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Hipsters gone wild

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Articles - June 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014

While Portland is a hotbed of design, development and marketing in the outdoor and apparel industry, one component of the process remains largely an overseas endeavor: manufacturing. In fact, all but about 2% of apparel sold in the U.S. is made overseas, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

0614outdoorDanielClancyHomeSchool1“All of our manufacturing is done overseas in China,” says Daniel Clancey, founder of Homeschool Snowboarding, which makes outerwear and underlayers for the snowboarding set. A former designer for Columbia, the tattooed Clancey — laid-back in conversation yet laser focused on the business — has built annual sales for his company to just under $1 million over the past five years. “We searched for a long time before launching for a manufacturer in Oregon, but the reality is that it’s just cost prohibitive for us.” 

Others, however, have been trying to make Made in the U.S.A. work for them. Rumors are swirling that Nike may be considering some manufacturing operations in Washington County, while Danner has always had at least some of its manufacturing done in the U.S. According to Taylor Towne, public relations coordinator for Danner’s parent company, LaCrosse Footwear, between 30% and 40% of the company’s products are made in the United States. That includes models from the Stumptown line made in collaboration with Beckel Canvas Products, a Portland company that’s been making tents for more than 50 years. 

“We definitely see the demand for that here and are bringing more and more into the Portland factory,” she says.

Tiegs, who makes limited-edition jackets, funded WILD’s most recent offering, the Burnside Alpha Jacket, through a successful $15,000 Crowd Supply effort that had customers pre-ordering jackets that will be ready to ship in August. For WILD, Tiegs had some of his initial products made overseas, but now they’re produced locally even though the finished product can cost double what it costs to make overseas — or more. He says Asian manufacturers weren’t that interested in small orders, and being close to his Newberg manufacturer gives him more control and direct involvement in the process. As with Danner’s boots, Tiegs says the made-in-Oregon aspect of his products has huge appeal in Japan and other international markets. 

“Everybody agreed that being made in Oregon was the biggest differentiator,” says Tiegs, who hopes to receive a test order from one Japanese distributor he met during the PDC trip. 

Now in her sixth year of business, Jennifer Ferguson has shifted the manufacturing for her sports-bra company, Handful, back to the U.S., as well. It was a move she made in 2013 to try and help support the local economy, but it’s been a bumpy transition. To help start the move, Handful staged a Crowd Supply campaign, which raised just over $50,000. The company found a manufacturer in Salem and, even though costs rose, tried to make price increases as small as possible and absorb some of the margins without impacting customers. 

Getting the quantity of products that Handful needed proved to be frustrating the first year of U.S. manufacturing, Ferguson says, but the company is adding another stateside manufacturer in Los Angeles this year, which she says should help smooth things out. It’s a new relationship that she was able to build through a third-party production company that’s tied closely to Portland’s apparel cluster.

“Living right in the backyard of all these companies means that there are all these amazing resources here that you might not have access to otherwise,” Ferguson says. 


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