Escaping the scramble of East Burnside Street and stepping into Appetite, I feel a rush of contentment, comforted by the sight of varying textures and textiles, a corner crowded with cacti, and macrame pieces offering warmth to the walls. Appetite is a place where we come to shop, all the while reveling in the sincerity of its space and honesty of its scope.
There’s a glow and a spirit that’s alive in this studio-shop hybrid, an energy carried by the sister team spearheading Appetite’s success. I sat down with Erin and Megan one afternoon, discussing what it’s like working with your sibling, the unique aesthetic that emerges from mixing southwestern design with a Pacific Northwest backdrop, and the community cultivated in Portland that supports their work.
Though having grown up in New Mexico, Erin and Megan moved to Portland 12 years ago, bringing the beauty and romance of desert landscapes north. Erin came to Portland with the intention of being a self-employed designer. She smiles as she tells me how quickly her dream became a reality, starting at the city’s Saturday market and traveling to art fairs. Erin and Megan did many of these fairs together, giving them that angle of retail that helped them start Appetite.
I ask them each about this progression, how the focus both built on and departed from its initial direction. Appetite opened in 2012, developing from their handmade work. They each laugh as they tell me the immediate differences: “At the time, we had a lot fewer plants, and in general, a lot fewer things. We were doing a lot of DIY work on furniture and that quickly made us realize that we had bit off more than we could chew. We were also running our textile business and doing more wholesale. There was just a lot going on.”
Appetite now shows a coherent assortment of plants and macrame, ceramics and quirky figures erected in brass. As I look around, I reflect on their words, noting a natural development. Appetite brings together old and new, settling the mix with an earthy yet refined palette. The store offers a visceral sense of place; there’s ardor and ebullience conveying an aura that brings us somewhere beyond the limits of its walls. There’s a contrast and a complement to everything, reminding us of the beauty created in seeming contradictions.
I’m sure they get it often, but I can’t help but ask: Inevitable arguments arise when working closely with family, what does the dynamic look like between two sisters and business partners?
Erin and Megan look at each other, smiles sweeping across each of their faces with looks that confirm my guess. But their answer is different than expected, and they elaborate upon the specifics of what makes the unique relationship work.
Erin answers, “We’re exceptional because we’ve always gotten along really well; we’ve always been really close. Maybe it’s that you get a lot more leeway with your sister than you would with just a friend. You can definitely push more boundaries, or at least you can in our relationship.”
It’s this ease and comfort with one another that allowed for a seamless transition to their working partnership. Erin began the business on her own, but she breathes a reminiscent sigh of relief as she reflects upon Megan’s voluntary help, “I feel like that just made it part of the dream for us,” she says. “We always wanted to open our own store; it was this imaginary dream that always popped up. But then a space became available and it was that serendipity that made us do it.”
We go further into the specifics of the family aspect of their business. When I verbalize my appreciation of the intricate macrame hung all around the store, the sisters note that it’s their mother who does it all. Amazed and happy to hear there’s even more familial investment in the shop, I want to know more.
Erin answers: “I came to Portland first and, at the time, Megan had been living in Ohio. About 5 months later, she finished school and came here as well. Our mom lives in Gresham, she moved there a couple years ago. We’ve always lived really close, and we had been away from each other for a few years, so it was nice to return to that closeness. For the most part, the three of us are the nuclear family.”
I wonder then about the draw of Portland. What was it about a city, or the idea of a city, that could uproot an entire family? The question calls me to reflect upon my own experience, moving to Portland seeking solace from the constant hustle and competition of New England. But more than that, it was an inexplicable feeling that connected me to Portland, a simultaneous sense of safety and support in my ideas and what I wanted to make for others, and for myself. It was the trust that a place, and its people, could be good for me.
Stepping outside of my own concerns, I wonder if it could be something similar that Megan and Erin saw that brought them here. Did they come to Portland seeking this sense of community as well?
Megan responds, “Oh yes, the idea that you could just walk to something in your neighborhood was incredible. It’s that comfort of having everything you need but also the community that inevitably evolves from that convenience. It’s not how Albuquerque is laid out, so that was a huge change in lifestyle that we love.”
Erin adds onto this with her observations of how the creative community here supports their store. “The amount of small business is so unique to Portland and so different from a lot of other cities. Even if you’ve just moved here it’s very obvious that there’s a support system. People are responsible about their consumption in Portland, always asking where they can purchase something locally without relying upon big-box stores.
What we love too, is that this community breeds natural regulars, people from the neighborhood who want to support handmade goods and local shops. There’s even people who have moved out of the city, down to San Francisco or LA, that still come in when they visit town. We’re very close to a lot of our customers. It’s a great feeling to be a part of this.”
Finishing our conversation, I ask about their own stance towards the shop, what does its assortment evoke, and what are they each hoping to convey?
The sisters look at each other, meeting my challenge of defining the aesthetic of the shop. Simply put (but complexly implied), they respond, “A southwestern boho jungle, with the Pacific Northwest thrown into the mix.”
I love this mix of inspiration, the combining of their background with the reality of their present. It’s an honoring of place, a notation of time and progression. I leave Appetite feeling the amalgamation of these products’ stories, and the sisters’ narrative that ties them all together.