INTRO TO PGF
Britt Howard and Rosemary Robinson are the the dynamic duo behind Portland Garment Factory (PGF); an independently operated, full service, and lady-owned garment manufacturing house. From cutting to sewing, to patterning and production, their motto of “We got your back” is the perfect fit. Offering low minimum order quantities, with the ability to scale to meet higher volume demands, PGF provides a unique solution for independent designers such as Alexa Stark, as well as larger brands such as Nike. Established in 2008, “every project is approached as a partnership where quality and fun are tops.”
As friends, business partners, designers, and pioneers of the local fashion scene; Howard and Robinson are the hardest working women in showbiz. Managing a full production team and schedule at the Factory, while concurrently designing, producing and repping their own collection of womenswear labeled PGF HouseLine, is no easy feat. Outside of their efforts at the Factory they find time to immerse themselves in the local scene, participating in events such as Ace Hotel’s annual fashion installation Content. To this day, they continue to share their knowledge and expertise by contributing to a fashion textbook (yet to be named), and supporting the Museum of Modern Craft for example, with an exhibition called “Portland Garment Factory: Process/Progress.” No stranger to the Factory (my wedding dress was custom created here!), I popped by for a chat.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR ORIGIN STORY?
A: Britt Howard (BH) – PGF came about in 2008. I needed help with pattern work and production sewing for a small baby line I was trying to get off the ground at the time. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I opened a small workroom called Portland Garment Factory – the goal was to help other designers fill holes in their personal capacity. We worked with Emily Katz and Holly Stalder, made dog beds, and fretted about every detail. The beginning was insane. We had our families in the shop hand sewing buttons, cutting out patterns and sorting orders! Flashing forward, Rosemary came along as a client, who had experience working for an independent designer in San Francisco who did all of their production locally. We hit it off instantly and within a month we were in talks about becoming business partners – as strangers basically! It has been a magical partnership since.
Q: ADVICE FOR WOMEN INTERESTED IN STARTING A BUSINESS TOGETHER?
A: (BH) It’s important to speak up about the tough topics and nitty gritty and just get it out of the way in the beginning. For example, any hesitations you might have, lurking or latent feelings deep down, or any elephants in the room! Another golden rule: if you know your personal strengths and can see complimentary strengths in potential partner(s), just play them up and plan your business around your collective strengths. Be honest and open all the time. And of course, hire experts when you can… they are worth it!
Q: TALK TO ME ABOUT YOUR SOURCING METHODS.
A: (RR) We have an incredibly wide variety of relationships with vendors of all shapes and sizes. For example, we have partners who can sublimation print on your underwear elastic! Now that’s niche. Additionally we pull from a broad network, depending on the area of specialization required – dyers, narrow webbing mills in LA, made in the USA denim mills, and cheap-as-hell poly lining jobbers. We also work with a family owned silk mill in Cambodia where all fabrics are woven by hand and fine Italian wool suppliers. Our customers needs vary so much that the team is ready for just about any ask.
Q: THOUGHTS ON ETHICALLY PRODUCED CLOTHING?
A: (BH) I’d say the biggest misconception about ethically produced clothing is that if it’s made in the US, it was ethically produced. We are very proud of the way we treat our team, our labor practices, our big happy family. But in other cities, the standards are much different – for example contract sewers have to show up every day to see if there is work, they do not get unemployment, companies have loopholes for paying overtime, etc. In this industry there are injustices everywhere, even in the US. It is definitely a step in the right direction to bring production closer to your core, but there is always improvements to be made.
Q: TOP 2-3 SHIFTS YOU SEE IN FASHION?
A: (BH) First, comfort. Second, it’s cool to be a young mom. And third, caring is hip.
Q: DESCRIBE YOUR PROCESS OF COLLABORATION.
A: (BH) The key difference between collaborating with big brands vs. independent fashion designers, comes down to the level of formality. For instance Nike had to approve our factory, they had us fill out paperwork, and undergo a rigorous inspection. With smaller indy designers sometimes it’s just one person managing everything, so the timelines and level of rigor definitely differs. That said, with big brands and indy designers alike, we go at it with a partnership mentality. A the end of the day, we like collaborating with people. We don’t even call them customers, we really feel like they’re partners because we are all giving something to the greater whole.
Q: TELL US ABOUT PGF HOUSELINE.
A: (BH) We have plans to expand the line in 2016! We will have similar silhouettes to what we’ve offered in the past, but will stick with the classics, and run them in less hard to cut and sew fabrics. Right now the fabrics we use can be a little more tricky to cut and sew. Our plan is it to use alternative fabrics that are easier to cut, and in turn lower the price. The result will be about one tier lower, enough of a difference so some stores will stock that side of the line, while some stores will stay with the more whacky pieces.
Q: WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SOURCE OF INSPIRATION?
A: (BH) I’m inspired by other creative people who make things and have nothing to do with the fashion industry. Ballsy creative people who are living their lives exactly as they want to live them. Making art and making whatever they’re making exactly how they believe it should be done. That passion is really inspirational to me. I’m also really inspired by other larger companies aka what do I want Portland Garment Factory to be like in the future? Directionally, I would want it to be a company similar to Eileen Fisher.
Q: WHAT IS THE MOST AMAZING GARMENT YOU’VE CREATED?
A: (BH + RR in unison) The twist dress and jumper gown, both from PGF’s HouseLine. (BH) If I had to wear one article of clothing for the rest of my life, it would be a non-restricting jumpsuit – which would have to have pockets and be rompy! (RH) If I had to wear one article of clothing forever, it would be a cashmere muumuu… I could be comfortable until I’m 90 in that!
Q: WHAT’S NEXT FOR PGF?
A: (BH) We’re opening a teeny tiny office in New York, in the garment district. We plan to connect with other New York people, designers, and factory customers that we can work with on commercial projects. In turn, we want to siphon some business development, as there are a lot of companies we already work with in New York. With the new office we can connect them with our factory, have everything made in Portland then shipped to back to New York. Additionally, the New York office will serve as a small showroom for PGF’s HouseLine. This will be a big step amongst other initiatives we’re eyeing.
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