Andrea Moore Beaulieu brought her fashion design business to Portland when her husband got a graphic design job at Nike. A sewer since the age six, she looked for little more than a place to sew when she arrived four years ago. She found it — as many a maker does — at ActivSpace, a red, metal building at Northwest 17th Avenue and Lovejoy St. In a year her 198 square foot studio was too small, so she knocked down a wall to double its size, brought on two people and used the attached retail space.
Commissions flowed in. She hit Portland's fashion scene, showing at Fashion Next and Design Week, and garnered media mentions from Portland Monthly to Harper's Bazaar.
What she calls her "elevated streetwear brand" MOORE then jumped across the river to the block kitty corner from the Laurelhurst Theater. She and her husband worked six weeks of evening to strip the tile and 1950's lino from the space that formerly held the vintage store Smut.
MOORE Custom Goods, to give its full name, consists of a twice-yearly fashion line, all made in-house and sold direct. There's a tailoring service for altering and rebuilding clothes. "If you spent $300 on a pair of jeans and you want the waistband to fit and them to taper right, we do that." They have a specialty in denim. Then there's custom work, promotional items for brand name clients and smaller work.
"People come and ask for something as an individual. We don't do suiting or typical bridal. We don't do beaded anything!" She's made a jumpsuit for a bride, and a for a fall wedding a marigold colored layered wrap dress. But nothing that screams marry me.
The store also carries a brand she and her husband came up with as a fun side project, Death Speed (screen-printed upcycled vintage) and her intern's brand Sleep Late. She gets the kind of custom work designers dream of. For example, last year she made 120 baseball-style jerseys for the Made in America concert series put on by Jay-Z and Budweiser.
MOORE staff did it all in house, except for the screen printing, which she outsourced to Oregon Screen Impressions.
It was a high-pressure job. The client wanted a custom type of rib knit trim. She tracked down a factory near Philadelphia that could do it, Yarrington Mills. "At the last minute they wanted it wider, . It was already sewn so we had to take it all off and make it wider," she says with a cheerful shrug.
Similarly, she made the uniforms for the Hip-Hop All-Star basketball game in Los Angeles in February, modelled by captains Snoop Dogg and 2 Chains. They came up with the graphic elements, partnered with creative firm Kamp Grizzly, and the MOORE team sewed around the clock to get the order out.
"They wanted them in five days," she says.
The showroom is also the production room, with her staff out on view as they work at sewing machines: Jukis, Union Specials and a single needle chain stitch Willcox and Gibbs. If they're chatty, they will talk to customers and work. The look is transparency — Made in Portland, with tender loving care.
Having lived in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, as well as in the south and New Hampshire growing up, she is happy with this city now.
"Portland is probably best in terms of being able to grow and find talent and make a name for myself in a relative short amount of time," she says with big fish, small pond confidence."
Sewers start at $13.50 an hour, rising with experience. There is overtime. Talent is all relative.
"It's very challenging. I will take someone who knows how to use an industrial sewing machine and has a strong eye for quality. I can teach someone to use a machine, but you can't teach people how to do something correctly and beautifully."
It's that difference between a well-executed seam and the sloppiness of fast fashion that fans respect.
Shop the runway
Moore likes to do other things differently too.
In May she paid $18,000 to stage her own fashion show. Tickets were $25 each. Around 200 people showed up. The North Warehouse just off North Greely Avenue was transformed for the evening. There was the expected three lines of chairs flanking the runway, the cool band (Talk Modern), inscrutable video projections and the air kissing moment at the end when she took her bow and greeted friends. But she also had a photo shoot set up to one side. This was her spring/summer collection. Instead of treating the show like an aha moment, a big reveal, the crowd got to see the clothes half an hour in advance, as they were photographed.
Moore likes to show the work when it's ready for the public, not six months before.
Anything worn by a model was laundered and in the store by the next week.
"I want to show the clothes are versatile," she told the Business Tribune. "This is a shop-the-runway show."
