The Debut of Portland Garment Factory’s HouseLine
By MARJORIE SKINNER | OCT 25, 2011
The women of the Portland Garment Factory have a knack for spotting needs within the community. Three years ago founder Britt Howard took note of the fact that Portland’s independent designers were struggling to find consistent, high quality production for small runs of their work, and stepped in to found a company that specializes in just that. Now, with partner Rosemary Robinson, Howard is taking it further with their co-designed HouseLine, a clothing line designed to be foundation garments with which you can wear your crazier investment pieces, but that still fulfill many of the qualities we aspire to in our wardrobes in that they are locally produced, often in small runs.
Honestly referring to the pieces as foundational seems a little modest. Saturday’s runway debut proved that the clothing could stand up in its own right, though both its Fall and Spring renditions contained pieces that are easily recognizable as ones you’d wear to death—the result of Howard and Robinson’s own wardrobe frustrations.
To me the standouts for fall were a variety of circle skirts, a belted poncho sweater (hello, perfect airplane friend), a simple textured knit dress that would lay a cozy foundation for infinite layering combos, a pair of tomboyish high waisted trousers, and a nubby little puff-sleeve cocktail number awaiting its accessories.
Portland Design Beyond ‘Put a Bird on It’
By STEPHEN HEYMAN | SEPTEMBER 29, 2011
In 2009, an alternative fashion week event, Content, was held at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Ore., to expose the work of that city’s remarkable but somewhat isolated crop of independent designers. Each designer was given a room in the hotel, with free rein to transform it into a kind of fashion installation and only one rule: Nothing was for sale. Clothes hung from the shower curtains above the Ace’s claw-foot bathtubs; one designer carted in a half-dozen birch tree trunks to drive home a sylvan theme; another concocted a gruesome murder scene with three bloodied (yet impeccably dressed) victims strewn about the floor.
This Saturday, Content returns to Portland, in expanded form. Shops across Stumptown represented in the show will stay open late; there will be a beer garden and food; and the festivities are planned to spill out of the hotel and onto Stark Street. “Portland is the main artery for American independent fashion design,” proclaims Gretchen Jones, the “Project Runway” victor and former Portland resident, who is presenting the event with the Ace. The city’s “hybrid of urban naturalism,” she says, produces a “unified aesthetic … Portland designers incubate to the beat of their own drum.”
Ace Hotel Blog
INTERVIEW: BRITT HOWARD OF PORTLAND GARMENT FACTORY
SEPTEMBER 27th, 2011
Two years ago, we got together with our favorite Portland fashion designers to create a living installation in the guest rooms on the second floor at Ace Hotel Portland, dubbed CONTENT — each designer handcrafted, populated and brought to life an embodiment of their inspirations and identities, and this year an astoundingly talented crop of designers is resurrecting this new tradition. October 1, join Ace and NYC via PDX designer and Project Runway alumn Gretchen Jones on Stark Street for beer, spirits and fare by Olympic Provisions and Clyde Common, followed by an unguided adventure through the installations.
Portland Garment Factory is one of the designers creating an installation this year, and they’re also handcrafting tissue box covers for all the Aces out of salvaged WWII army ponchos, so we wanted to chat PGFer Britt Howard up up about the work they do and what they’ll be bringing to CONTENT.
What do you love about your job?
I love working with the various talented people of Portland — including the talented and hilarious PGF crew, whom I am lucky to be surrounded by on a daily basis! I love living through our clients’ design process……being so close to it makes us all feel like we have a line of baby clothes or backpacks or womenswear. And about the fashion community of Portland? The fashion community in Portland is so varied (i.e. folks from so many different backgrounds — self taught/DIY to classically trained), and a direct correlation to that are the unique perspectives we see in what the designers create. Since I grew up here, I have a fondness in my heart for wools, plaids, layers, hats, ect. The best designers in Portland play off of the weather here (be it a direct representation of a grey cloud to a bright color blocked dress to liven up the often dreary Portland backdrop). I love em all.
How are the tissue box covers coming along?
We will be cutting the tissue box covers LIVE in our Content room! We are excited to be working on this during the event because it’s a great way to merge what we are doing for Ace with the event — it was a brilliant idea that Rosemary (my partner) had which really helped us nail down what we are doing in our room! (The ideas were getting too grand anyway…) It will basically be a live workroom…..because work and creating are at the heart of what we are all inspired by every day.
Thank you, Britt — see you at work, then.
Portland Garment Factory caters to independent fashion designers
By JULIA SILVERMAN | DECEMBER 10, 2010
Like women everywhere, but particularly in their chosen industry of fashion, Rosemary Robinson and Britt Howard can be coy about their ages.
The accomplished co-owners of the city’s hippest cut-and-sew salon, thePortland Garment Factory in Southeast Portland, aren’t sure they want customers to know how young they really are.
