After the summer kicked off with both a City Club forum dedicated to stoking the economic development of Portland's independent fashion industry and a months-long regional fashion exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, it's been a year of unprecedented attention for the local industry. I've personally been attending the meetings of a committee that formed in the wake of the City Club event, a nice bit of follow-through from an influential organization.
It seems other things are also afoot: Those who track the whereabouts of PINO's Crispin Argento (I won't ask) may have noticed that the necktie designer and intrepid networker hasn't been spending much time here in Portland. Turns out he's been spending the last six months traversing the country to lay the groundwork for something called the Portland Apparel Lab:
The Portland Apparel Lab (PAL) is a full service member-supported apparel and lifestyle business accelerator providing early stage strategic and operational support and training to entrepreneurs in launching and cultivating the lifestyle businesses of tomorrow. PAL is committed to supporting the next generation of apparel and accessories designers in Portland.
PAL advises and guides the business end of apparel and accessory ventures from concept exploration and business planning through product development, production and marketing stages under three primary service divisions: Strategize, Design and Activate. In addition, PAL oversees Market, a full-service sales and showroom division, and Grow (Portland Designer Fund), a grant, loan and equity placement program for high-growth potential lifestyle brands in need of start-up capital.
PAL provides a professional creative collaborative environment with streamlined and affordable access to services, resources, programs and valued industry relationships for its members to successfully launch, grow and become thriving lifestyle businesses.
I promised Argento I wouldn't get too far into any of the details he gave me over our epic lunch meeting until he's able to furnish me with all the propers in writing. The scope of the thing is huge, and there is quite a bit to explain. Argento is planning to give his first public presentation of the model on September 10 at MoCC (appropriately enough), though there will probably be several such opportunities for people to ask questions and for Argento to determine whether there is enough designer interest to make this thing viable.
There is a lot of fatigue in Portland's fashion community when it comes to conversations and attempts to do something that somehow galvanizes the talent here and marries it with the resources and infrastructure needed to grow middle class (and higher) jobs within the city's apparel sector. (I suffer from it too.) But if Argento can deliver what he thinks he can... well, it just might work this time, though it will ultimately rely on the interest of local designers. If you're in the Portland industry and have ever complained about aspects of your production, materials sourcing, business guidance, and the sheer cost of producing and marketing a collection, etc, you should at least hear him out.
On a slightly tangential note: One of the other things I've become involved with of late is a series of Friday lunches and conversations about local manufacturing called Lunch Wagon at ADX. It's still really new, but so far I've moderated discussions with people who directly manufacture products as well as those who incubate them—it's not at all limited to fashion, but has included electronics, food, and beyond. Tomorrow I'll be talking to a bicycle manufacturer who is turning the process on its ear, for instance. The theme that's quickly emerging is that, across industries, current modes of manufacturing aren't working anymore, and people are inventing new models that are better adapted to an evolving set of tools and priorities. It's interesting conversation, of course, but it also dovetails nicely with what Argento is trying to do in an apparel-specific context. (Directly fashion related: The Portland Garment Factory will be the guest for the August 22 edition).
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that it's been refreshingly heartening to witness people being *successfully* proactive about changing the way things work in their respective sectors in the face of broken systems, I'd love to see the same thing happen in meaningful ways within a community I've invested so much of my own work and enthusiasm in, and I think we can all learn a lot from each other.