Community April 28, 2009

Heads Full of Lightning

A Look at Some Bright Ideas Lit by Sun Valley’s Young People

Over its history, this Valley has spawned some notable art, literature and theatre and, not to forget, Olympic athletes of all kinds from equine to special needs. All of us have had an idea for making our lives easier, but it takes a true entrepreneur to make it real. There’s a whole bunch of people here quietly tinkering in kitchens, garages and on computers all around us hatching new inventions every day. We’ll introduce you to some of these unsung dreamers.

Wheeling into the Light
Jamey Allsop

A few years ago, Jamey Allsop and her father, Jim, set out to build a better mousetrap, so to speak, not by reinventing the wheel, but rather by reinventing the wheelbarrow. The idea was deceptively simple and relied on the use of one of technology’s oldest ergonomic tools: the lever. Instead of struggling to lift, say, heavy river rocks into the barrow’s belly to later dispose of, you simply roll them onto a flat canvas liner, which you lift up from the ground up using two handles that fork the barrow’s tire for easy carting.

The success of the WheelEasy, patented by Allsop (now known as inventors and investors of new consumer product technologies) allowed the idea of Allsop to reinvent a part of itself, specifically as Allsop Home & Garden.

Headed by Jamey Allsop and her dad, Allsop Home & Garden, independent of its parent company, has expanded the product lines to include garden lights and lanterns to illuminate a hard day’s work in the yard at night.

Allsop says her father thought cracked blown glass could not only provide ambient light to a garden or an outdoor sculpture, but would do so in a variety of aesthetically-pleasing patterns. The lights and lanterns are “green,” too, collecting and storing solar power during the day. You can now find them in gardening stores across the country including local dealers such as Webb and Moss.

While her business now enjoys success, Allsop says it wasn’t easy.

“When you start a small business, resources are always limited,” Allsop says. “When you start up, you’re usually starting with nothing.”

Born in Bellingham, WA., she attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, and earned her degree in Asian Studies (she speaks Mandarin Chinese). Then she traveled east to Ketchum and worked for a couple of years as a dealer services representative at Smith Optics before heading back home and opening her garden accessory business in 2002.

Within a couple of years though, she followed her heart (and her future husband, Adam Greene, who was offered and took a job at Scott USA) back to Ketchum, where she established new headquarters.

Allsop now runs all the design, research and development for her company in Ketchum, with manufacturing in China (where her linguistic skills come in handy). Working from a remote location like Ketchum works, she says, as long she’s got an Internet connection and surrounds herself with talent.

If anything, she says, the talent pool and wealth of ideas here may be small, but it’s rich. Many people, she says, are overqualified for what they do, but are happy doing it because the living in the Valley is its own reward.

She considers herself lucky, but says it’s going to take leadership and an effort to bring in and support business in this community to bring and keep young talent in the Valley.

“It’s a wonderful place to live, and if you’re satisfied with your work, I don’t see why anyone would ever want to leave. I do feel that it has become much more difficult to find work that really affords a long-term lifestyle in Ketchum,” she says. “You’re never going to get young people to stay if they can’t make a living.” After all, she’s worn those shoes, too, and says her success story is an exception to the usual narrative of people trying to make it in the Valley before moving on to make it somewhere else. >>>



Love Your Sweet Life
Toni’s Sun Valley Ice Cream Co.

War. Recession. Unemployment. Just when it seems like we’re plunged into gloom where the depths are their darkest, there is a cure that will rub out all our symptoms if not the whole disease. Something that brings to mind summer vacations, Sunday drives and lazy days where the smiles are as long as the grass is green.

Ask kids, and they will tell you that that something is ice cream.

Are there no sweeter words in the English language, no words more musical to all children, everywhere, than ice cream?

Originally from Washington state, 34-year-old Toni Bogue (née, Deskins) has been making children happy by hand-making her own ice cream for the last eight years as the owner of the Sun Valley Ice Cream Company. Prior to that, she was a bartender, a gardener, a nanny. She ran a summer camp for kids and assisted first-grade teachers at The Community School. She says she did anything she could to find a way to make her new life work in her adopted hometown.

Then one day, it happened. Bogue was serving and tending bar at Ketchum’s Sushi On Second (S.O.S.), when the owners, Roger Roland and Paige Griffith, presented their staff with a job that turned into an opportunity. “They asked if anyone was interested in making green tea and ginger ice cream for the restaurant,” Bogue remembers. “I accepted.”

