What the Media are Saying about Mercy Corps Northwest

Faith Cathcart for the Oregonian

Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Startup: Portland-based Plywerk builds a business, brand from bamboo panels

By Molly Young, The Oregonian

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Kim Oanh Nguyen-van Zoen didn’t set out to start a company. She just wanted a unique way to display her photography at Portland’s First and Last Thursdays. Blank wooden panels were the answer.

Prompted by early success, she and husband Kjell van Zoen soon expanded the idea. Five years later, the company averages 500-plus panels every week, filling orders from artists, wholesalers and consumers hunting for an alternative to canvases and frames.

Plywerk Inc. mounts printed artwork and photos on bamboo and maple panels, cut to order in its shared woodshop space in inner Southeast Portland. Customers can upload their own images to the company’s website, a showcase of its funky personality. One of its pages, for instance, is simply a photo of kohlrabi, a purple root vegetable.

Plywerk’s art dots the walls throughout the home. Sales of the panels have doubled every year for the last three years, gaining orders from Kleen Kanteen, Keen Footwear, Nike, Salvation Army and the Oakland Zoo. Popular home blog Apartment Therapy has spotlighted the company, and a recent mention in Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine boosted its consumer sales vein by 30 percent.

“I knew it was a good idea as soon as Kim came up with it,” said Kjell van Zoen, who serves as chief executive.

To launch Plywerk, the couple secured lines of credit and a loan from MercyCorps Northwest that covered a panel saw and other capital costs. Then the recession hit, drying up other financing options. Lean manufacturing has helped the company weather the tight credit market, Kjell van Zoen said

“It’s really hard to find financing,” he said. “So you have to invest in yourself.”

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