LIKE ANYONE who cares about the health of independent business in our city, I love to celebrate an anniversary. While boutiques typically pop a few corks and offer modest-to-amazing discounts in celebration, it's less frequent that a design business without a brick-and-mortar location truly does it up to mark the occasion of another year's passing.
An exception to the norm is Alyson Clair of Clair Vintage Inspired, who is throwing a huge party this week for the fifth anniversary of her line. Taking place at the Fez Ballroom, it's an old-fashioned drinks 'n' mixing affair where all are encouraged to dress up in their favorite goin'-out attire and bid for raffles from her own line and a slew of Clair's favorite businesses, including Ms. Wood, REIN Jewelry, Bonne Vivante Beauty Lounge, Plume Jewelry, Bridge City Mercantile, Carolyn Hart Designs, Hubris Apparel, Consign Couture, Adorn, and Salon Capelli stylists Marissa Vaden and Kira Pinski.
MERCURY: In a nutshell, how has your line evolved over the past five years?
ALYSON CLAIR: It's gone from me sewing dresses in my parents' garage—sometimes with fingerless gloves and a heater—to having a kickass studio space that I share with one of my best friends. I started selling in one store in Portland, and now I'm in 10 stores this year in three states. The biggest step was when I realized my own two hands couldn't possibly make all of the garments, and knowing when to get help. That help has been, and always will be, local. I also just came to the realization that it's time to order more labels again, which means I've made close to 7,000 garments in the past five years.
What would you say are the defining characteristics of your line, or your guiding principles when it comes to the design process?
I want to make things that people wear all the time and are always in the dirty clothes. The thing that never ever gets old is seeing someone I don't know wearing something from the line—to me that is the most gratifying thing. Usually when I fall in love with a fabric I can see how the dress will be. My specialty is knits (and I can/will talk anyone's ear off who will listen about them and their technical construction), though I have added some woven silks to the line in the past few seasons. I work really hard on fit, and do all of the patternmaking myself. I am also a huge believer in domestic manufacturing. All of mine is done in Portland, and I'll stop doing the line before I'd send it overseas. I love my community and try to draw them into my work as much as possible.
What do you see looking ahead to the next five years?
My goal as a business owner is to run a good business, and be a company where people want to work. I know I'll have made it when I can offer a kickass benefits package and be a role model for ethical business practices in manufacturing. I think working in a factory has given me a different perspective than a lot [of people] in the apparel industry, and a huge respect for the people who fabricate products.
Tell us more about Friday's event.
I decided to do what I did when I was in college and would get kicked out of the sewing lab at midnight: Dust the thread off my dress and go dancing. DJ Gregarious is the DJ at the Fez on Friday nights, and my favorite way to relax is to dance it out. The party will have a photo booth by Sarah Giffrow, and I have gone a tad overboard on hats, masks, props, and mini-confetti cannons. I'm asking guests to wear their favorite dress, and come party! It's kind of my way of celebrating a major milestone, and a huge public thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way. I'm excited! Clair Vintage Inspired's fifth birthday party, Fez Ballroom, 316 SW 11th, Fri July 13, 9 pm, $5 (free before 10 pm with password "mongoose"), alysonclair.com.