Guest profile with Joe Conway of Portland, Maine

Starting today we’re going to try our hand at one or two ‘guest profiles’ a month here on the Blog Cabin. Nothing too fancy, just laid-back profiles of friends, collaborators and new acquaintances who are heeding the call to find their own truth and beauty in life, living major in their own way. First up is Joe Conway of Portland, Maine.

Joe Conway, author of the Wool, Wood, and Whiskey blog, walks along the Maine coast. Photograph by Mark Yaggie.

Joe Conway walks along the rocks of the Maine coast. Photograph by Mark Yaggie.


You recently published your first book. What’s it about?
My book, Get Back Stay Back: 2nd Generation Back-to-the-Landers, came out a little over a month ago. It’s about the back-to-the-land movement. Specifically, I was interested in what actually happened when a whole generation fled cities back in the ’60s and ’70s and tried to get away from it all.
I ended up meeting a bunch of kids who are picking up where their parents left off — despite all the lessons learned back then about how hard it can be to grow your own food or build a house out in the woods yourself. Their approach is really different, you could call it “dropping in” instead of “dropping out.” They’re farming and homesteading, but working within the system to do some pretty inspiring stuff. It’s exciting and I think it has a lot of significance to those of us who dream about living a little more grounded existence.

How was it writing a book for the first time? It seems daunting.
It was pretty daunting! And it was definitely a lot of work. Thankfully, along the way, a writer friend said to me, “Well, I guess that’s why they say it just takes as long as it’s going to take.” For me, that was two and half years, which is actually pretty quick. The next one I think I’ll tackle in more manageable chunks—chip away rather than chop at it.

What’s it like to live in Portland (Maine)?
Portland is great. My wife and I moved here almost six years ago from San Francisco, in part because we wanted to “get away from it all.” I didn’t really know how deep that tradition runs here, hence the book.
As a town, Portland has a lot of exciting stuff happening right now. The proximity to great ingredients means that the food scene here has absolutely exploded. Personally, I love to cook and love living on the ocean, too. I can’t imagine not smelling the sea or hearing seagulls cry all day anymore.

Let’s say we’re planning our first weekend visit … What’s on your ‘Portland essentials’ list?
Morning has to start at Tandem Coffee Roasters. Our friends, Will and Kathleen Pratt, opened it a couple of years ago and it’s sort of the center of our universe here. In a town this small we’re basically guaranteed to run into all of our friends there before noon. Half of them work there. Tandem’s getting a lot of national recognition right now, and rightly so. The coffee is some of the best in the country, but the best part is that they’re just the best, nicest people, too.
After that we might hit up the farmers’ market, which is actually even pretty good in winter these days. Then over to the waterfront to Standard Baking for a morning bun, which we always take to the ferry pier to watch the boats pass by.
If I’m not surfing, which I am if there are waves, we’ll either ride our bikes to the beach or drive so the dog can come. This is a huge dog town, and we have a huge dog, so that works out well.
At night, we’re partial to Pai Men Miyake, an amazing—and affordable—option. Prices here skew toward the “Vacationland” standard, so other awesome places like Eventide for oysters are more of a splurge than an everyday kind of thing living here. After that, we might go to a show at the art space/venue my wife runs (SPACE Gallery), or just hang out with friends. Summer means backyards, patios and bbqs.

(Sounds like a blast! Can we stay at your place?) What’s inspiring you these days?
People who grow food for themselves and for others. My wife’s art. and the Longform podcast. The innate sense of style that all of the African kids in my neighborhood seem to have. Cass McCombs. The Whole Earth Catalog.

What’s the deal with your blog? If you had to choose … wool, wood or whiskey?
Oh man, I started it back in California, believe it or not. My friend Peter helped me out with the name, I guess we chose it because we’re both kind of premature old men. I just love the idea of getting back to basics, trimming the fat, finding more time for what really matters. It’s pretty … Maine.
Wool! I can’t live without it. Especially in a winter like the one we just had. Not even a question.

This is kind of a random question, especially given this is our first guest profile here on the blog. Should brands like UM be in the content game? Why/why not?
Totally! Why should the big brands have all the fun? I’ve had the privilege of getting to watch you guys build UM from the ground up—from afar—and it’s nice how it all just works together seamlessly. It’s like, the odds that Oliver is skinning up some goat path around Stowe right now are really very good. So yeah, pass that on! Inspire people, show then that it is possible to get out of the city and move to Vermont and build something rad.

Good, that’s reassuring, Joe. Any exciting plans lined up for summer?
Only one plan: we’re having a kid! A little boy, due in June. I’m pretty excited. I keep saying that it’s like having a little readymade adventure buddy. It’ll be a little while before we get to that stage, right now I just can’t wait to meet him.

