Portland garment factory returns after devastating fire


After a gigantic fire last April which devastated the Montavilla building in which she had devoted 13 years of her professional life, Portland Clothing Factory Founder Britt Howard found herself drawn to the site, in the same way a mother can’t get away from the bedside of a sick child.

And when his 13 employees gathered to cry together at the brewery in front of the still smoking building the day after the fire, Howard asked them to dream really big about what they would like in a new space where they could continue their collective work of designing and producing all kinds of textiles, from small batch fashion lines for local designers to huge orders and installations for client companies like Nike and Snowfall.

At first, staff requests were small: dedicated workspaces, no more electrical outlets, relatively ready to move in.

Then people started to come out: Solar panels were on the list and a dog park. A space for doing yoga and a break room large enough for a sofa to sneak a midday nap on. A giant garage door that could open to let heavy machinery in and out with ease. A basketball hoop. Howard herself wanted a swing, because why not?

Six weeks after the fire, she had found a new space that, miraculously, incredibly, ticked virtually all of the boxes. (A GoFundMe organized by friends of PGF raised over $ 100,000 to cover costs.) And now, six months after the fire, which broke out when a homeless man set a dumpster on fire in nearby, Portland Garment Factory is about to reopen in its new home, the architectural avant-garde site of the former Forge Parkour home at 311 SE 97eStreet.

“We were looking to rent another building,” Howard says. “And then I found this. It was one of those happy times and I was able to buy the building. I feel so grateful and can’t believe it.

It’s a pretty rare welfare story in Portland business right now, amid grim news about relocation of the head office to the suburbs, vacancy rate for stubborn businesses, and downtown development agreements fail. And of course, the flip side is Forge Parkour, which struggled to stay afloat in the pandemic and ultimately did not succeed, despite a space specifically designed for sports, including massive wooden climbing structures and custom rubber flooring to cushion falls.

After the fire, Howard heard rumors that she herself was going to give up, which would have been a blow to a company celebrated by national media for launching an eco-responsible alternative to the vast tides of fast fashion created by workers working in below-average conditions for minimum wage.

For memory, closure was never in the cardsHoward said. In fact, the fire came at a time when she felt more creatively inspired than ever before – commissions were returning, after months of her talented staff focused on producing masks and other gear. related to the pandemic for local hospitals and other outlets.

The fire stopped, but did not stop the momentum of PGF. Now Howard and his team are reinventing their new space. All that blond wood and rubber will be softened with textiles everywhere – think comfy rugs, curtains, fiber art on the walls, a nook with a hammock, stair steps. Commissioning has been slower than Howard would have liked, especially given global supply chain issues that have delayed deliveries of industrial equipment used by his team. She makes no firm promises, but hopes her team, which has remained with her during the six months of rebuilding, will be back to work in the new space by November.

It helps, Howard says, that the pandemic and ensuing problems have forced even the notoriously fast-paced fashion industry to pick up a pace and be patient with lead times and turnaround times. The new space is twice the size of the old one, which Howard says will give his staff the opportunity to develop their collective muscles on new projects, such as retail facilities, lighting construction , collaborations with interior designers and textile artists, and an increased emphasis on upholstery and soft wares.

“It’s been a little cathartic to reinvent the business and just try to be positive,” Howard said. “And how are we going to take advantage of this opportunity that has been given to us to start over? And how can we be better and how can we make it the version we always wanted? “

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