First, the bad news: After 10 years, we must say goodbye to downtown boutique Radish Underground. The first to showcase now-familiar fashion labels like Betsy & Iya, Amelia, and Alyson Clair, the shop will shutter June 15. It's a bittersweet time for the store's loyal clientele.
“One market we served best were people who don't like to shop," says co-owner Celeste Sipes. "That's why a lot of our customers are really upset. They feel like they don't know what to do now, because they could come to me. Our rule here is, you never blame your body, you always blame the dress. And we keep switching lines until we find one that suits you.”
Beyond helping non-shoppers find clothes they loved, Radish Underground also helped change the face of downtown retail.
These days, the popular West End district is a mainstay for tourists and hungry shoppers, but a decade ago, when Sipes and fellow co-founder Gina Morris were looking for a space, the neighborhood was a very different place. Sipes, a data lover at heart, dove into public city information, looking for the busiest intersections. She landed on Southwest 10th Avenue, between Stark and Washington, in the ground floor of the historic Pittock Building. A trendy spot this was not, but flanked by a coffee shop and another small boutique—and situated across the street from recently opened Frances May—the duo saw potential.
As time went on, Sipes and Morris pushed hard in city meetings, alongside other small businesses, to brand the tourist hub—what would become the West End—and give the district a true identity. Though some of their retail partners are now long-gone, Sipes says they successfully brought together the area's boutiques in common cause. Radish Underground's current neighbors? Wildfang, Backtalk, Chrome Industries, and Poler, among others.
“There was and has been a great sense of collaboration,” Sipes says. “We all rooted for each other. And its one thing I’m really proud of.”
But there's good news to share, too. Sipes isn’t out of the fashion game entirely. Instead, the Montana-raised serial entrepreneur—who’s already had successful bouts as a film producer, clothing designer, and boutique owner—is off to the next venture: growing an American headquarters for Thunderpants.
Regulars of Radish Underground will already be familiar with the soft-knit, New Zealand-made underwear line, which Sipes and Morris always kept in stock. Since Sipes became a fan of the line in the early aughts (her sister sent her a pair from abroad, instantly converting her to superfan), the brand has grown exponentially. Demand for Thunderpants has become too great for the New Zealand branch to keep up with, and Sipes will work full-time to manufacture and market the line stateside as Thunderpants USA.
Now the undies—with their own LA-milled knits fully approved by the New Zealand founders—are being sewn together in a factory right outside Portland. Sipes says she's steadily adding wholesale accounts and working with local artists to make new prints. (Her goal, she says, is to work with nonprofits to raise money on a sideline appropriately called Philanthropants.)
But before she goes full-time as a titan of underwear, we must say goodbye to her retail baby. The shop closes for good on June 15, but in the meantime, new collections are 25 percent off, with past-season pieces, plus store fixtures, slashed further.
Sipes says she’s sad to lose the day-to-day interaction with customers, but happy to have more control over what she sells.
“I love working with all the retail people," Sipes says, "but now am doing it in a way that I can really control the impact of my company, and see the process of it from end to end.”