Roger Mallette, founder of Retro Image Apparel, has died

Roger Mallette, founder of Retro Image Apparel, has died

Roger Mallette.
(Photo: His Facebook profile)

Roger Mallette died Sunday from unknown causes after a fall in his Portland office over the weekend.

Mallette, 48, was the founder of Retro Image Apparel/Micro Beer Jerseys, a company known for its expansive line of bike jerseys featuring licensed artwork including Star Trek, Dr. Seuss, The New Yorker magazine, the Lucky Lab Brew Pub, and many others. According to Mallette’s business partner Gene Luther, whom I spoke to on the phone this morning, a fellow tenant of the Olympic Mills Commerce Center found Mallette lying on the floor on his back near a shelf in his office on Sunday afternoon. First responders say he had been dead for 10-12 hours. The official cause of death is unknown, but Luther shared that he had a bump on his head and there were things that had fallen off the shelf near him. It’s likely he slipped and fell. He had been suffering from a serious bout of the flu (he took several days to call me back last week and said it was because he’d been in bed and was sick).

Mallette’s family flew into Portland from St. Louis to handle various matters and just left this morning. No date has been set for a local memorial service; but Mallette’s body will be flown back to St. Louis where he’ll be buried at veteran’s cemetery.

Mallette was a passionate and creative entrepreneur known as a tireless worker, a fair and honest businessman, and a generous person. His business focus has always been on translating art and imagery onto apparel. “It was always about a celebration of art,” Luther said.

Mallette got his start working with Dave Vorhees at Be Bop Records in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. The way Luther tells it, Vorhees allowed Mallette to set up a table next to his record store to sell his t-shirts and children’s clothing. He started his company with just a few hundred dollars and it has become a huge success story. After building his business in Seattle, he spent a few years in Chicago, then moved back to the Pacific Northwest in December of 2008. But instead of Seattle, he chose to set up shop in Portland.

In January 2009, when I asked him why he chose Portland, he said, besides our unrivaled bike culture, “This place is just a little slower-paced for me and I like the geographic proportions of this city.”

Pedal Nation Bike Show-28

Roger’s bike at the 2010
Pedal Nation Bike Show.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortand)

Mallette (and his dog Ike, with whom he had a special bond) were active in the local community and could be seen a variety of bike-related events. One of his favorites was Artcrank. In 2010, he bought a poster by local article Jimmy Cavalieri. He liked it so much, he approached Cavalieri and ended up turning it into a jersey. “It was shocking news for me when I heard,” said Cavalieri this morning. “He was always great to work with and [in terms of their business contract] he did everything he said he would do.”

I have known Roger for several years. He’s been a big supporter of my work and was always urging me to get an official BikePortland jersey made. A few months ago, we finally started working together to make it happen. He was so generous with his expertise and time. He took care of everything and never asked for a penny in return. We’d both been so busy lately I never got the chance to tell him how much I appreciated his generosity and his eagerness to help me. He mentioned repeatedly during conversations that he just wanted to help me raise revenue to make sure my business stayed afloat.

Turns out that generosity was a regular thing for Roger. His business partner Gene Luther shared a story from two weeks ago: He and Roger were driving back from a meeting and were waiting at a stoplight in northwest Portland. “We’re at at stoplight and a homeless man walks across the street with no shoes on and his shirt unbuttoned. It was raining and cold. Roger jumps out of the car, tells the guy to stay put and tells me to head back to his apartment. He came back with shoes and a jacket and gave them to that guy. That’s the kind of person Roger was, and that’s why I went into business with him.”

Luther, who joined Mallette as a minority owner of Retro Image one year ago, says the company will go, “in Roger’s spirit.”

“He had a huge creative side, that, quite frankly, we’re not going to be able to emulate… We’ll try, but it won’t be the same. He lived and breathed Retro.”

To help carry on Roger’s spirit, Luther plans to clean up Roger’s beloved, orange 1972 “creamsicle” city/road bike and display it on the wall in the Retro office. Luther will get a new headbadge made that reads, “In Memory of Roger Mallette.”

You will be missed Roger.

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