit of TLC before you can really do anything more with it. Grovemade uses a strategic process to sand and smooth each piece to perfection. They hand-apply a nourishing blend of waxes and natural, plant-based oils to slowly and gently go over the smooth undulations of the case, creating a beautiful finish that brings out the wood’s organic complexities and unique properties. The design process culminates with the addition of small wood buttons.

Natural Expansion

With success comes the opportunity to expand—and that’s precisely what Grovemade did when sales of its iPhone case exceeded expectations. The entire range is smart, thoughtfully designed, and largely minimalist. There are keyboard accessories mingling alongside headphone stands, wall hooks taking up residence with planters. The focus isn’t so much on fancy as it is on function, but there’s no dearth of subtle elegance in the mix. Moreover, the selection is diverse, but not too crowded. You can find exactly what you need without much effort.

The pieces are born of the belief that fine engineering can yield unforgettable products that stand the test of time and happen to look great for eternity, too. Today, the brand offers so much more than iPhone cases. The burgeoning line includes iPhone chargers and Apple Watch bands, plus office essentials that you can easily introduce to your professional space no matter what your décor and design preferences might be—they’re just that versatile. Items like pens, key rings, wallets, and knives fit seamlessly into the mix and add a touch of timeless fashion to the equation.

It’s the desk accessories that have the ability to transform your world into a veritable shrine to all things Grovemade. Even the addition of one product has the potential to stop traffic—or at least capture the eye of a client. Their desk shelves and monitor and laptop stands, in particular, have the uncanny ability to steal the spotlight despite being relatively modest and unobtrusive in design. It’s the power of beautifully cut, seamless wood that adds immediate sophistication to any setting.

There are complementary pieces, too, like structural desk pads and coasters that add a hint of personality to the room without overwhelming the tabletop or competing with anything else in the space. There’s a nice transitional feeling about everything—you understand immediately that they would work just as well in a traditional, old-school office as in a contemporary, more creative area where there are no limitations or codes to follow.

Just as intriguing and welcome are the many items for the home. Their lamps are organic to a fault—you won’t find anything that feels earthier or more warm and inviting than those, and they’re so understated that they work well in any setting, whether they’re illuminating your bedroom or adding a flash of light to the home office.

Also in the mix are devastatingly stylish—and highly unexpected—wooden wall shelves that exhibit a clean, unaffected sort of vibe. There’s a sense of simplicity about them, but that simplicity naturally lends itself to the type of endurance that you expect of the best pieces of furniture and décor. You don’t have to worry about swapping it out for something else in the future, because it happens to go well and look great with everything.

As wearables go, Grovemade appears to have a lock on that, too. Items like belts and wallets stand apart from the competition, largely for their simplicity. The aptly named Minimalist belt line feels reserved in the most welcome way. And, in truth, there’s not much to the actual construction—it turns out that when paired, beautiful leather and sturdy stainless steel can make magic together, which is precisely what the brand does in crafting these classic accessories.

The brand makes it easier to live a more structured sort of life, too. You may not realize that you need, for example, a walnut pen cup until you glimpse it for yourself. Then all hell breaks loose, and you find that it’s just nicer overall if everything in your professional world matches. Grovemade doesn’t rest on its laurels; even small items like the cups are crafted with such precision that you can immediately glean an appreciation for its strength and shape just by looking at it.

That Homegrown Feeling

It’s not enough to simply do the design and production work by hand. The staff at Grovemade prides itself on doing everything in house. There’s very little room for outsourcing here—it could potentially make their processes smoother, but it would mean slimming down the value of what the brand is all about, and the dedicated staff is far too committed to their respective responsibilities to allow for that. It goes a long way in explaining why the products aren’t just assembled right there, but also boxed and shipped, too. There’s a shipping station on site, ensuring that there are no snafus or hiccups along the way.

There’s also a feeling of authenticity and dedication to craft that can only come from a small business. It’s in the work that they put into the craft, the enthusiasm they display every day, the attention they pay to the smallest details, and the genius ability to have an extraordinarily good time simply creating products that matter and make a difference to people’s lives. That’s what happens when your company is small, your staff is humble, and your intentions are pure. The Grovemade story feels legitimate precisely because it’s so unpretentious.

Every piece has a story, too. That goes a long way in the world of product development. There are no unknown workers here at far-away factories who can’t quite be traced. Even pieces as simple as pens, which are mass-produced at breathtaking pace all over the world, can become unique with a little bit of ingenuity.

The brand commits to putting their own fresh, customized spin on these basics, yielding items that are both mechanically sound and intrinsically stylish. That pen you thought was just a pen is actually so much more—it’s a writing instrument that is the result of a deep production and manufacturing process that commits to value, authenticity, and endurance. The same can be said of the entire range. Every little bit of the process begins and ends in their Portland warehouse, and it’s key to the Grovemade success story.