Tucked into a cozy basement, Portland Trading Co. stocks a carefully curated selection of goods for men, women and the home. The nattily-attired owner Kazeem Lawal is relatively new to the world of retail, but clearly possesses a very strong sense of style and distinctive point of view, which comes across the moment you enter his shop.
Kazeem began his career in engineering before traveling to Africa to pursue business opportunities. Upon his return to the U.S. he landed a job in telecommunications with Fairpoint Communications, which ultimately brought him to Maine in 2008.
“I’ve always loved all things retail and I feel that the journey I took with the business in Africa really woke me up in a lot of ways to my core, which is that I am a business, creative-minded entrepreneur. When my job at Fairpoint ended I looked around and thought, ‘How I can maintain a living and stay here in Maine?’ which is when I started working at David Wood.”
David Wood is a Portland institution, and has been keeping men stylish since 1978. Kazeem soon found himself managing David Wood’s sister store, Portland Dry Goods Co., where he learned the ropes and got to know the retail industry. He enjoyed the product lines and the clientele, but knew that what he really wanted was to run his own business, and left to found Portland Trading Co. in 2012.
The vision behind Portland Trading Co. is very streamlined, narrowed in on offering unique products for three key segments: men, women and home. “I know if can focus very well on the absolute essentials for those three components then I can do very well,” said Kazeem.
The products are an eclectic yet cohesive mix. You can purchase everything from a vintage croquet set, to beard grooming products, bracelets made from bull rings, Demeter Cologne Spray (we love the Gin & Tonic), “decision coins,” men’s dress shirts, aprons, and women’s shoes, all while a fashionable wildebeest sporting a scarf gazes down on the shop approvingly from its overhead perch. Some items are selected from buying trips to trade shows or antique shows. Others are made by local Maine craftspeople, such as Traps Eyewear, which is holding its launch at Portland Trading Co. this week for all the details, click here.
In addition, Kazeem also offers several products that are part of his own private label. “Almost all of my shirts are designed by me with my specs and my fabrics,” said Kazeem. “I also design a lot of the women’s clothing and aprons.” Other products are collaborations, such as with one local graphic designer who creates custom prints exclusively for the store.
Pointing to a wooden swing, Kazeem notes that it is made by a local carpenter who also makes a variety of other products he plans on carrying soon, including cutting boards and door stoppers. “I like to carry products that add a unique aesthetic to your home.”
As with many shops in the Old Port, the clientele is a mix of locals and visitors. Kazeem says he gets a lot of customers in the summer who are visiting from larger cities, such as New York or San Francisco, who read about his store before visiting Portland. Recent press for Portland Trading Co. include mentions in the lifestyle magazine “Kinfolk” and Food52.com.
When asked what the future holds for Portland Trading Co., Kazeem says he is going to continue to refine his emphasis on basic essentials for men and women. “I would love in the near future to bring in sports jackets for men, more shoe options for women, and more outfits for women to wear to cocktail party, wedding, or end-of-year Christmas party. It’s really hard for women to find a really nice dress. Casual clothes, women can get that anywhere. But, like, that staple piece that you can buy and feel good in and go out, so those are the kinds of things I am trying to refine.”