Southwest Washington’s growing fashion industry

Agave Denim

Jeff Shafer founded Agave Denim in Santa Monica, California, in 2002. Just four years later he moved to Vancouver, and he’s now been in Ridgefield since 2009. While his premium men’s and women’s denim and sportswear is still manufactured in Los Angeles, his headquarters for distribution and design is right here in Clark County. Agave jeans are sold “primarily in specialty and some designer stores,” said Shafer.

His products sell throughout the US, in Canada, and in some European countries – meaning that most of his business doesn’t come from a local crowd. But through his active distribution network, he is able to sell nationwide and internationally while still working here and employing local people to run this arm of the business.

In 2013, Shafer started Bluer Denim using Kickstarter to build recognition and provide a portion of the funding.

“We’re hitting a lot of firsts with it,” said Shafer. “We’re the first denim company that lives only and entirely on the web – there’s no brick-and-mortar component, and we only sell directly to consumers. We’re also 100 percent made in the U.S.A., with transparently-sourced cotton grown in the U.S., the jeans are cut, sewn and washed in the U.S., and because we sell direct, we’re able to sell them for about 40 percent less than we’d have to sell them in a retail environment.”

Bluer has only been up and running for a few months, and Shafer said they are not promoting it heavily yet because they are trying to work out the kinks and fine-tune the business model before a broad promotional push.

“That said,” Shafer said, “The numbers are beating our projections. If it was a brick-and-mortar store, we’d be thrilled. We’re happy, and so are our customers.”

Unlike Agave, another local company, Fleur + Dot, is a children’s apparel company that makes all of their clothes here in Clark County, out of a small shop in Vancouver.

Owner/Designer Brianne Wallace emphasizes that small-scale quantity, made to order, is a feature of her business that allows her to be sited here with minimal difficulty. The company opened in January of 2012.

“As we grow,” she said, “we are beginning to look at other production options and finding that there are great avenues of help for creative businesses here in Vancouver and the greater Portland area. We are hoping to move some production work out of our studio soon, but expect to be able to keep all aspects very local.”

To date, Fleur + Dot has sold directly to clients through their website, and also distributes to boutiques worldwide. The company recently moved into a new studio in downtown Vancouver.

“We will be opening this spring [in what will be] our first retail location, alongside a children’s garden [and] an art and event center in the attached courtyard to help local families and children interact with nature and the arts,” added Wallace.

As Southwest Washington’s fashion scene develops, it seems only natural that a fashion show would develop alongside it. Alisa Tetreault and Brett Allred created Couve Couture in 2012, and the event has quickly become an important showcase for Southwest Washington designers. Tetreault owns Most Everything Vintage in downtown Vancouver, and Allred owns Beige Blond hair salon. Their collaboration has exploded in the short time it has been in existence. Their upcoming showcase on April 12 at the Red Lion at the Quay will feature 10 designers from Clark County. The show features big names like Seth Aaron Henderson, Vancouver’s own two-time winner of Project Runway, new designers who are completely self-taught, others who graduated from fashion institutes, and many others in between.

“You can’t separate the work that’s being done here from what’s in Portland,” said Allred.

“We’re a part of the Portland area, and it’s a good place to be because it’s small enough that you can stand out and get recognized, but large enough that it’s on the map and people take notice. It’s exciting to provide opportunities for newer designers to show in an environment like they’d get in a bigger city. It’s a big show in a small town.”

“It can be a challenge,” said Tetreault, “being a designer and then trying to find an avenue to sell the designs.” This is where Couve Couture comes in,” she continued. “Brett and I started this show to give local, Southwest Washington designers a platform to showcase their talent. Couve Couture is truly a visual celebration of the extraordinary talent from this area.”

The next step in growing the local fashion industry, said Henderson, is to support efforts to build infrastructure – not just in Southwest Washington, but across the whole region. One area where we already have an advantage, he added, is in the number of talented designers that call this place home.

“There’s definitely a sense of community,” said the Project Runway winner. “I spend a lot of time in Seattle and I don’t get that sense… The whole community here supports one another to the best of their ability. That’s what it’s all about.”

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