At 3:30 a.m. on the morning of Monday, April 19, the first calls for a commercial fire came in. By daybreak, the roof of the Portland Garment Factory in Montavilla was collapsing and the interior was destroyed—sewing machines, fabrics, clothing, gone. KATU reports that more than 70 firefighters were on scene battling the three-alarm fire. No injuries to them, or to anyone inside, but the toll it will take on a beloved local business is immeasurable. People close to the business say they believe there is security camera footage of someone setting the fire from the outside.
#BREAKING - On scene of a large fire at Southeast Stark and 79th. This is on third alarm, with more than 70 firefighters on scene. Stark closed all the way to 82nd #LiveOnK2 pic.twitter.com/wJ0MmrwJn2— Dan McCarthy (@DanMcKATU) April 19, 2021
Portland Garment Factory, founded 12 years ago, and its owner Britt Howard are well known in the fashion community. PGF is a Certified B-Corp with long-term employees, and a zero-fabric-waste studio in one of the most polluting industries in the world. And when COVID hit, decimating their upcoming project queue, they pivoted to making masks, churning out more than 60,000 reusable ones, donating over 2,700 of those to vulnerable communities.
A friend of Howard has set up a GoFundMe to help the company with the costs insurance doesn’t cover (which many a business has learned this year can be considerable), with the goal of raising $25,000. Portland Garment Factory’s online shop selling masks is currently on pause until they are once again operating with space, equipment, and materials.
In a video Howard posted on April 22 with the wreckage of the fire behind her, she announced the company would not fold and their intention is to set back up and move forward. She thanked everyone who’s donated to their GoFundMe or reached out.
“I want to say thank you to you for the generous outpouring to everything from text messages, emails, to the extreme, insane, I can’t even make words right now GoFundMe,” she says while noticeably crying. “I just feel like we had a huge gust of creative force taken out of the city and for that, I am going to be forever in mourning. You guys are taking care of us in such a beautiful way and honestly, I’m not surprised because Portland knows how to take care of their people. I love you all and you’re showing me back that you love me.”
Howard also stated they would be sending out updated information on the arson investigation to their newsletter subscribers. “I know everyone wants to be a supporter and be a part of the rebuild. I know that from the outpouring of messages I’ve received,” she says. “That would be one way we could ask our community, ‘Do you know a place we can move?’ or ‘Can you help us come paint?’ I don’t know what’s in the future. I’m not there yet, I’m in a shockwave roller-coaster Mad Max scenario right now.”
Article updated on April 23 to include additional information from owner Britt Howard.