Twentysomethings they may be, but they’re taken quite seriously in a sector that’s been on the rise in Portland during the past decade or so.
Long known for fleece and sneakers, the metro area has produced three winners in eight seasons of “Project Runway,” the reality TV competition that’s the nation’s highest-profile mass showcase for emerging designers.
There’s also a growing core of independent designers here, many devoted to the city’s eco-hip ethos, who need help with all aspects of production — pattern drafting, size grading, sample construction and sewing final garments — to meet demand for their creations, whether in local stores or online outlets.
Enter Howard, Robinson and their humming new Montavilla warehouse space, the third location for a business that’s been bursting its own seams since it began a little more than two years ago.
It was Howard who started the business in 2008. A mother at 17, who has worked both as a model and an Oregon Zoo researcher, Howard had been hand-sewing chic little outfits for her second child and getting inquiries from boutique owners about selling her designs.
Stores, of course, want to carry multiple sizes of different styles, and Howard was thrown by the time commitment for such production. She hoped to find some help, someone with an interest in design and a reverence for her garments, and most of all, someone local, instead of in Los Angeles, New York or China, where so much clothing is made. She asked friends in fashion, but it didn’t take long to determine she’d found a niche to fill.
A Belmont beginning
So the self-taught sewer opened a tiny storefront on Southeast Belmont Street, and, at least in the beginning, did most of the sewing herself. Still nursing her baby girl, she rifled through books when she needed to learn a technique, and to drum up business worked her connections in the creative community as a sometimes model married to a musician.
By 2009, Howard had enough clients to move up to a space nearer to her home in revitalizing Montavilla, where rent is still cheap but cool new storefronts pop up all the time. More importantly, it’s close to the heart of Portland’s Vietnamese community, where Howard found skilled sewers.
Robinson, a San Francisco State University graduate experienced in pattern cutting, walked into the Belmont location as a potential client, took one look at the operation and figured out two things: It was a great idea, and Howard needed help. A few months later, they were business partners, later launching First Friday gallery and fashion display events in their storefront, the forerunner to the now-rollicking and regular First Friday celebrations on Montavilla’s Southeast Stark Street main drag.
Kate Towers, who opened Seaplane, an influential, early adopter boutique that was one of the first citywide to showcase locally owned designers, says Portland Garment Factory is “something that the city was really missing. I like that it has the term factory, but it is really much more of a grass-roots place, just like everything else here. Suddenly, there are all these people here that are making clothing, and this is still keeping it local.”
Employees and interns
These days, settled into a hangar-like space that has been a mechanics shop and woodworkers studio, Howard and Robinson have six employees and a cadre of interns. They offer everything from fit sessions and initial pattern-and-sample making to design consultation and production of entire lines of clothing, as well as fabric goods like slippers, pillows and baby slings. They’re size-blind, accepting jobs as small as 10 pieces, and working with some of Portland’s bigger fashion names, including Project Runway winners Leanne Marshall and Gretchen Jones.
Commissions from outside the area have been growing. Florida-based A-Bird, a spendy, trendy baby/toddler line, has placed orders for hundreds of pieces, and the Seattle fine-dining restaurant Canlis placed an order for custom jackets for its women servers.
Profits go back into the business — Howard and Robinson recently swallowed hard and wrote a check for more than $3,000 for equipment, including machines that can sew leather — and they’ve only recently quit second jobs waiting tables. But they’ve got no debt, though not for lack of trying — “No bank would give us a loan,” Howard laughs. Plans call for sourcing fabrics for clients and representing designers to boutique owners.
Howard and Robinson know they’ll never be as cheap as having clothes made in China, because labor costs will always be higher here, they say. But local designers say the quality control, and chance to keep production logistics simple and local, are worth the cost.
Barbara Seipp, who owns Phlox boutique on Mississippi Avenue, had been frustrated by the lack of care put into garments made for her own line, sold at her store. Then she started working with Portland Garment Factory.
“We struggle because Portland doesn’t have the same resources for fabric shopping, production, promotion,” she said. “So for them to be here is amazing. These guys are realistic about what we need, and their prices are reasonable for locally made small volumes.”
Portland Garment Factory Breathes Vitality to “Made in U.S.A.” Label
By MARIA MATIS | AUGUST 4th, 2011
If TV’s Portlandia hasn’t hooked you on all things Portland, the Portland Garment Factory surely will. The artisanal workshop, founded by self-taught seamster Britt Howard, offers a range of services from pattern construction to garment production. All work is done on-site in the southeast neighborhood of Montavilla to cater to the growing ranks of designers in the region. (Three out of eight Project Runway winners, including season 8′s Gretchen Jones, are from the metro area.) With a staff that’s as earnest as it’s endearing, the factory is unique in an industry prone to outsourcing.
