A journal of workers working

Peter Kallen



My mom had a sewing machine, so I taught myself to sew. I was always making stuff for friends. When I was 14, I made what I thought was the first padded ski sweater – this crazy padded thing that was really well articulated, so you looked like a super hero. I just loved the sewing machine, the gung-gung-gung.

As a kid, I was into power tools big time. My dad had this wood shop thing with a circular saw. We’d make our own skateboards too. You’d jigsaw the thing out, and then you’d have to rasp the edge to round it. It was the old hobie flatboard days, so we’d laminate the wood together, glue it, and then we would plane it. We would laminate it horizontally like an old surfboard or like an old Logan or Sims. It was problem-solving out of necessity. I couldn’t afford to buy this stuff so the next best thing was just to make it.

Provocative that way

High school was all about taking art classes. I was way into art, and my mom, she always gave me the tools. Every Christmas and birthday, she’d give me paint stuff, a new drawing set, pencils. She saw me drawing all the time, cartoon figures, hand drawing. In hindsight, I was like, wow, she knew. She was super cool because she really provoked the creative side, in all of us. With sports too, she was like, go ride your bike. Go, do something, don’t stay inside sitting around. She was pretty provocative that way.

Grow up

In college I was at the point where I was like, maybe I should get serious about something. I need to be an adult. I had this very distinct thing in my head - I can’t go to these skate competitions, I have to become an adult, whatever that means. Those words, “grow up”, were the most painful thing for me to process. In my world it meant giving up all these things that made me smile, like skating, skiing, being out.

I was still sewing and the club scene came in pretty heavy too. I used to go to this club called 13th Precinct, and Black Flag would be playing there, and I’d be sewing up stuff, taking jeans and redoing them, or whatever, just modifying and making stuff. So I was making all these pants and clothes and stuff and had a label that I called Repeat Wear, because I was modifying existing stuff.

Stupid word

Girls were asking me to make them dresses, and it was at this point that I realized I can actually turn this into a career. So I was like, I’m gonna go to design school and check out the whole thing. I’m gonna go to New York, and I’m gonna go to LA, but I didn’t have the money to go away, so I just went to a local college which is now the Art Institute. I was engulfed in that, entrenched in that 24 hours a day. I wasn’t there for the whole social thing, like some people who go away to college and are all – “I’m going to be a designer” - that’s such a stupid word – ‘designer’. I had to sift through all that shit and just went there with the attitude – I’m going to milk this for everything it’s got. I’m going to tap into all its sources. I was learning flat pattern making; learning how to drape. Learning all the tools and learning how the craft actually works.

Full stimulus package

My club clothes were really out there and people were totally wearing the Repeat label. At the same time, my school would invite people from the industry to come in and talk to the students. This woman from Nike, one of the guests, heard about me from my club stuff. She offered me a job so I worked there part-time while I finished school.

I was like, wow, I’ve got more stoke in front of me. Full stimulus package. Just as I’m getting bored of school, I get my next stoke on. It was like being in school again; it was a good time because we were not at the campus. We were over at this place called Beaver Creek. They would say, you’re not a big revenue producer you’re a brand stimulator. They were just like, go to town, do what you’re gonna do. So it was really fun. I mean, there was the grind stuff too, where you had to get the stuff into production form. But it was a really spirited time. There was beer and you worked when you worked. If you wanted to leave when you were toast, you just left. You weren’t a sliver of a process. You were doing graphics, then you were doing a pattern – you were doing everything.

I had this beautiful epiphany – I can live the life that actually makes me smile and make a living at it.

Fixing the wheel

Here is where your knowledge begins; here’s where your knowledge ends. I hated that stuff. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know how to run the business. When they were doing pricing stuff and merchandising stuff, I got in with that whole group. Then, I was like, let’s talk about factory sourcing, I wanna learn about that, I was always scratching in. After a while they got tired of it.

The optimistic side of me thinks that kind of total integration of the process is possible, and I have to say I’m experiencing it now at NAU. For me, it’s imperative that it be that way, and it’s the only reason I want to be a part of it. Does it have a tendency not to be that? Definitely, but that’s part of the broken wheel. But this is the first time it’s not driven by that. There’s no design-by-committee. All of us have a strong business background and know what works. It’s hard because ultimately you’re creating things to be in business, and to be in business there’s a bottom line.

I want to break all those givens, there’s no real reason why you should have those givens. The wheel is broken. The whole consumer wheel is fucked up and broken. And that’s my driving force right now – how can I make a difference fixing that wheel?


I’ve worked in textiles, so I can work in shoes. I can work in soft structures, and in interiors. I guess I am into fabrics and fibers. I’ve toyed around with a lot of different furniture designs, mostly when I was not finding what I like. It goes back to that…if I can’t find it, I’ll just make it. I don’t do that so much anymore, but I do have files of ideas. I’m the quintessential brand starter. I register names. I started this idea called Speed. It was when I was in this mobility state, which I still am. Speed is an acronym for Self Propelled Experience Enhancement Device. It’s all basically about human power – split boarding, tele-skiing, cycling - all self-propelled.

I make new events

My mom was so cool, so much a part of the process, asking what we wanted to be when we grew up. I was like, I wanna be fast. And she was like, what do you mean by that, do you wanna be an astronaut? And I was like no - I wanna be fast. That age old question - what do you want to be when you grow up? Well I don’t really want to grow up. That question is what requires changing. Many like to have things come to a conclusion, not me, I’m afraid to BE a conclusion. I remember specific things, even great things, but I don’t want to relive them. I look forward to what’s next. If I had it would tagline, it would be: I make new events.

Photography by Daniel Sharp. Interview by Daniel Pasley.

Peter works for NAU, an apparel manufacturer based in Portland. According to cool hunting, “Nau is the tipping point for Eco-Luxury. It means welcome to the Maori in New Zealand, but it also means welcome to a whole new way of designing, manufacturing and selling product — the socially responsible way”.

A few years back Peter was in an avalanche with 14 other people, somewhere in Canada. They slid a thousand feet starting with a tumble over a forty-foot cliff. He said he felt honored by Mother Nature and likened it to a tap on the shoulder, like a heads up.

When Peter mentioned his SPEED project we got into this conversation about this guy, Tim Harvey, who circumnavigated the entire planet under his own power – kayaks, bikes, walking, canoes. The whole planet. Think about it.

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