With their tagline ‘We build brands for visionaries,’ along with their array of prestigious and cutting edge clients, it is hard to believe that the Portland based creative agency Official Mfg. Co was founded just five years ago. Created by Fritz Mesenbrink and Jeremy Pelley, Official Mfg. Co. (OMFGCO. for short) is regarded by the design world for creating some of the most noteworthy modern brand identities. Stumptown Coffee, Ace Hotel, and Portland Meadows are just a few of the companies whose brands OMFGCO has helped shape. Fritz and Jeremy have worked for international companies; however, their impact on local shops and brands located in OMFGCO’s hometown of Portland, Oregon, is astounding. For the duo, being invested in their community and its projects is important. “We believe in every project we say yes to, and we want nothing more than to put good work into the world that makes our communities and our world a better place. It’s kind of almost like the camping rule- ‘Leave it better than you found it.’ I think that’s a goal for both of us, just improving on what we have and making sure we’re not adding to the noise.”
Fritz and Jeremy’s friendship was sparked in the hallways of an experimental ad school at the advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy and later took root when they were given the opportunity to collaborate while Jeremy was working for Ace Hotel and Fritz was freelancing for Stumptown. After years of respecting each other’s work and process, the two finally decided to form their own company.
OMFGCO wouldn't be in the place it is today if it wasn’t founded upon the hard work, dedication, and long nights Fritz and Jeremy put in during the early stages. The duo has continued to show their dedication to quality, ingenuity, and hustle in whatever project they put their hands on. For them, the key is to never take a project for granted and to give each one everything they have. As Jeremy elaborates, “The phrase ‘why not today?’ is something Fritz brought to the table a little while ago. It’s a meaningful phrase for us because I feel that it’s so hard to make room for something today, for some reason. We always put something on the calendar, and that usually means it’s gonna happen tomorrow, or soon, and that’s better than never. But, why not today is even more powerful. Now is all we have. That is a very true statement. Why not today?”
We met up with Fritz and Jeremy to ask them about OMFGCO’s humble beginnings, their drive, and their aspirations. Watch the feature video and browse the images below to get a firsthand look at the work they’re so passionate about. The stores and companies featured below are all projects OMFGCO took on, creating memorable and distinctive brand identities and experiences. The companies included in the photography and video are Olympic Provisions, Ace Hotel Portland, Clyde Common, Stumptown Coffee, Sizzle Pie, Frances May, Beam & Anchor, and Portland Meadows. Both the video and imagery below were processed using VSCO Film.
How important are design details to who you are as a company?
It’s funny- there are two camps of creative directors. There are those that think big picture, and they think that’s all that matters. And then there are the ones that focus on the minutiae and the detail, and I think the real answer to great creative is to have an eye on both. Fritz and I both value that; we do always try to figure out why something matters, why we care about it, and what’s the insight. But once that insight is there and in place, we use that to go deep into every single detail, because that is where it’s palpable, that is where you let some other person that’s going to experience this know that you thought about it and that you’re doing this for them. It’s all about that experience for these people to come in and see it exactly as you wanted it to be seen and to feel it exactly as you wanted it to be felt. And every aspect matters, to be honest. Whether it be the typography, or the color, or the material, or the scale - it doesn’t matter what the job is- every detail matters.
There’s a heavy analog component to what we do, just by the nature of how Fritz and I both grew up. We grew up in small towns. Basically, we had two choices: either deal with the scene as is and be bored or make your scene cool. It was before the internet, and it was before all the fun, digital tools we have now. We’d build ramps or make dirt tracks. So nowadays, this analog approach still is deep within our creative process. We use the computer plenty, but we see it as only one of many tools at our access. And if we do something on the computer, then we say, “Well what can we do to give it a little bit more life?” So we print it out and trace it, and then rescan that and put it back in the exact same program, just to see what that looks and feels like, or we’ll hand-paint our typography versus looking for a scripted font. There are all sorts of details that make it uniquely our creation, versus some clip art, versus something that’s a little too perfect. The analog process really adds that human touch that I think everyone’s really hungry for these days. It brings the scale down to something that anyone can relate to.
Can you share about your story working on your first design job for Ace?
I think the Ace one is lore at this point; so I don’t mind talking about it. I think it’s really funny. To be fair to them, it was my very first design job. Basically, the story is, I had graduated from 12, and the dream is to get hired at Wieden, and when you don’t get hired at Wieden, you’re super bummed. And I was bummed. I was not in a great place. I didn’t have a lot of other experience in the design world besides WK12, which is totally loose, freestyle experience, no formal training. So, I got in touch with two of the partners from Ace through a creative director friend at Wieden, and just by chance happened to be a good fit for them personality wise, and they gave me a chance. I didn’t even know what I was getting into, it turned out to be a lead art director position. They didn’t even know what to call me. They just said, “We need help, we’re opening up a hotel, and we need help with branding and design. Do you want a job?” And I said, “Absolutely,” and they said, “You’re hired at 12 bucks an hour. It’s full time. Let’s start tomorrow.” And I was like, “Great!”
