As you already know, while we were all inside, the traditional retail model fell off a cliff. At the same time, northwest boutique Folly hit a milestone twelfth year in business. And because the boutique was birthed during the Great Recession of 2008, owner/designer Sarah Bibb knows how to get scrappy and survive.
“I hate the word pivot. You know why? Because as a small business we're always pivoting. I've been pivoting since I opened my doors. Because that is the way to succeed,” she says. “I think what separates true entrepreneurs from people that open businesses but don't stick around is you have to constantly be changing and growing and shifting. Because the neighborhood has changed, social media has, the medium has. Retail has gone through major transformations since 2008 when I opened, so I feel like I'm always pivoting.”
In the case of COVID-19, the biggest instant move was to making masks. Specifically, four-layer, quilting cotton masks with a comfy face design for $30. Bibb’s dedicated fan base took note and started buying them up, allowing her to keep her business afloat selling masks faster than Folly could make them. One of those mask shoppers? Oregon’s own US Senator, Jeff Merkley.
One of Sen. Merkley’s aides got in touch with Bibb about getting some masks with patterns that paid homage to Oregon. The only hitch was they needed them in 36 hours before the senator was off to Washington. Bibb and her head seamstress, Ying Liang, got to work.
“We scrambled through everything we had. Ying went through her stash. I put out like three different emergency texts that night, ‘Do you have any Oregon-themed cotton fabric?!’” she laughs about how she came across the forest print by PNW brand Cascadian Craft. “One person got back to me and I went that night to Vancouver for it and that was the mask [Merkley] ended up wearing … He tagged us in the photos which was great. The selfie on the Senate floor just made my day. You know my store is so small and people that know me love me, but my reach is not super wide, so really I got a lot of sales from him wearing it.”
Bibb says Folly has shipped masks from online sales all over the country with orders going to Alaska, New York, Florida, and even Tokyo. And as we are in the early phases of reopening, she notes she is thrilled Gov. Kate Brown has mandated masks for all indoor public spaces as of June 24.
“I’m very, very pleased Governor Brown did this because it takes it off of the business owner to do. That's actually very supportive of businesses in Portland,” Bibb adds. “Part of being at that level is they're so used to and buffered from, people hating them. But for small businesses, to say to someone's face in person ‘You can’t come in without a mask on’ is not that comfortable. So I think that's really helpful to have it mandated. It keeps it really clear that it's not your choice, it's being done by the state, and then they can be angry at the state, that's fine.”