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Hipsters gone wild

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Articles - June 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014

With so many companies, so much experience and such varied talent concentrated in a single region, resources do indeed abound. 

0614outdoorPSUOutdoorIndustryClass2But there are challenges as well. One of Clancey’s immediate concerns is the paucity of local investors interested in supporting smaller apparel companies like Homeschool. Not that there aren’t investors — they’re just not in Portland. He says some of the reluctance may stem from clothing companies that have stumbled big in the past, but investing in an apparel company versus, say, a tech startup also requires a much bigger investment and incubation period. 

“It takes a lot more initial capital and a longer period of time to see success,” says Sucheta Bal, PDC’s business development coordinator for the athletic and outdoor industry. “Some investors look more at the tech model and think that that’s where they want to go with their money.” 

Despite the area’s reputation for a deep pool of creative and experienced talent, Bal says many companies in the apparel space still seem to recruit people from outside the region. Icebreaker, for example, brought seasoned outdoor industry and PR veteran Shana Frahm up from California to head up its global PR operations. Rose notes, too, that the Bay Area is still a bigger draw for technology — Nike, which recently nixed the hardware side of its FuelBand fitness tracker, opened its Nike+ Fuel Lab there, not in Portland, in April — and the East Coast is much more attractive when it comes to the latest in fabric-mill technology. 

“We continue to look at ways to support the cluster in training and development in any way possible,” says Paul Swangard, managing director for the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, which is one of the ways Oregon goes about growing its own talent. At UO, that means continuing to offer the sports-focused MBA while adding new programs and offering industry-focused workshops in Portland. One such workshop in early May brought together industry professionals to learn about creative storytelling for sports-product marketing. 

0614outdoorPSUOutdoorIndustryClass1Portland State University has also expanded its footprint in the athletic and outdoor space in recent years, adding an undergraduate certificate program in marketing, retailing, distribution and sales, and a noncredit certificate for students interested in product planning, sourcing and merchandising. Lauren Beitelspacher, director of the school’s athletic and outdoor industry program, says programs often include presentations from professionals who work for big-name apparel companies in the metro region. There are also efforts to increase the number of women and minorities who enter the field, including a newly launched affiliate chapter of the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition and a partnership with Pensole Footwear Design Academy, set to kick off in 2015, that will introduce students from historically black colleges to careers in footwear design.

“There aren’t as many women and minorities in the field, but that’s changing,” Beitelspacher says. “I mean, women are among the fastest-growing demographic for many of these retailers and products, so it’d be great to employ them.” 

The sector is likely to diversify as it evolves — and as Portland itself becomes more diverse. And as companies that manufacture locally find success, others may follow. Hip, youthful, with forays into diversity and local manufacturing: If that description sounds familiar, it’s because the evolution of Portland’s outdoor apparel cluster looks a whole lot like the evolution of Portland.


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