You can now find up to 25 different flavors of her ice cream in as many as 30 different restaurants and 12 grocery stores.

“It’s funny,” she muses. “People say, ‘You’re so lucky to be your own boss,’ but the truth is I have several bosses. Small business owners are accountable to a lot of people. Every single customer is my ‘boss.’”

As a result, she says she needs to keep her product a premium one. That means packaging her ice cream in biodegradable paper pints and using only the best ingredients she can find.

And, of course, making anything successful requires a lot of elbow grease. At first, she says, she made ice cream all day, headed to S.O.S. for the night shift, and then often went back home to make more ice cream.

After eight years, her company has saturated the Valley’s ice cream market, and the Valley has rewarded her with a loyal clientele. She recently worked out a partnership with Leroy’s Ice and Creperie to manage a storefront operation in the park across from Atkinsons’ Market in Ketchum and supply all the ice cream in summertime. All profits will go to Blaine County schools.

“It is tremendously fulfilling to know that there is a generation growing up with Toni’s Sun Valley Ice Cream,” she says. “What kid doesn’t dream of having an ice cream business?” >>>


Cynical Optimists
WIZE Design

It wasn’t supposed to have happened this way. Their plan was to take their college degrees and wait out a sluggish economy disguised as ski bums in a remote mountain town, joining the ranks of what they consider a ski town’s “transient youth culture.” When the gloomy economic skies cleared, they’d pack up and move into the “real” world. But things didn’t go as planned.

That’s how 29-year-old Chatham Baker sees it. After struggling as a freelance designer in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, Baker moved back West and persuaded two friends to join him. After Shaun Kelly (a childhood friend) and Michael Ames (a college friend) joined him, they laid out for themselves a path of leisure and part-time jobs.

“We ended up here because the economy was so bad,” says Baker. And, shortly after, the three friends turned what they still consider an ongoing “art project” into a growing hip clothing business.

WIZE Design, Baker says, began as a creative outlet for the three friends to visually express their ideas, which were born mostly on the pages of Baker’s sketchbook, on scatterings of random Post-its® and bounced around on the chairlift rides that took them to the top of Bald Mountain. Those ideas, in turn, became a favorite fashion of that youth culture in the forms of tees, hoodies and pants for the people who value the freedom to choose lifestyle over the comforts of life enjoyed by the status-quo.

And following the fashion of that grassroots business model for which Ketchum is so famous (trading goods and service in lieu of cash), WIZE got its start. Baker says he exchanged graphic design services with the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce to secure sponsorship of the new company at local events, and soon had clothes in local retailers like the Board Bin.

“In some ways we feel obligated to make designs that are provocative,” Baker says. “The galleries have enough decorative art in town. We don’t feel it’s necessary to make clothing or art that matches the couch.”

Now their graffiti-inspired wearable artwork (Baker cites street artists Banksy and Shepard Fairey as inspirations) adorns skateboarders in Northern Idaho and snowboarders in Southern California.

“Most of the time we want everything to look hand drawn, because most of the time it is,” Baker says. “I think being authentic is important. We really believe in what we’re putting out there. We’re not trying to look like we’re having fun, we are having fun. Somehow I hope that gets translated into the designs.”

And while their business grows (they’re planning lines for 2011), they found their dream jobs along the way. Baker is a graphic designer at Smith Optics, Kelly designs for a local architect, and Ames enjoys success as an author and a freelance writer and editor.

“We’ve enjoyed the struggle here—none of us has fallen into anything,” Baker says, meaning they worked tirelessly to find the work that keeps them in the Valley.

But WIZE, he says, allows them a great deal of freedom, too. Says Baker, “We don’t have to follow any rules.” >>>


Is There a There There?
Andrew McCollum

The Internet is one of those things that is many different things to many different people all at once. But more than anything, it has revolutionized the way people communicate. It’s a tool that allows people to gather together and spread their ideas faster and more powerfully than ever before. Its politics lean right and left, but mostly populist.