She also used more than just a token few plus-size models, and some trans people. Her palette is neutral with a splash of color, this season, red. The look was unisex: floral undershorts, red pleated capes, clear rain ponchos jaggedly cropped. She made the rain ponchos. When Rose City Textiles went out of business they sold off some machinery, including the one that welds seams in plastic. Moore tracked down who bought it and borrowed it.
"Most of my collection starts with fabrics rather than a design. I'm a textile driven designer." Her husband designed a print and they had it made in Los Angeles, in a soft, brushed cotton. She bought 20 yards of it.
Prices are modest. There are items for under $100. The company does not do big runs. The recent show consisted of 45 looks and 112 garments. Fabric collection began in October and production took three months.
Do like Mondays
In the store, Moore's usually on her own on Mondays. Recently she was doing some computer work as she listened to music. A customer came in for a fitting for half an hour. Some female tourists browsed, then some local schoolgirls. A middle-aged man came in for a ball cap he saw in the window. The landlord stopped by with an inspector. Moore is sanguine about her rent going up at an affordable rate, because her revenues are going up quicker.
Which brings her back to why she likes being based in Portland. When she lived in New York City she had a store in Park Slope for six months, on Union and Fifth. The rent started out at $2,000 a month. "By the end they were saying 'We need $10,000.' It hadn't been occupied in eight years prior to us using it. They just saw how popular the shop became."
In the spring she went back and did a pop-up store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for 30 days. It cost $15,000.
She looked into a space in SoHo in Manhattan which she describes as "like Saturday Market, except it's year-round and inside. But the setup was gross and was not professional." She says they were trying for a maker vibe but the people selling the items were mostly hired retail clerks, not the artisans themselves. "They were super small booths, and not great crafts. In doing research I learned a six feet by six feet space was $5,500 a month. Then there's Dover Street market, which is the most beautiful version of what you can do, but it's very expensive."
Portland then feels even more like home.
"Portland is the most doable place. In the last three years mid-sized metropolitan cities have been growing at tremendous rate. This is a place where can sell direct-to-consumer, and have a place where people can walk in."
She points out, "All this growth is causing rents to rise, causing buildings to be torn down, but also helping so many small businesses to grow. Some people are sad about their old Portland and where it's going. That's a difficult conversation to have when because of this growth you are a thriving business. I am also sensitive to gentrification and mom-and-pops who can't afford it any more. But the idea of being able to own your own business has never left me."
For her, the Portland economy is stable.
"My rent will increase, but not to something that isn't manageable. I feel very secure. Profits are growing at a more rapid rate than the costs of goods and wages."
Moore is responding to the way the modern shopper shops. For a fashion designer like her, direct sales are the best way to go.
No Sears, no Nordstrom Rack, no mall rat USA
"That model of wholesale is not the most sustainable way of doing business now. If you look at big department stores, they're not successful, it is the people that are working directly with the consumer, as opposed to that middle man..." She thinks store that sell just one brand have the edge over those that spread themselves thin.
So, she doesn't dream of being picked up by a department store?
"I have no desire for that. I think to have a retail location you have to be doing something different, you can't just go on the way things have been going because that's been proven not to be sustainable or successful."
It's all about the experience. You wear the story.
"By making all the clothes here and having that be the consumer interaction, that creates a story for the consumer and they're turning around telling other people. That becomes the word of mouth success."
Portland is for sharers
"I'm a big fan of sharing, which is not something that happens in the industry, sharing resources, sharing people. I think it's more prevalent in Portland than anywhere else. Normally it's really difficult to find resources or partner with people, but because I have a quite varied background in terms of retail, production and design, I love to be a resource for people asking 'How do I get into the industry? How do I print fabric?' I love doing that kind of stuff. The road can be so challenging and if the most difficult thing you come to is 'Where do I find the information to get started, that sucks. There's way more difficult things going to happen after that. If I can help someone get her feet off the ground, it's my pleasure to assist with that."
MOORE Custom Goods
Address: 7 SE 28th Ave, Portland, OR 97214
Hours: Open · Closes 5PM
Phone: (503) 806-4108
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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