On the scene: Made in Portland?

Portland has a burgeoning fashion industry. But what happens when companies want to manufacture their products in Portland?

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An Oregon Entrepreneur Network’s September Pub Talk held on Wednesday sought to address that question.

“When you’re talking about sportswear, that’s where Portland thrives and that’s what Portland is known for. But as soon as you step out of that area, it’s murky,” said panel moderator Mihal Freinquel, a former fashion journalist. 

Freinquel was joined by four speakers: Dawn Moothart, cofounder of the Portland Apparel Lab; Lynn Le, founder of Society Nine, a company that makes gear and apparel for female fighters; Joe Mueller, founder of Wildwood & Company, which makes custom suits; and Jim Artaiz, partner at Dehen Knitting Company.

Here are a few takeaways from designers trying to “make it” in Portland.

On manufacturing in Portland:

“The cut and sews [manufacturers] that are here have a limited number of people they can take who aren’t quite ready for manufacturing. That’s a little bit of what we do, instruct entrepreneurs on how to be ready for a cut and sew.”
— Dawn Moothart, Portland Apparel Lab

“My goal early on, was anyone who can do one or more of the steps [in suit making] I hired. We’re now starting to think long-term. I don’t think we’d ever go overseas for production but will do a two-step made in Portland product, then [a U.S. made product] to be more accessible.”
— Joe Mueller, Wildwood & Company

On outsourcing production:

“Creating relationships with factories is not easy, especially when you go international. For us to stay competitive we had to make that choice — (so we could) move quickly and go with a manufacturer that can make this intricate braid (products) for us without question.”
— Lynn Le, Society Nine

On being an established company in a new market: 

“We are like a 96-year-old startup. We have to come to work every day with energy and vigor trying to figure it out. It doesn’t get easier just because you’ve been around long time.” 
— Jim Artaiz, Dehen

On the benefits of starting in a city known for sportswear:

“When asked ‘why aren’t you in L.A. or New York,’ I always go back to our sport heritage. There are titans in our backyard and it’s been a benefit to investors.

“I really believe in Portland’s potential to carve our players like us. I’m going to fight tooth and nail to stay here. I do want to show that there is an evolution in the legacy and history. Even if we don’t end up being a Nike with billions of cash on hand … the fact still remains there’s a lot of innovation happening here and it plays to our advantage.”
— Le

Will Portland ever have a fashion district to rival Los Angeles and New York?

“I think Portland will put its own spin on what a fashion district looks like. I think with the way our city is structured and the way it works it won’t be physically in one place. I think our fashion district will be virtually in one place. Part of our goal (at PAL) is to be that virtual hub where people can find the people they need.”
— Moothart