A 1910 stone Craftsman sits off SE Hawthorne Boulevard, set back from the bustling traffic. Inside, a split interior houses two businesses: the Hazel Room café, with its ever-grinding espresso machine, and Mag-Big, a “maker’s department store”—the headquarters of one of Portland’s rising indie-fashion champions.
Inside her colorful 1,100-square-foot shop, 26-year-old Cassie Ridgway curates a vast collection: more than 650 small designer labels rotate through, with about 400 sharing the space at any given time. Ninety percent of those designers hail from Portland. “I am drawn to brands pushing for a ‘fully realized’ product,” says Ridgway, “ones that pay attention to branding, quality, and consistency. For many emerging designers, this is a sharp part of the learning curve.” Some local favorites include Amira, whose artful line of macramé jewelry blends stones, beads, and fabric with silversmithing techniques; Imaginary Authors, an evocative perfume brand inspired by invented novelists; and Make It Good, an apparel line featuring whimsical custom screen prints.
But like so many players in the hometown scene it channels, Mag-Big is more than a boutique—Ridgway hopes to change both local style and the emerging industry that creates it. The Santa Cruz native has transformed her shop’s second floor into her own studio; in 2012 she launched an apparel line focusing on “simple, flattering silhouettes under $70.” In addition to serving as the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association’s vice president, Ridgway also works with veteran music promoter December Carson and runway show pro Elizabeth Mollo to bolster community around local fashion. Each summer, the trio sends locally manufactured ready-to-wear looks strutting down the street in the outdoor Alley 33 show. Winter brings Unmentionables, a lingerie-focused show highlighting Portland’s growing army of underthings designers. In the fall, Ridgway teams up with Design Week to host “Fashion Speaks,” an open forum on manufacturing in the Rose City.
It may sound overwhelming, but as Ridgway sits quietly in her studio, sewing and prepping for Mag-Big’s plus-size collection launch in March, a sense of calm reigns. “I go hiking every Sunday, rain or shine,” she says. “Nothing will shut the mind up like the mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest.” In that quiet space, big ideas grow.
This article appeared in the March 2014 issue of Portland Monthly.