THE PORTLAND DESIGN COMMUNITY may be regarded as independent and innovative, but it's also very limited. It's generated some modest buzz and elevated the region's reputation from the days of windbreakers and socks with Tevas, but it's far from having the institutional support it needs to truly become a design center. The challenge of implementing such infrastructure has been batted around for years, with several projects approaching different angles, from Portland Fashion Week's push to put our town on the global fashion calendar to Portland Fashion Synergy's ChinaBound, a nascent collaboration with garment manufacturers in China. Now there's a new idea being floated: a design incubator in downtown Portland.
Working loosely on existing models in New York and Toronto, a joint committee headed by representatives from Portland Development Commission and the Portland Business Alliance—including many of the people associated with the Portland Downtown Retail Strategy, which facilitated the most recent holiday season's pop-up stores—are hoping to be able to open a subsidized, centrally located hive of local design. Possible scenarios include a network of small studios rented at low prices to a carefully curated number of up-and-coming designers—most likely not limited specifically to apparel and accessory makers—who would benefit from prominent sidewalk placement. There, they would be given tools and guidance to market and advance their businesses. It could serve as a convenient shopping destination for the public and tourists, with communal or individual retail spaces, where non-resident designers might also sell on consignment. It could be an epicenter for events, classes, monthly receptions, and networking. It could also do wonders to enable potential customers access to a local manufacturing scene that is disadvantageously decentralized.
Of course, this is all still talk at this point, and it's unlikely that anything will be implemented before the end of the year. However, if it's successful it will be an example of intention, thought, and effort on the part of the city, on behalf of the design community, making us a more attractive and realistic choice for designers in Portland and beyond.
Meanwhile, two new educational institutions have popped up to teach everything from basic sewing to how to run a fashion business: Portland Sewing (2111 NE 43rd) is having a grand opening celebration on Sunday, April 4, from 3-5 pm (free), opening its doors to students who "want to know how to drape, pattern, sew with industrial machines, and the like," according to founder and longtime designer and teacher Sharon Blair, and the school includes a supply store with a "drive-thru notions window." For a complete list of classes, hit portlandsewing.com. Modern Domestic (1408 NE Alberta), is also new on the scene, offering classes, studio time, machine and accessory sales and repairs, and more. Complete offerings are listed at moderndomesticpdx.com.