On the heels of author Elizabeth Cline’s visit to Portland, discussions of sustainable fashion have been buzzing around our design community. But Britt Howard and Rosemary Robinson have had their fingers on the pulse of eco-conscious fashion since they founded their independent manufacturing company, Portland Garment Factory, in 2008. These talented and ambitious ladies work with a wide range of clients, offering services like design consultation, pattern drafting and production (they can produce up to 5,000 pieces per style). They’ve built a strong business that operates completely in the United States, an impressive feat for the fashion industry, which is notorious for outsourcing labor to other countries.
With all that’s going on with PGF, you’d think there would be little time for anything else, but Britt and Rosemary have been working hard behind the scenes on their own line, HouseLine. You can find select HouseLine pieces at Yo Vintage! and Backtalk, as well as on their website. The girls were very hush-hush about some exciting upcoming news regarding HouseLine, so stay tuned for updates on that!
E+E: How did your business relationship come about?
Britt Howard: I was doing PGF alone, trying to figure out how to grow my business. I knew it needed to grow because there was demand that I couldn’t keep up with and I was operating in the most ridiculous space on the most ridiculous equipment. And then Rose came in as a customer, she had moved here from the Bay Area, and wanted to start a line of womens’ wear. We connected really well and she was like, “You need a business partner, you need help!” So we came together as partners when we didn’t really know each other and it ended up working out really well for us. I feel really lucky that our friendship is based in PGF; there’s really no history and that’s probably a good thing. We’re coming from different places, different friends, different upbringings, so it’s even double the potential for creative ideas.
E+E: How does Portland play a role in the sustainable fashion movement?
BH: Portland is definitely a place that can foster it more than others, but I still think there’s consumer confusion about why it’s more expensive. People aren’t willing to pay what it takes to get things made in the United States when Target is making something very similar for like $8. Portland has room to grow, but there needs to be more infrastructure in place to help it grow.
E+E: What do you think would help that growth?
BH: Having more access to parts and materials for one, and being able to source things at wholesale. In LA, there’s a zipper place that sells only zippers, but in Portland, a place like that wouldn’t survive, because there’s not as many people making their own garments here.
E+E: What are you most excited about for the future?
Rosemary Robinson: We always get super excited about our own line, HouseLine. The whole time we’ve been in business, we’ve perfected how we run PGF for other clients; we learn from mistakes, what works in production, how to design a garment that could be made with what we have here. Since we’ve learned all those things, we can apply what we know to HouseLine and be the manufacturer and the distributor and the designer and the supplier. I feel like we’re on our way to building a really awesome line.
E+E: What’s your favorite part about Portland?
RR: I love how everything is accessible by bike. My parents can’t wrap their heads around that, they’re like “What if you need to go somewhere far?” But everything is right here; you don’t really ever need to leave the city.
BH: You can drive to the coast or to the mountains or to the desert, it’s like the best of the entire country in one state. I think of Oregon having a good reputation for a lot of different things, and I align myself with those things, for the most part. I feel proud of being from Oregon, which is weird because I’m so rebellious, I don’t ever align myself with things that are not my idea. We just have so much. It’s everything you like—music, food, art, clothes, fun people, outdoors—galore.
Portland Garment Factory
408 SE 79th
Portland, OR 97215
Written by: Lauren Kodiak
Photo Credit: Reza/Helen