‘You Should Do This, You’re Totally Capable’

“When I was teaching, my favorite part of the job was displaying my students work. They always worked so hard on their stuff. You get to display it in the hallways and everyone ‘ooh’s and ‘ahs’. In a way that’s kind of what I’m doing with Mantel now. I get to curate a space with some really amazing work and get to show it off to the community and there is something really amazing about that process.” Karen McClelland worked as a high school art teacher for 12 years before she started Mantel, a home and lifestyle boutique that celebrates artists, their creative work, and the creative process. Now displaying over 70 vendors Mantel has become an established creative outlet for creatives in Portland’s Kenton neighborhood.

Starting a business can be intimidating but fortunately for Karen, she had a strong support system. “One of my best friends is a business owner, she’s one of the owners of the Society Hotel in Chinatown. I was hanging out with her a lot as well as other business owners. There are also so many women business owners here in Portland. After being an art teacher for 12 years I think it was the right time in my life and I was kind of ready to try something else. I was surrounded by so many business women that were saying ‘you should do this, you’re totally capable’. They gave me this pep talk and I don’t think you can find that in every city. There are so many really brilliant, creative women here who want to share their experience of being an entrepreneur.”

“I knew that I wanted to work with the creative community and supporting the up and coming generation of artists. I really have a desire to support the smaller brands that are just getting started. A space opened up just a few blocks down the street from where I live and it actually happened to be right next to my friend’s cafe. So I was like ‘I can’t turn this down’. I went full steam ahead as I was teaching half-time so I was working constantly.” With a diverse product selection ranging from fragrances and jewelry to ceramics and soaps, Mantel is doing an amazing job at highlighting the work of local artisans.

While focusing primarily on Mantel, Karen’s Art teacher instincts still kick in. She has dedicated a display in her store specifically for high school creatives. “I’m trying to focus toward carrying some work from high school art students. I have a small space in my store where I can display their work and I let them get 100% of the proceeds back.” Through Mantel, Karen is supporting the work of present-day artisans as well as the next generation of local creatives.

“I love working with new business and new makers and curating the space. There’s something about this city where it allows you to really not hold back and just do what feels right.”

Natalya G