The surfing scene in Maine seems pretty vibrant. How is it different to other places you’ve been.
Surfing here is an entirely different beast all together. It does get good, but it’s very inconsistent. Still, for those few days where you get to sit out on some desolate beach and get a few to yourself, it’s worth it. Even with 6mm wetsuits, 7mm boots and 5mm gloves in the dead of winter.
It’s definitely gotten way more popular, but surfing is just doing the “Gidget” thing again right now. It’s hot, so people are interested. Everywhere, even Maine. I’m looking forward to summer longboarding, no boots or gloves right now. There’s nothing better than the feeling of hanging up the heavy rubber for the season.

Lastly (we have ask), which of our products do you actually use and why?
No problem answering this one — the Stellar Shave Cream! I hate shaving and only do it to clean up my beard once or twice a week. With that stuff, I can basically shave with a paring knife without a mirror on a boat in heavy seas and not cut myself—all in record time. It’s the best.

Thanks Joe, you’re too kind. This was fun. Hope to catch you in Portland, unless you make it to BTV first. We hope you sell a million copies of your first book, in which case the oysters will be on you.

Joe Conway with his surfboard. Photo by Ryan Tatar.

Joe with his trusty surfboard. Note: Joe assures us those are car keys dangling from his mouth, not a cigarette. Photo by Ryan Tatar.

Super natural spring testimonials

Up close detail of a Vermont fern.

We get a lot of positive testimonials about our products and it’s something we’re very proud of. Here are a few stand-outs from the last few months or so:

“This stuff [Stellar Shave Cream] is INSANE! The scent is off the charts good. Very fresh, woods-y, natural smelling. I like how it does not foam up and spreads nicely.” – Troy T, 2.19.14

“Your products are amazing! I have been searching for a very long time for products that will work for my husband’s sensitive skin. His face just loves your products. His skin looks and feels wonderful. Your products smell so good too. Thank you.” – Janet K, 3.12.14

“I have quite dry skin so [I] have really fallen in love with the toner and face balm combo … I’m never going back to the synthetic junk from drug stores ever again!” – James L, 4.10.14

“I am addicted to your products! Love it all.” – Ryan R, 4.15.14

Thank you to all of you who’ve taken the time to send us your thoughts – we love hearing from you and we really appreciate it.

Ursa Major’s #LiveMajor Instagram Contest

Ursa Major's #LiveMajor Instagram contest collage

We’re launching our first Instagram contest!

Starting today we invite you to share your favorite outdoor moments by entering our #LiveMajor contest on Instagram for a chance to win some of your favorite Ursa Major loot.

Whether you live deep in the woods, on the coast, or in a big city, we really want to see how you Live Major.

To submit an image, just include “#livemajor” and “@ursamajorvt” in the photo caption on Instagram.

Every submission will appear in a photo gallery on our web site and we’ll be checking the submissions daily and regramming our favorites (with credit info of course!). The three photo submissions with the most love (likes) on our feed on June 1st will win:

  1. Grand Prize: Ursa Major x Topo Designs Dopp Kit, Ursa Major Athletic Grey Tee ($155 value)
  2. Runner Up: Big Kahuna Skin Care Set ($104 value)
  3. Third Place: UM Skin Care travel set with 10 Face Wipes ($45 value)

Max of one submission a day please (pace yourself!) – check out the contest rules here.

We can’t wait to see what ‘live major’ means to you! Happy snapping….

Retailer Profile: Denver, Colorado’s Armitage & McMillan

Once a month or so we’re going to feature a shop that carries the Ursa Major line. If you live nearby any of these spots, definitely stop by. Tell ‘em Ursa Major sent you.

This month we spoke with Armitage & McMillan co-founder Daniel Armitage about his beginnings in retail, his store, and life in the Mile High City.

Daniel Armitage, co-founder of Armitage & McMillan in Denver, Colorado, relaxes in his shop.

How did you get into retail?

Darin and I actually got into the retail side of the business fairly late in life, compared to most I think. We ran a successful vintage clothing buying/selling business for several years out of Denver but we could never figure out how to turn that business into something more enjoyable and sustainable, so we closed the business and moved to NYC (Darin to finally use his music business degree and me to work as a web designer). Somewhere along the way we both ended up on the retail side of menswear.

I guess because we had so many years of buying clothing on our resumé, when our other ventures didn’t work out, the default for both of us was the clothing business. (more…)

Two bearded Texans decamp at UM HQ

team pic with ptmk

We had the pleasure of hosting our friends JR and Ben from Ptarmak last week here in BTV for some brainstorming around our brand and growth plan. PTMK has been our design partner from day one and we consider them an integral part of our growing team. Based in Austin, the talented PTMK crew offers an unusual blend of strategy, branding and package design chops and it’s been a sincere pleasure working with them over the years (!), even if most of our communication happens over the phone and web. We couldn’t ask for a more talented, committed design partner and we’re excited about the possibilities for UM in 2014 and beyond … onward! (Btw the photo above was taken outside American Flatbread, a UM favorite, where we all feasted on delicious pizza and sampled a variety of local Zero Gravity brews before sending JR and Ben on their way back south …)

What’s Inspiring Us at Ursa Major: Budapest, Cabin life, and the War on Drugs

Once a month this spring and summer we’re going to take a moment to share the things that are inspiring the UM crew outside of the office. Think of it as a look into what makes the crew behind the Great Bear tick.

Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel poster

Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel

I was completely blown away by this movie.  Nearly every single shot is arresting on its own while contributing to a beautiful, captivating whole.  Everything is so meticulously crafted and cohesive, to the point of bordering on visual overload (but in the best way possible).  Wes Anderson’s filmmaking eye is incredible. ~ Nicole

Alone in the Wilderness – The Story of Dick Proenneke

If you’re looking for a way to explore that urge to “live simply” without leaving the confines of your own home, this is the right film for you. Alone in the Wilderness explores the life of Dick Proenekke, a craftsman who left society and its comforts behind to hew his existence from the remote Alaskan landscape with his own two hands. He endeavored to “live simply” and on his own for thirty straight years. I like to think of Dick whenever I need inspiration (to quote another self-reliant woodsman) “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” ~ Marshall

The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

I have been listening to this album for the past few weeks and have been drawn to the instant familiarity of it. As a child of the 80′s it brings back a lot of memories of riding in a car with my parents and listening to classic rock. In particular, you can really notice the influences of Neil Young and Dire Straits. Now that I think about it, that’s probably why I like the song “1904” by the Tallest Man on Earth too … it kind of has a Bob Dylan feel to it.

Check out The War on Drugs, including my personal favorite, “Red Eyes,” below. ~ Chris 


Getting much more out of swimming

total-immersion book cover

I first heard about this book from a friend of mine who’s a casual triathlete. I recently pulled it down from the book-shelf now that I’ve started swimming again to help rehab from a lower back injury. Instead of prescribing lap after lap of grueling drills (mileage is the key!), the author approaches swimming like yoga or martial arts, leading you through a series of simple, intentional exercises designed to help you unlearn how you were taught to swim and re-program your brain/nervous system to swim with ease and efficiency.

The crazy thing is, his method works: you would be hard pressed to find a better DIY program for learning to become a better swimmer and – equally important – for learning to enjoy swimming more. If want to mix up your work-out routine (or simply find a new way to zen out before or after a long day’s work), check out this book and the accompanying video.

New man on board

chris little blog cabin

We would like to welcome Chris Little to our fledgling team here in BTV. Chris recently moved back to Vermont from Boston where he worked for a successful tech company. He’s an entrepreneurial fellow with a knack for developing new business so we’re excited to have him on board (even if only for three days a week to begin with). He’ll be focusing on creating new strategic partnerships to help Ursa Major find new customers, while working laterally across the business to help us work smarter (that’s a tall order!). When Chris is not chained to his desk here at UM he’s out ice-sailing, skiing with his fiancé Kathryn or making these wonderfully clear ice balls for discerning spirits-drinkers worldwide.

PR round-up: what do Jared Leto and lingerie have in common?


They’re both on the cover of magazines that have recently featured our Essential Face Wipes.

Ursa Major got some major press love recently, with the wipes appearing in both Nylon Guys in January and Playboy in March.

January 2014's Nylon Guys magazine cover and s

“Whether your mug is super parched or you’re just lazy, moisture-rich cleansing cloths easily eliminate grime. Try Ursa Major Essential Face Wipes.”

The cover of the March 2014 issue of Playboy Magazine featuring Ursa Major face wipes inside.

“Pickup games happen. Keep these cleansing and moisturizing wipes at the ready in your glove compartment.”

We love our wipes and think every guy should try them, so it’s pretty cool to see them right there next to an Oscar winner one month and in the pages of America’s most [in]famous magazine the next.

Finally, before signing off, we wanted to share this snippet from Austin Shirley, a barber from Alabama, who recently reviewed our Face Wash and Face Tonic for Southern Living:

“Over the years, I’ve tried more than my fair share of men’s skin care. From the drugstore brand to top of the line scientifically formulated, small-batch, etc.—I’ve tested it. The best I’ve found is Ursa Major. The Face Wash/Tonic Combo Set ($48) make a noticeable difference in skin tone and clarity while providing a healthy glow with a killer fresh scent. Skin care is the area where you get what you pay for. Spend more, feel better.”

Wow. Thanks, Austin! We appreciate the kind words.

Instagram mash up – January & February 2014

We’ve been slacking on our monthly Instagram mash-ups, so here’s a two-for-one: the most popular images from January and February.

A collage of the most popular images from Ursa Major's instagram feed from January and February 2014.A sneak-peek of our new Traveler’s Skin Care Kit, a few cabins, a classic Vermont barn… Rustic wooden structures always get lots of love on our feed – what does this say about all of us?

To follow along more closely, check out our Instagram feed @ursamajorvt.