Rosemary Robinson, co-owner of PGF, is a pattern expert whose first introduction to the workshop was as a potential client. Within a few months, she and Howard became business partners, and the company has been thriving ever since.
MADE IN AMERICA
It’s no coincidence that a plethora of independent designers, including three Project Runway winners, hail from the Portland area. The Oregon city crackles with creativity and vigor, coupled with a yen for all things green. When Britt Howard launched the Portland Garment Factory in 2008, she filled an obvious vacuum: a garment workshop that caters to grassroots companies while capturing Portland’s homegrown spirit, all without the high minimums and complicated production logistics that most apparel manufacturers require.
Portland Garment Factory caters to grassroots companies without the complicated production logistics.
“We’re able to provide jobs and create a real designer community here, which is better than I ever hoped,” Howard says. “We are working our way towards a version of a garment district.”
But the Stumptown Coffee-loving owner has no plan of stopping there. With a new business partner and on its third location, the expanding company plans to launch its own collection of womenswear called “Houseline.” Targeted at the eco-conscious woman, the line is set to debut in fall.
The Portland Garment Factory & Britt Howard
Carlie Armstrong \ May 16, 2011 \
The Portland Garment factory is a local Pattern Drafting, size grading, design consultation, sample construction, line production, garment manufacturing wonderland located in the adorable Montavilla neighborhood. Originally conceived as a business to make children’s clothing by owner Britt Howard (who was in turn inspired by her two amazing kids), simply because there was nothing currently offered in that arena; Britt soon came to realize that there was a need for local, larger scale garment production here in our fair city. Hence, The Portland Garment factory was born, and now serves local favorites such as Holly Stalder, Dawn Sharp, and Emily Ryan (just to name a few) as well as other designers and companies across the United States. Britt has a wonderful team of people behind her, including lovely business partner Rosemary Robinson, and a beautiful SUPER high-ceiling-ed warehouse complete with a nifty swing to construct garments in! Britt also makes beautiful soft sculptures, and has a show at PLACE gallery opening within the coming months that you should not miss. Now, don’t you feel just a bit more fantastic about our lovely localities?
City of Industry – In Portland’s manufacturing world, the business of making stuff is alive and well.
By ZACH DUNDAS
PEOPLE OFTEN SAY “American manufacturing” in wistful sighs: once, our forefathers labored in factories; now China makes everything….
“Portland manufacturing,” on the other hand, can be said with a fist-pump. This broad sector employs one out of nine metro-area workers and anchors a fifth of oregon’s economy. And the business is no relic. Venerable firms, like 109-year-old Columbia Wire & Iron Works, combine time-honored knowledge with tech savvy. The next generation of manufacturing entrepreneurs puts new, brawnier industrial muscle behind Portland’s vibrant craft culture.
“We were born out of a need,” says Britt Howard, a 28-year-old fashion designer who started Portland Garment Factory in 2008. “A lot of people in Portland make things, but there’s no larger infrastructure when they want to expand.”
As with many of the manufacturers we chronicle on the next few pages, Howard’s workshop thrives on quality, flexibility, and the conviction that a bright future lies in making stuff here. “Someone might call us with a 3,000-item order one day,” says Howard, whose projects range from slippers to neoprene jumpsuits. “The next, a Portland designer might say, ‘I need 10 dresses.’ I love it.”
Inside an Oregon clothing plant that’s reinventing “Made in the U.S.A.”
By ADRIENNE SO | FEBRUARY 14, 2011
Just because a designer is local—whether in Austin, TX or Florence, Italy—doesn’t necessarily mean the garments were made there—or even in the same country. Thanks to fast fashion, there’s now a better-than-likely chance that even such smaller-batch production was outsourced to Asia. “Of course it’s deceptive, to say that clothes were made in the United States when they were really made in China,” said Britt Howard, founder and co-owner of the Portland Garment Factory. “Like clothes that say they’re made in Italy, when they’re only hand-finished there. Or they’ll sew the buttons on.”
Howard, a mother of two and sometime model, discovered this gap in the American indie production process in 2008 after trying and failing to find a local manufacturer for her line of baby clothing. She opened a tiny storefront to sew for Portland’s growing legion of independent designers (that includes three competitors and two winners of the reality show Project Runway) and two years, more than a few eighty-hour work weeks, and a business partner (Rosemary Robinson) later, PGF is now a booming enterprise. Today, the upstart completes orders for clients as far-flung as New York and Los Angeles in an airy new warehouse space in Portland’s bustling Montavilla neighborhood.
“It’s been like, zero to sixty for us,” Robinson described. “We’re thinking about opening another location, maybe in San Francisco or Austin. But we’d want to keep it personal, to be able to keep that close relationship with the people we work with.”