During the longest presidential campaign ever recorded, pundits frequently referred to one of now-President Barack Obama’s most successful fundraising tools: his Facebook page. As nearly everyone knows, Facebook is a social networking site engineered in a way similar to Myspace, except Facebook is the newest hot spot for cool kids and even their parents to set up shop and swap photos, stories, causes and fan clubs.

Noticeably different is the site’s look, which is, compared to the black-and-neon look of so many Myspace pages, simple, sober and economical. An unfussy blue and white for the most part. The colorful content is left to its users.

One of the very young men behind that look is Ketchum-shaped Andrew McCollum, 25, who now lives in Austin, Texas.

McCollum was born in Pasadena, California, but spent his formative years in the Valley, attending Wood River High School, where he was on the debate team.

He went on to Harvard, studying computer science, where he met Mark Zuckerberg, who envisioned and built Facebook in his dorm room and asked McCollum for some assistance with the graphic design.

“Back in the early days, we all lived together in the same house, and we all discussed the proposed features for both projects together. We had things each of us focused on, but everything was very collaborative,” he recalls. “Working at Facebook was a great experience. I learned a lot about how startups work and how to take a project from idea to completion. It was also a ton of fun.”

Although not formally recognized today as a founder, McCollum explains his role in the design.

“I designed the logo and icons for the original version of the site. At the time, we were also working on a project called Wirehog, which was a new concept for personalized file sharing, where everything was only shared among your friends . . . Later I contributed to several architectural projects such as a redesign of the search system.”

Using computers to communicate individually with a larger audience is a natural step, considering, as McCollum says, how people feel about their computers.

“Increasingly, we tend to see them as conscious beings with their own motives and desires. When our computers freeze or lose a file, we yell at them as if they can hear us and change their behavior.

“One positive consequence is that when we are using sites like Facebook, we feel a real emotional connection to what our friends are doing and saying, even if we are receiving it indirectly. Seeing some exciting story in your News Feed feels almost like hearing a juicy piece of gossip from a close friend.”

He adds, “I think the Internet age warrants more caution than previous times. When your actions can instantly be transmitted across the globe, copied and repeated a thousand times over, one should tread carefully in what they do and say.”

The bottom line is, “I think social networking is similar to IM and email, in that the genie is out of the bottle now. No matter whether your opinion on social networking is good or bad, I think Facebook is undoubtedly a tool that lets us manage our lives more efficiently than we could before.” >>>




The World as an Office
Gerry Moffatt, Freelance Adventurer

When he was 11, Gerry Moffatt saw a movie that would change his life—a 1976 documentary about the descent of the river Dodhu, one of Nepal’s 14 Himalayan River drainages.

Twenty years later, Moffatt would descend the Dodhu, and the remaining 13 rivers, making him the first man ever to descend every major Himalayan river drainage. His first, in 1983, was the River Buri Ghandaki.

In between, Moffatt, now 44, has lived the kind of life that most only read about.

After making his first expedition at 18, the native Scotsman began exploring the Himalayan ranges, working at first for a revolutionary travel company known as Encounter Overland, before starting his own river exploration company in Nepal.

Working for Outdoor Encounters brought him face-to-face for six years with the elements—both natural and manmade—and he survived all the invasions, wars, hijackings and coups, as well as hungry lions, malaria and unpredictable weather that made the landscape.

Working that job “gives you an education you’ve never imagined,” Moffatt says, and that learn-ing augmented the success of his own business in Nepal until 9/11, which, beyond its first impact, brought to light the political chaos of developing countries. This, of course, had a direct impact on the number of trips amateur adventurers were willing to take, and many adventure companies folded, one by one.

“We all lost our shirts,” Moffatt says. So he went home to Idaho, where he’s lived since 1989, and figured out what to do next. He was lured to Idaho by the rivers, specifically the North Fork of the Payette, which he calls the “the ultimate training playground” for the more complex and dynamic expeditions he’ll lead elsewhere, but it’s the Wood River Valley and its people who keep him here.

Here he has used his knowledge and experience as springboards, and began enjoying more suc-cess as a filmmaker, producing documentaries with a couple of other Valley residents as part of Men’s Journal’s adventure team, and, camera in tow, began consulting in the field and with de-signers for companies like Eddie Bauer, which is launching an adventure line known as First Ascent this year.

In the meantime, he’s becoming more actively involved in a project that began eight years ago with the Kingdom of Bhutan, as the official whitewater rafting consultant.