I had no perspective as to if this was low or high or totally right on; I was just thrilled for the job. So here I was doing everything I could to turn out great design for them and doing copywriting, shooting photos, and thinking big for them. Turns out about a year into working there, right when we were about to open the Portland property, the general contractor we were working with was not a part of the union, and because of that, he was getting protested by the union, mainly through people that were off the street picketing. They weren’t actually union workers themselves. They were just paid by the union to make a scene. Turns out, they were each getting paid $15/hr. When my bosses found out that me and my creative partner at the time were both getting $12, we got a raise that day to $15 an hour. Since then, we got other raises, and it worked out to be a livable wage over time. But even at my highest rate at Ace, it wasn’t about the money. It was about the family, it was about the job, and it was about what we were able to achieve together. Since then, Ace has paid back in droves. We’ve gotten so much attention from that job in particular. It’s all about that hustle that’s paved the way for future work.
What did you take from your experience with Ace that still applies to your current work?
Ace was never about the money; it was all about the hustle. Everybody that was working for them, we were there because we believed in the project. We loved working with each other. We knew we were doing something new and fresh. We didn’t exactly know how big it was going to be or where it was going to go, but we all had faith in it.
We worked because we were compelled to, not because we had to. That initial hustle that we all felt at Ace is still really palpable and how Fritz and I work today. We go after jobs we believe in no matter what. We’ll work tirelessly and do our best to not only deliver but over-deliver on every job, because it’s the right thing to do. We believe in it. We want it to succeed.
How does living in Portland inform how you work?
Portland is a really special place. I feel very lucky to live here. The cost of living here is really reasonable for the quality of life you get. For example, I think that Fritz and I might not have been able to just simply start a company on a whim the way we did in a bigger city, with more at stake.
I think one of the things that makes Portland the city it is is that there are a lot of like-minded folks that move from all over the country, if not all over the world, to be here, because we all believe in similar things. And that’s a really palpable energy in the creative scene here. There isn’t a lot of money, to be honest, in Portland. It’s people that are driven by the passion of needing to be in a band that they can really believe in, or make a design that they really believe in, or work with the right creative folks that they can align with.
We have a lot of friends here that either are designers in a freelance sense, or run a small agency that technically competes with us, but we hang out with those dudes, and we even send them work. If we get a job offer that we can’t take because we’re too busy or it’s not the right fit for us, we never like to send people away without a recommendation of another fantastic studio. Paying it forward is something we believe in.
So, Portland is a really interesting place to be based out of. It’s definitely kind of a bubble in a lot of ways, because we’ll travel outside of Portland and be reminded that we’re spoiled with food, we’re spoiled with coffee, and we’re spoiled with nature. We have it good here. It’s one of those things that, again, I just feel lucky to be here..
Was Olympic Provisions something you and Fritz worked on together?
Olympic Provisions was our first official client as OMFGCO. We had a lot of fun with that job because it was a lot of our friends that were doing it; so they trusted us inherently already. They wanted to be seen as leaders in this new meat movement in Oregon, because they are the first USDA certified charcuterie in the state, which is a big deal. But they also knew that could be intimidating to people, and they wanted it to be approachable, warm, friendly, and maybe even a little funny. And when you’re talking about meat, you’re talking about salami; the jokes come out, and you can’t really avoid it.
So we did our best to give them a brand that felt really polished and old-worldly and traditional in all the right ways, but the language and the voice, when you dig deeper, is comical and funny and doesn’t take itself so seriously. It feels like a nice balance in the final branding, and it’s palpable in just about everything from the sticker campaign, the menus, and even the signage. We did an art installation in their first location that was an intentionally broken sign that said both ‘meat’ and ‘eat,’ because the ‘m’ was meant to be broken. That was kind of a good metaphor for the entire brand. It was immediately the photo backdrop of any photo ever shot there.
What do you consider when designing a space?
Something that both Fritz and I consider a lot in space design is that photo moment. When people are going to get interviewed because their restaurant is getting featured or their retail store is having an article written about them, what is that shot? What are they going to want to display? And so, we think consciously in terms of photography and composition of a space.
There are several examples of this. The meat sign at Olympic Provisions is that photo moment for us, where within 5 months of producing that sign, it was in the New York Times, and since then has consistently been a photo backdrop for countless articles for them.
Another example of this in our work is the hotel sign in the lobby of Ace Portland and the ‘Every Exit is an Entrance somewhere Else’ art piece in the lobby of the Ace New York. That’s easily one of the most photographed parts of that entire lobby, and people share it in all sorts of ways. We did Portland Meadows entryway, and we hung all the original paintings that we used for our year one campaign for them on both walls that flank the entrance. It created a very beautiful, overwhelming sense of the nostalgia of horse racing. All these moments really matter. They let people know, when they’re experiencing them for the first time, that this is intentional and thought about- you’re in our space, and we want you to feel this way.