How Will Portland's Fashion Scene Rebound Post-COVID?

After a treacherous year for the fashion community, we asked major players what the city and state could do to help get them back on track.

By Eden Dawn June 8, 2021 Published in the Summer 2021 issue of Portland Monthly

A look from a 2019 Bloom Beauty Collective fashion show that was part of a collaboration with Sneaker Week. 

[We need a] city-sponsored runway and fashion exhibit show for BIPOC designers ... [including help with] permits, curfews, blocking roads, and things like that. That would be a great way where people can see all different ethnicities, all different cultures, all fashion. I think when you start diving into creative people—meaning, give them resources—[you] let them have space where they can enjoy themselves.

Abibat Durosimi, founder, Bloom Beauty CollectiveBloom Beauty Collective is a media production company that produces fashion shows, workshops, and educational events supporting Black creatives.

We need the public sector to support the creative ideas and plans of our artists, designers, and creators—not hire consultants that are unfamiliar with how small businesses operate and what they need. Support what the businesses want to do. [Leaders should] facilitate street-closure permits to build on the extension of the healthy businesses: permits to help businesses do commerce outside, allow for outdoor fashion shows, etc.

Sarah Shaoul, founder, Bricks Need MortarsIn addition to consulting and advocacy for small businesses, Bricks Need Mortars hosts monthly workshops on everything from garnering press to negotiating with landlords.

Betsy & Iya’s collections include everything from tiny studs to signature bridge cuff bracelets.

There is really only one thing that will widely help get things back to normal, and that is vaccination, especially regarding fashion events. The shows I produce are only successful if I am able to sell as many tickets as possible, and there is also the added logistics of the backstage, as those areas tend to be small and crowded. Only when vaccinations are widely available and administered will I feel safe to produce fashion events again, and people will also feel safe to attend them.

Elizabeth Mollo, fashion show producer | Mollo is the executive producer of the long-running Fade to Light fashion show, as well as a producer of the Unmentionable lingerie fashion show and the Biggest Clothing Swap in the Northwest.

1. The single most important thing: start crushing it with vaccinations. The faster we’re vaccinated, the faster our economy can begin recovering on its own. 2. Set up a hotline for free legal help for all the businesses who are struggling to negotiate with their landlords. 3. Our employees are getting priced out of Portland and have been for a while, and our business revenues aren’t growing in sync with the increases in housing and cost of living. This makes hiring and retention harder and harder. 4. Health care for all—seems crazy, but could we launch this at a city/county level and lift the burden on employers? It would free up dollars for employers that could be put toward growth, marketing, wage increases, etc.

Will Cervarich, co-owner and general manager, Betsy & Iya | Betsy & Iya is a Northwest boutique that specalizes in a house line of jewelry made on-site and also carries products from other small lifestyle brands.

You can watch the Martinez family craft leather goods in person at their Chinatown shop.

In this digital era, [we need leaders to provide] more opportunities to find online support for these brands. We definitely need more avenues—physical or online—where the city fosters that creativity. That sense of community that Portland has is very unique.

Martin Martinez, cofounder and general manager, Orox Leather Co | Orox Leather is a multigenerational family-owned company specializing in high-end leather goods made by hand in Chinatown.

Models flaunting Thunderpants’ famously wedgie-free cotton undies

While many makers have been able to successfully pivot online, others didn’t have the framework set up, and the companies that have really been hammered are the ones that put on the shows. We really want them to hang in there, and it’s already incredibly difficult to navigate and make money putting on those shows. So maybe the city can offer up some space to the [event producers] who could in turn offer reduced booth fees or a small percent of sales. Preferably outdoors.

Celeste Sipes, owner, Thunderpants USA, and retail adviser, PDX Small Business Development Center | Thunderpants USA is a line of sustainable cotton underwear manufactured in the US and headquartered in Portland.

We need outdoor events and we need the city to facilitate them as much as possible. No slight against PBOT, because I know they have their hands unimaginably full, but if event coordinators such as the wonderful folx at Portland Flea can get as much green lighting as possible from the city, they can make the best of the sunny weather by offering safe, socially distanced outdoor events, and I think it would be a great opportunity for our city’s apparel designers to access customers.

Cassie Ridgway, owner/designer, Altar | SE Hawthorne women’s boutique Altar stocks dozens of independent brands in addition to its own ethically made line of dark bohemian clothing in sizes up to 6XL.

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