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Roger Mallette, founder of Retro Image Apparel, has died

Posted by on December 7th, 2012 at 10:59 am

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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  • Chris December 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Very sad.

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  • Joe December 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    RIP dude

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  • mrfox December 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Roger had a big heart and a real passion for his work. I’ll miss him.

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  • joe kurmaskie December 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Ahhh… this sucks. So sorry to hear this. I hung with Roger at several bike related events. A great guy, we talked life more than bike and he was doing it right and I could feel his big heart, man. Taken too soon. My condolences to his family and loved ones.

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  • Terri December 7, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    A couple of years ago when we had the Christmas snow I had the pleasure of sitting next to Roger on the Amtrak from Portland to Bellingham the day before Christmas Eve. He entertained a family of children by letting them select a jersey from his bag and wear them through the train cars. He was very sweet, and facinated by the fact I was using my time on the train to insert elastic in the waists of the sock monkey flannel pajamas I had made as gifts for my family, and made me feel great when he told me how cool he thought they were. He was charming, generous and completely self effacing. Rest in Peace.

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  • Thomas Daly December 7, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    This was such a shock. I built the Creamcycle for him in 2010, it was a fun project and we got to use a lot of cool stuff. Roger was a great guy, when my shop was robbed in January of 2010; and was about to give up entirely, I spoke with Roger and he got on the phone, calling EVERYONE and getting the word out. He was instrumental in raising the money I needed to get my shop back on its feet, and is therefore a critical reason why WTFbikes is even around today. He will be missed.

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  • Charles Youel December 8, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    This breaks my heart. Roger was a great friend and fan of ARTCRANK, and as attested to by all above, one of the most generous souls I’ve ever met. We grew up in the same neighborhood in St. Louis, but didn’t meet until he reached out to me about Jimmy’s poster. He loved Portland, and it’s good to hear that the feeling was more than mutual. We’ll try to do him proud tonight in Los Angeles, and at every show thereafter.

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  • Michael Wall December 8, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    I am very sad to see this story. Roger was a special friend of mine in childhood, when my name was Michael Christen. My condolences go out to all who loved him, especially his sisters Nicole and Michelle. We went fishing together and played all sorts of games and he always kicked my butt in basketball. He was a very big -hearted person. Roger, peace to you my friend!

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    • Michele Mallette Sherman December 8, 2012 at 9:39 pm

      Hi Michael, I know Roger had fond memories of you as well. I hope you can make it to the memorial service in st. Louis. We’ll be having one in Portland and St. Louis sometime after the new year. I’ll let you know when. Take care.

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  • Michele Mallette Sherman December 8, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Thank you so much for this wonderful tribute to my dear brother, Roger. I always knew he was special (of course, he was my baby brother) but I never truly realized the depth of his generosity and kindness. I have heard over and over again stories of how he made an impression on everyone he met. Personally and professionally. Roger never met a stranger and if you were lucky enough to spend time with him you came away feeling just a little bit better. You can’t know how these recollections and stories have touched me. My brother was a one-of-a-kind man. Such a unique and gentle spirit. There are no words for my sorrow. The thought of never seeing him again is unbearable. I wish all of you who knew him all the best and continued success. I know he would wish you the same. Peace.

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  • Elizabeth Everman December 9, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Roger and I were very close for the last 3+ years. He was a quality man, and as noted here, his generosity was boundless. He was so full of life, energy and ideas! It seemed he was never “off” his wheels were always spinning. Sometimes I could practically see the engine in his brain revving up to a new idea – it was amazing to watch and hear him! I will treasure every memory I have of him, and I know that he touched many people in his life – people who don’t even know his name. I’m so proud to have known him.

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  • Marcia December 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    I am still reeling from the shock of losing one of my dearest, closest friends. Just pure disbelief and sadness. As this reality of his passing takes hold I am trying to hold on to the wonderful memories of Roger, we met in the Navy….two young crazy sailors, and fell instantly and madly in love and wed a few months later, impulsive though it may seem, but not unreasonable if you knew how, charming, warm, interesting and magnetic a person he was, he often asked me why I married him, what did I find so interesting about him…much to my disbelief he did not see what I saw…I tried desperately to explain how amazing he was to him several times……one day he call to tell me he finally understood what I meant……he finally understood the impact he had on the people he came across, the lives he touched. He never did any thing for a praise, he was just GOOD. I am so happy I met him, he changed my life in so many ways. No one has ever made me feel more special and deserving, Roger always had such wonderful praise for all my tiny accomplishments, always a driving force behind me, always sweet and encouraging.
    HE has been telling me about this Retro Image idea practically since we met around 1990, and he never let it out of his heart…..no one could be more proud of him, he did everything with so much passion. He is so very deserving of all his success.
    To many he was a great friend, great business man, great teacher, entrepreneur, a generous giving kind person. For me I got to see even beyond that, he was for me my greatest love, my sweetest dearest friend and confidant a shooting start that came in my life and changed it forever, Roger will forever burn brightly in my soul….saying I miss him does not even come close to the truth..life will just never be the same without hm here. If you have ever Been lucky enough to have him say he loves you, rest assured YOU HAVE BEEN TRULY LOVED!

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    • Michele Mallette Sherman December 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

      Such a beautiful tribute, Marcia. Thanks you for sharing.

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  • Marcia December 12, 2012 at 8:13 am

    Missing you ROGER!

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  • Nicole Mallette Giesler December 16, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    My little brother….The earth has lost a kind, compassionate, and gentle soul. Roger will be forever missed.

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  • Dave Parmley January 8, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    I had the privilege to work with Roger & Gene on their new Brand Identity for Retro. I first met Roger at ArtCrank and we talked forever about everything and nothing and it was all great. We had a great time developing ideas and creating his new brand mark for Retro. Thomas- he was so proud of that Creamcycle- reeeally cool ride you made for him- he loved riding it and showing it. Stoked to have met and worked with you Roger. Life can be so unfair. Blessings and comfort to your family- he was a Hell of a guy.

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  • Stef Wohl March 16, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    This is such a shock. In August of 2007 he had a show of his Horton Collection retro bicycle poster jerseys here in the loft – art district of Chicago. I purchased three of them. I often get stopped as I bike along our great bike trail along Lake Michigan. My daughter worked for him during the period he was in the Windy City. Just can’t get over this loss!

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  • Stephie Leinwohl March 16, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    I worked as Roger’s National DM/Wing Girl – RIA Chicago. Fond memories of working in the West Loop with Roger and Ike! My healing vibes go out to the Mallette family. Roger’s laugh still resonates.

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    • Michele MAllette Sherman March 18, 2013 at 11:32 am

      Thanks, Stefie and Steph. I remember you both from Roger’s open house. My sister, Nicole, and I had a great time with you. I believe we drove you home after the event. We are devistated by his sudden passing. Roger was laid to rest last week at Jefferson Barracks Memorial Cemetery. We also had two memorial services for him. One in St. Louis and one in Portland, OR. Thank you for your kind words about my brother. We miss him so much. Peace.

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  • Nicole Mallette Giesler April 2, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Stephie and Stef, I too remember that evening. It really was such a fun time. It was a proud moment for us, being able to watch our beloved Roger just beginning to realize his dream….I’m sorry we weren’t able to notify you of Rogers death, we had no contact info. Thank you for your kind words, and your belief in Rogers incredible talent. As Michele said, Roger has been laid to rest, along with our parents, in St. Louis. I will miss him every day, forever.

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