This story was written by our high school intern, Akhil Kambhammettu. Akhil is a junior at Jesuit High School and beyond this story, will be acting as our student Built Oregon reporter over the next year.
Streetwear is hard to define.
Everyone has their own interpretation of what it means, but the one thing we do know is the streetwear industry is booming. With brands like Obey and Stussy growing into multi-million dollar companies within a few years, the door is open for smaller brands to be successful.
Portland is known for its alternative and dynamic culture, but what about its fashion scene? As a teenager, clothing and style is an indispensable part of my identity. From jogger chinos to the trending elongated tees, I’m always looking for new designs and styles to stand out. That is why I created Blue Market. Blue Market is not only an online marketplace for designers to upload their clothing lines for the public, but we also help designers who don’t have the resources and knowledge to create sophisticated designs and establish themselves as independent designers. There is a lot of hidden talent in the Portland area that just needs a little push to share their art with the public.
I got the chance to meet with a couple clothing designers and local retailers to get a sense of where the Portland fashion scene is headed.
Jae Fields’ One Man Show
First, I met with Wookie Fields, founder of Jae Fields, a local Portland streetwear brand. Working out of a small studio on NW 5th and Couch, Wookie is a one man show and handles everything, including sales, branding, marketing, patterning, and designing. “The idea behind Jae Fields is to bring quality and premium apparel with the right fabric for the right occasions”. His collection includes a wide variety of elongated tees, quality denim and joggers; all of which I have a weak spot for. But what sets him apart is the durable and stretchy fabric he uses in his t-shirts that contribute to his standard of “versatility and functionality”. Creating high quality yet wearable apparel at a reasonable price point allows Jae Fields to stand out in the streetwear industry.
When asked about the current Portland streetwear scene, Wookie says, “There isn’t one, and that’s what makes us so unique”. I asked Wookie what he likes about being in Portland, and he explains “everyone supports each other”. Connections are very important in the fashion industry, and in Portland there is a lot of support from both the public and fellow designers; however, there is no organized support structure for designers. This is apparent at Portland Fashion Week, one of the most popular fashion weeks in the U.S, where the connections and community are still going through some growing pains.
“It is really hard to get to know [the designers]. They make, present, and they’re done”. If Portland Fashion Week were to leverage their connections and popularity, a lot of local designers like Wookie would benefit. When asked about the future of the streetwear industry, Wookie simply says “Staying alive”. To elaborate, the streetwear industry is becoming saturated with more and more brands, some with potential, and some going nowhere. “It’s so easy to start a brand, but not many people have the knowledge to keep the company going (where the “staying alive” part comes in). It’s going to be more about the story you tell and who wears it. Not what you sell but how you sell it.” By the looks of it, Wookie has both under his belt.
Bridge & Burn keeps it simple
Next I met with Erik Prowell, founder of Bridge & Burn, a Portland based outerwear apparel brand with a focus on simplicity. Erik was born and raised in Bend, Oregon, so the northwest style can definitely be seen in his clothing. Erik started his clothing venture while creating graphic T-shirts, where he met a local manufacturer that opened the opportunity for him to start his brand, Bridge & Burn.
The inspiration behind Bridge & Burn was to create simple, clean, and timeless outerwear. From their wide collection of plaid shirts to their khaki windbreakers, Bridge & Burn combines a comfortable feel with an Oregon aesthetic. When asked about starting a brand in Portland, Erik explains, “[Portland] is the most supportive community. I mean everyone is willing to help each other.” Just as Wookie had mentioned, there is a lot of support from the design community and local boutiques.
With retail connections and support from brands he met during trade shows, Erik was easily able to get into many retailers, and transition smoothly into the market. Although there are many talented and supportive designers in Portland, Erik sees a lack of proper infrastructure for these designers to create and produce streetwear products, as he still struggles to find a reliable local manufacturer. The future of Portland apparel is really to create a solid foundation and support system for aspiring designers, so the Portland fashion scene can grow.
So what are the next steps for Bridge & Burn? “I’m just trying to build a really solid team… and slowly grow the company.” Bridge & Burn started out small with only five jackets for men and five for women, but has slowly expanded their line to include T-shirts and pants. With warmer weather becoming more common as well, Bridge & Burn has been expanding out of just raincoats and windbreakers.
Erik offers a little advice for young designers like myself: “At the end of the day you just really have to believe in yourself, and it’s not easy at all. You have to believe in your vision and hustle.”
After all this digging and research, one theme stays common throughout: The Portland fashion scene is growing. There are a lot of small shops and boutiques out there, but there is also a lot of hidden talent to be explored. The only way that talent can be unlocked is if they have enough support and resources. Established brands in the area need to engage up and coming designers, and the rest of us need to show our support for small brands by following them on social media, sharing with friends, and maybe even buying their clothing. As teens, fashion and style are part of who we are, but we also have the power and responsibility to create trends and support new ideas and clothing. If we stay on this path, Portland will be the future of the fashion industry and the place to be for creatives and designers from around the country.