Saturday, April 27, 2013

Noah Johnson: Making Progress


By Andrea Siedsma
Noah Johnson is part of a growing cadre of eco-conscious entrepreneurs who are trying to change the way consumer goods and global commerce are produced. He is an eco warrior of sorts, collecting anything from used banners to billboards for his Encinitas, Calif.-based company The Progress Project.  Noah launched the company in 2010 with his wife Jolene. Using recycled materials, The Progress Project makes everything from messenger bags to laptop sleeves, iPad wallets, surfboard bags, tote bags, and even custom orders.

The SDSFF sends out big hoots & shakas to Noah and his family for keeping it local and green. (And we think he’s even more rad for donating some of his killer Progress Project recycled beach bags full of SDSFF goodies for Nautilus Pass holders ). Below, Noah talks about the passion behind The Progress Project and how the family-run business is moving full-speed ahead.

Background Check: I grew up in La Mesa, Calif. As a kid, I was very passionate about athletics, including surfing, soccer and baseball. After high school, I served an apprenticeship with a commercial electrician and since have sold women’s shoes, waited tables, partied pretty hard, bartended, managed hotel food and beverage departments, and been an auditor/consultant for bar and  restaurant owners and their managers.
Age: 35 (Turns 36 in June)

Hobbies: Work, painting, ocean, and family.

What Fuels Me: Having a unique vision / idea and committing to do whatever necessary for the result.

 Favorite Quote: Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” ~Albert Einstein

Jolene & Noah Johnson

Picking a Passion: As I went through the process of deciding what to do, I noticed repeatedly that there was (and still is) a clear difference between many of the products on the market being labeled as “green” and actually being green.  I thought then that if I could get my hands on materials that had been used, but not recycled yet and make legit products with them, that would be the rad.

Fulltime Family Affair: Up until now, my wife and I have run The Progress Project. It’s just been the two of us doing literally everything unless one of our awesome neighbors lends a hand, which does happen (you know who you are and we love you).

 Materials Matter: We get our materials for The Progress Project from all over. We are grateful to have partnerships with Revolt in Style magazine, which has been donating its RSSS banners from the very beginning. Also a great relationship continues to be with Sustainable Surf, which has produced tens of thousands of square feet of signage from companies such as Rip Curl, REEF and Hurley. The list of businesses that donate their old signage is long, all the way down to SDSFF’s own, Bird Huffman at Bird’s Surf Shed. We also purchase used billboards. I  buy the rest of the materials from a distributor that carries American made products.

The Big Challenge: Because we are still pretty small, our many challenges have been mainly about fueling growth. It has always been our goal to compete with other brands that bring similar products to market. Finding resources to grow a business/brand that is well outside the mainstream is seemingly nearly impossible.  No rich uncles or trust funds here, so the main thing has just been staying focused, persistent and really stubborn long enough for the right opportunity for growth to come along.

Fueling & Inspiring Eco-Conscious Consumers: In some ways, I think it can be hard to educate people on the importance of buying organic, green products. In one bag, you’ve got a percentage of consumers that are already on the same eco page – they’re just a very small percentage of the total consumer population, and that’s where it becomes challenging. In a society riddled with thought processes holding cost and popularity as a higher priorities than quality and where a product was made, it’s a tough sell trying to convince Joe and Sally that spending three times as much money for an item that will last five times as long and was made by your neighbor (I’m still not sure why that’s a tough sell, but it is).

Eco Education: Unfortunately, I know there’s still a lot of green washing going on, so while consumers are becoming more conscious, it is becoming more challenging to decipher which products are actually eco-friendly, and even more, businesses that are actually owned and run by people who are eco-friendly themselves. For example, some companies promote themselves and their products as being eco-friendly, but unfortunately, it’s just marketing.

Making Progress: After three  years, on May 1, 2013, The Progress Project is evolving into Progress Brand Mfg. and moving into a space with our eco warrior pals *enjoy handplanes (congrats to them as well). We’ll have more than a dozen sewing machines along with other rad machines, and consequently it will increase our production capabilities by, well, 12. Also, look for lots of fun stuff like a new website, video series, eco blog and much more with our newest partner Album Agency. The Progress Project will live on; I just can’t say how in this moment. I can promise you that it’s going to be pretty epic.

Noah in The Progress Project workshop

The Progress Project Assistants-Noah and Jolene's twins

The Progress Project keeps it in the family (Noah & Jolene's teenage daughter)



  1. Not a family man anymore.. cheated on his wife broke up his family. All around shitty guy trying to front on the spiritual life

  2. Not a family man anymore.. cheated on his wife broke up his family. All around shitty guy trying to front on the spiritual life