The Road Ahead: On winning the "most exciting" brand award at the 2016 Portland Green Festival

By Tamar McKee

It is hard to believe that a month has already gone by since Khala Cloths won the “most exciting” brand at the 2016 Portland Green Festival. With the whirlwind of the holidays, life with children, and the continued growth of Khala Cloths, time can certainly fly. We just wanted to take a moment and reflect on what it was like to be at the Festival and win this award, and what it means for the road ahead.

Asa applying tire chains to drive one mile to the convention centre in Portland.

Asa applying tire chains to drive one mile to the convention centre in Portland.

Speaking of roads, to get to the Portland Green Festival we had to drive six hours, the last of which was into a raging snow and ice storm. A demonstration off-road driver in a former life, Asa deftly navigated our conversion van to our Portland accommodations before the roads got any slicker and scarier. Like all Portlanders, we woke up the next morning to a world encased in about three inches of ice. Busses, (pretty much the only vehicles on the road) roared through the streets with chains slapping on their tires. After chipping the van out of its icy slumber, Asa similarily applied chains to the tires in order to make the drive to the Portland Convention Centre – luckily only a mile away – to get the Khala Cloths booth set up. 

Ice-encased grass, Portland, OR.

Ice-encased grass, Portland, OR.

Because Portland rarely suffers storms of such caliber, the first day of the Festival was quiet. Nevertheless, it was still subtly exhilarating to be there in person to promote Khala Cloths. When people would walk past our booth, curiously eyeing our wares, we’d invite them in with the insight: “We are a natural alternative to plastic wrap.” Seeing people’s faces light up with additional intrigue is such a joy – not only because it means a potential purchase, but also because it gives us an opportunity to talk about WHY we make and believe in Khala Cloths so much. Folks usually end up buying Khala Cloths not only because of its impressive food storage capacities (we had a loaf of bread wrapped in our “potluck” sized Cloth that stayed soft and fresh for the whole festival and multiple handlings), but because people come to realize what an easy, viable alternative Khala Cloths can be to using plastic. Such a realization gives them the power to take everyday action to stop plastic pollution, and care for the Earth just a little more

Being notified that Khala Cloths had qualified as a finalist for the brand award.

Being notified that Khala Cloths had qualified as a finalist for the brand award.

So it was with great delight (and not without a bit of surprise!) when on the second day of the Portland Green Festival we were nominated as one of the top five finalists for the brand award. Receiving this initial recognition meant that we had received enough votes by our customers and social media fans to qualify as one of the finalists. This was tangible recognition that people (such yourself) were rallying behind Khala Cloths. Such affirmation of our brand was, and still is, so reassuring and inspiring that we are doing the right thing. So THANK YOU for reading this blog and supporting Khala Cloths – clearly it does make a difference!

Qualifying as a top finalist now meant that our chance of winning the “most exciting brand” of the Festival was now in the hands of a panel of esteemed judges: Erik Wolf (Executive Director, World Food Travel Association), Risa Meynarez (CEO, Consumers Everywhere), and a representative from Terracycle. So on the third and final day of the Festival, the judges came by our booth learn more about Khala Cloths and ask us additional questions. One question that came up was the origin of our name, particularly “khala” (Tibetan: KhaLag). Asa explained that this meant “food” in Tibetan and was meant to honor all the hosts that had fed and formed friendships with me during my research and travels in Tibet and Tibetan exile communities. This symbolism particularly struck a chord with the judges, and upon further conversation with them, Khala Cloths’ new slogan – “Honor Your Food” (#honoryourfood) – was born.

Khala Cloths winning the 2016 Portland Green Festival's "most exciting" brand award.

Khala Cloths winning the 2016 Portland Green Festival's "most exciting" brand award.

But obviously a new, more poignant and appropriate slogan was not all we got out of the brand contest. At 3pm on the final day of the Festival, nominated brands and their owners/representatives, gathered at the main stage to hear the announcement of the runners-up and winner. Khala Cloths was in amazing company: Primal Kitchen, Homegrown Trailers, NYR Organic, and Ortho-Bionomy. After the runners up were announced and it came time to reveal the winner, we will never forget the words of Green Festival president, Dr. Corinna Basler, when she said that it had been a very close decision but that the judges were all in agreement that the best brand had been chosen. With that, she announced that Khala Cloths had won! Truly not expecting this honor, we did not have any remarks prepared, so Asa gave a heartfelt and totally unrehearsed acceptance speech that thanked everyone involved and spoke to Khala Cloths’ easy ability to go more plastic-free in our everyday lives.

As expected, we were on cloud nine after that and enjoyed the additional interest in our booth for the remaining hours of the Festival. But perhaps the biggest joy we had upon receiving this award was telling our children and extended family and friends what Khala Cloths had accomplished.

Khala Cloths' biggest fan and one of the reasons we started this company.

Khala Cloths' biggest fan and one of the reasons we started this company.

So, driving through an ice storm with kids, babysitter, and dog in tow to get to Portland. Needing chains to drive a simple mile down the street to the Convention Centre to set up our booth. Breaking through to a storm-subdued consumer base. All these challenges only made our success at the Portland Green Festival all the more hard-won and sweeter. As is often said in Tibetan Buddhism: we suffer hardships to clear away negative karma for something better.

Here’s to 2017! May any hardships we encounter only be there to ultimately clear the way for the road ahead.

Street Mural on we passed every day going to the Portland Green Festival, Dec 9-11, 2016.

Street Mural on we passed every day going to the Portland Green Festival, Dec 9-11, 2016.