Bhutan remains a remote and isolated country, says Moffatt, and, like so many other developing countries, has explored the idea of adventure tourism. But unlike many of those other countries, the Kingdom of Bhutan has explored the idea slowly with emphases on preserving and sustaining its unspoiled natural mountains, forests and rivers.

Moffatt’s job is to help build the infrastructure for such an economy, including descending and exploring and mapping the kingdom’s rivers, consulting with the crown on his findings and building from the ground up a rafting team made of members native to the kingdom.

Moffatt now splits a lot of time between working in Bhutan, and Ketchum. “I knew when I got (to Ketchum), that there was something very special about this community and this location.” >>>


Larece Construction

LaRece Egli, 30, will tell you she ties knots for a living. For the last 10 years, she’s split her time between the Wood River Valley, where she reconstructs cashmere and marino wool sweaters into hats, gloves and scarves, and Naknek, her Alaskan hometown, where she ties together gillnets for the Sockeye Salmon fishing season.

Nanek, she says, can be reached only by plane or boat. What ends up there, she says, stays there, and is reused and reinvented for other purposes, a way of life that inspired and led, rather logically, to her opening her own business, LaRece Construction.

When she’s not working, traveling around the Valley and the country for trunk shows or leading reconstruction workshops, she scours the thrift stores of Sun Valley in search of raw materials.

"It’s easy to navigate here," she says of the Sun Valley-area. "It’s liberal, it’s rural and it’s also the sweater mecca of the world."

And while there may be a lack of opportunity for young people like herself, she says, it doesn’t affect her that greatly.

Referring to culture with a capital "C", she says, "I’m not here for the creative community, I can find that elsewhere. It’s the actual community that keeps it cozy."



Sun Valley Bar

Despite the name, Sun Valley Bar is not a place to belly up and unwind, though with an office tucked just behind Grumpy’s, they’ve had more than a few inquiries, according to Sarah Walker-McLaughlin.

The Sun Valley Bar is a line of nutrition bars developed "accidentally" in Walker-McLaughlin’s kitchen in 2004. Walker-McLaughlin, 33, says she wanted something to nosh on during the day. All she knew was it had to be nutritious, taste good and give her energy for her active lifestyle.

Before long she was getting calls from people curious about what she was doing, asking if they, too, could order up a batch. Walker-McLaughlin spent that summer making what became the Sun Valley Bar before temporarily leaving the Valley to earn her Master’s Degree in nutrition. But before she left, she met up with Ann Scales, who helped Walker-McLaughlin, in her ab-sence, turn her "accident" into a business.

Now, Sun Valley Bar supplies stores as close as California and as far away as South Carolina. The packaging is slicker, but the bars are the same vegan and wheat and dairy-free snacks designed to help people living active lifestyles avoid the spikes and crashes induced by sugar, or, worse, not eating at all.

"We owe a lot of the Sun Valley bar to the people of Sun Valley," says Walker-McLaughlin. "It was made for them, inspired by the lifestyle they choose to live."




He’s a photographer. She’s a trapeze artist. Together, Spencer Hansen, 29, and Shayne Maratea, 33, are also the brains behind Heathen, which designs men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, hats, spats, belts, wallets, shoes and toys.

They split their time between the Bay-area, Bali, where their goods are made, and the Wood River Valley, where they spent their formative years.

Hansen says the Valley’s been good to him. He sent himself to art school by working as a message therapist at Zenergy and by painting murals for clients in the Valley, and continues coming back to the area each year, camping out sometimes for weeks on end in the mountains. And Maratea often comes back to visit her parents who brought her to the Valley when she was just a toddler.

Locally, Heathen lines can be found at Urban Zen and Ketchum Dry Goods.

"Basically we make anything we think of that sounds interesting and fun," Maratea says. "We definitely like to climb and swing and run and jump, so we better be able to do it all in our clothes."

She says she thinks the clothing line will just be the springboard to other, equally vibrant things. In the Bay area and in Bali, they’re not just designing clothes, but also helping their friends shoot photos and Internet videos. Maratea says people kept telling them to stick to one thing and do it right. "But," she says, "I think we are doing it all, and doing it right."


Chad Walsh’s thousand points of light now shine over Portland, Oregon. where he is using his ingenuity to penetrate a sagging employment market.



This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.