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Photo Credit: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JAIME VALDEZ - Torrain founder Nyla Jano, who designed handbags and accessories made in Cambodia from recycled goods, is launching a new line of Portland-made products from locally scrounged materials.  Nyla Jano prides herself on finding materials in unexpected places.


Farm feed bags from local co-ops, malt bags from a Portland brewery, magazines and cement bags from Cambodia. 

Jano, a 34-year-old Portland designer, has used them all for her stylish yet utilitarian handbags and other creations, and she’s just getting started. 

Torrain, her three-year-old company, launches its Made in America line this month, a line entirely designed and made in Portland from materials found locally. 

“This is an old sail,” Jano says, showing a visitor scraps of fabric in her storage closet around the corner from her studio. “These are old shade tents. These are a bunch of old cordura canvases. I want to try to use them for liners.”

In a city enamored of all things handmade, Jano thinks local sourcing will add a new layer to Torrain’s eco-consciousness. But she doesn’t believe she needs to do everything locally in order to be a sustainable company. 

“I think communities need help everywhere,” she says. 

Since 2011, Jano has been sketching her designs here and sending them to be made by Photo Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF NYLA JANO - A woman sorts recycled handbags and accessories to be exported from Cambodia to the United States for Torrain.groups of artisans in Cambodia, who work under fair-trade labor conditions.

It was the famous Angkor Night Market in Cambodia that inspired her work in the first place. Jano took a 10-day trip to the country in 2009, and was mesmerized by the materials and creations at one of the booths. She struck up a conversation with the artisan, a young mother named Sothea Yung, and bought one of her bags. 

“I was drawn to it,” she says. The next day she returned and asked Yung if she and her artisans would sew some designs for her out of the material, which were farm feed bags that had been thrown away. 

Jano tossed the idea of a business around for a while but didn’t act on it. Instead she moved to Portland from San Diego, where she’d been working as a designer for surf and skate companies. 

In 2011, at the urging of friends in Portland, Jano decided to pursue the business. She started working with Yung and her group of about 10 artisans, a group that’s since doubled in size. 

Working out of her basement in North Portland, Jano launched Torrain at the Portland Gift Show that year, with a small inventory of about 20 styles. 

She now has 35 styles, everything from duffel bags and backpacks to clutches, shoulder bags, wine bags and yoga mat bags. They’re all made of durable plastic, waterproof, with lots of zippered pockets and liners. They’re perfect for traveling, Jano says. 

Special-needs work force

Jano does a lot of traveling, when she’s not designing or running the business. She just returned from a three-week trip to Spain and Morocco, and has been back to Cambodia once since she launched the business. 

When she was there, she checked in on the four artisan groups she now works with: Yung’s group, as well as Rehab Craft, Yodi Craft, and Friends International, all of which are fair-trade certified. 

Rehab Craft works with disabled Cambodians, who’ve either been struck with polio or lost limbs due to leftover landmines or untreated diabetes. Cambodia has a disability rate of 4 percent, one of the highest in the world. 

“There were weavers with amputated limbs at their elbows,” Jano says, recounting her recent trip to Cambodia. “There were blind people (weaving). There was one woman so affected by polio, she was cutting and weaving on the ground, because she couldn’t sit upright.”

Yodi Craft also works with the disabled. Friends International works with children in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries who live in the street, are affected by HIV or AIDS, are migrants, in prison, or victims of abuse, domestic violence or poverty. 

Jano felt gratified that she was helping to improve their lives through employment.

Going local

With the launch of her Made in America line, Jano gets to have a lot more hands-on involvement. 

She’s been sourcing the materials from a few places, including Agri-Plas Inc., a plastic recycling center an hour south of Portland that receives a lot of feed bags from local farms, feed stores and co-ops. 

She collected another load from a company called Concentrates Northwest in Milwaukie. Heather Havens, the general manager, is a huge recycling advocate and has been stockpiling her 50-pound poly-woven feed bags — made of strong, durable tarplike plastic — for someone to pick up and use. 

“I put an ad on Craigslist, but people stopped coming to get them,” Havens says. “I don’t want to throw them away. We’re an organic and agricultural specialist, a family-owned business. It just seems like the right thing to do.”

Then Jano called, and made a few trips out to collect about 100 bags at a time. Concentrates now sends their overflow of plastic bags to Agri-Plas.

Breakside Brewery, located next to Concentrates Northwest, soon got in on the action. Havens started coming into its tap room and noticed how Breakside used a lot of plastic insulated bags from European malt houses, says Ben Edmunds, Breakside’s brewmaster.

Photo Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF NYLA JANO - A man looks for materials in Cambodia, to bre recycled into handbags and accessories.“In Portland, we can recycle those bags, but in Milwaukie it’s a slightly different setup. We were throwing them out. We quickly changed that.” 

As a huge user of imported German malts for its pilsner and Kolsch-style beer, Breakside sends about 200 bags per month next door to be recycled. Havens gives them to Torrain. 

Jano makes the red and white Weyermann Pilsner malt bag from Breakside into a two-way (adjustable) tote that sells for $90. Other items in the Made in America line include a $21 chalk bag with a cow design; a $102 large messenger bag featuring a horse; an $18 mens’ wallet with a sunny yellow barn image; and a popular $90 picnic handbag adorned with a chicken, among other items. 

Jano also makes sure to use packaging materials, stationery and hangtags that are 100-percent recycled and printed with natural dyes.

After finding the materials and designing the pieces, she sends them to Black Star Bag on Portland’s Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard for manufacturing. 

“I don’t support the big push to push all the jobs overseas,” says Black Star owner Dave Stoops, a friend of Jano. 

He jumped at the chance to take on Torrain’s Made in America line with his small team of local sewers. It’s hardly an assembly line-type operation, Stoops says. He likes to think of it as a creative process, which he’s been able to sustain by taking on side jobs like the Torrain bags and a line of medical supply bags by local entrepreneur Phoenix Lazarus. 

No matter how successful her new locally made product line fares, Jano, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Syria, expects to retain her partnership with the artisans in Cambodia.

“I love traveling,” she says. “I’ve always been affected when I’m seeing conditions in those places. Social consciousness on a global level is really important.” 

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