PORTLAND For Lexy Funk, opening the only West Coast chapter of her clothing company, Brooklyn Industries, in Portland was a no-brainer.
The longtime Brooklynite founded the company with her artist husband, Vahap Avsar, in 2001 in Williamsburg and made hipster staples like the bike messenger bag and graffiti T-shirts into fashion for the masses. “We could have more easily opened a store on the Upper West Side, but Portland really resonated with us,” says Funk about launching their 11th location at the corner of Northwest 23rd Ave. and Johnson St. last February. “A lot of the creativity we see in Brooklyn we also see in Portland. There is a natural synergy.”
This synergy has long been palpable for the aesthetic similarities between the cities (think bikes, skinny-jeaned artists and industrial backdrops) and has established a sister-city immigration pattern of sorts among Portlanders with big-city dreams and Brooklynites weary of paying $1,800 per month in rent. Or in the case of Project Runway winner Leanne Marshall, relocating from southeast Portland to Brooklyn last winter to launch her fashion career, instead of to Manhattan: “It just felt right. It felt like home.”
Businesses are catching on, say entrepreneurs like Funk, because there is a sense in both cities that inspiration and financial reward are not mutually exclusive. Matt Lounsbury, head of operations for Portland’s hometown java empire, Stumptown Coffee, says this word — inspiration — comes up often in his dealings with clients in Brooklyn, where the company recently opened a roasting plant in the sparse industrial neighborhood of Red Hook, and where a dozen or so local restaurants and retailers are serving and selling Stumptown’s coveted fair-trade brews.
“Manhattan is the big city; Brooklyn has that neat indie feel that we’re all about,” says Lounsbury. “People in Brooklyn ‘get’ Portland. There is definitely a mutual admiration.”
Funk says the Brooklyn Industries store in northwest Portland is already faring better than their only other store outside of New York City, located in Chicago, which opened more than a year ago. Sales associate Korina Emmerich says she’s meeting a lot of longtime B.I. devotees and also a lot of newbies. “People are a little confused when they see us. They’re like, ‘What is a Brooklyn store doing here?’” she says. “They’re totally interested, and also a little weirded out, too.”
In a city like Portland, that’s never a bad thing.