Fade to Light: Portland’s Art-Forward Fashion Show Shocks and Soothes

Portland Mercury
April 11, 2019
by Wm. Steven Humphrey, editor-in-chief

Held twice yearly, Fade to Light is the fashion show for people who love fashion shows. Created and produced by former Mercury style writer Elizabeth Mollo, Fade to Light pushes the boundaries of standard runway shows by encouraging local designers to experiment and reveal the muses that inspire them. And the recent spring installment of Fade was just as exciting and thought-provoking as always. Portland Fashion Institute students showed remarkable maturity and fashion-forwardness with their intricate and innovative draping and fabric manipulation techniques. Other heavy hitters included Altar’s always excellent house line, Ale O’s asymmetrical minimalism, and strong, fantastical design chops from Ai PDX’s Ibet Lopez, Tyrone Spencer, and Bi Quang Pham. That said, the crowd went absolutely nuts for Holy Voids’ smartly tailored “Where the Wild Things Are meets Satan” fashion freak-outs, as well as COLTY, whose snappy, sharp line of leather handbags, backpacks, and body harnesses were revealed as scantily clad models tore themselves out of body-length stockings. It was scary, kind of disturbing, and entirely sexy—providing yet another shining example of how Fade to Light adds a jolt of creative electricity to Portland’s already fantastic fashion scene.

Portland Fashion Institute’s recent expansion holds good news for local apparel design

Sewing up the future

Stephanie Basalyga — Portland Tribune

Photos by Jonathan House

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Portland Fashion Institute’s recent expansion holds good news for local apparel design

When it came time to expand Portland Fashion Institute, founder Sharon Blair found the answer in her own backyard.

The school, which uses a former house on the corner of Northeast Tillamook Street and Northeast 43rd Avenue in Portland’s Hollywood District, recently purchased and renovated a neighboring house. Blair said the purchase was necessary to meet growing demand for the school’s classes and certification programs.

The ground-floor of the second location at 4225 N.E. Tillamook St. now contains a fabric store called PFI Supply that is open to the public. Rooms on the upper floor as well as basement space are for classes taught by a faculty that includes professionals from local apparel manufacturing companies.

Blair, whose resume includes a career as a fashion designer and apparel entreprenuer, says the Hollywood location is ideal for the school’s two buildings in large part because research indicates the area boasts a high number of people interested in sewing.

Offering sewing classes was Blair’s main focus in 2002 when she started a venture called Portland Sewing, which served an initial class of four students. By 2010, she had added classes in the business of apparel. In 2016, Portland Fashion Institute opened its doors as a licensed commerical school.

As the school’s class offerings increased, so did the school’s popularity, driven as much by reality television shows like Project Runway — 11 of Portland Fashion Institute’s student have competed in the show, with one selected as a winner in season eight — as by willingness of city residents to embrace a sustainability mindset that extends to their wardrobes.

Faced with a fast-growing enrollment and lack of room in the 2,800-square-foot original location, Blair began looking for a second building. After searching for nearly a year without success, she learned the house next to the school’s original building was for sale.

From designers to DIYers

The school saw a jump in enrollment starting in 2016, when a certificate program it created was approved by the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission. From a first-year class with 20 students, the school has expanded to three certificate programs — apparel design, apparel technical development and apparel entrepreneurship — serving a total of 57 students at any one time.

The school serves another 630 students each year who come seeking individual classes for personal or professional development. Part of the attraction, Blair said, is the fact that Portland Fashion Institute offers classes for a range of students, from designers looking to earn certification to people interested in one or two classes either for fun or for continuing education.

Portland Fashion Institute only uses teachers who work in the fashion industry. The main goal is to ensure that teachers are up to date in industry trends and practices, but that real-world connection comes with a bonus.

“It also turns out quite a few of them are hiring managers for their companies,” Blair said. “So, they’re able to spot the next talent.”

That pipeline to jobs at local companies has resulted in a 100 percent placement rate for students once they finish their certificate programs, Blair added. 

Building on basics 

The world of apparel design is becoming more high-tech, but Blair holds firm in her belief that a successful career in the industry still requires building a hands-on foundation. 

“You always have to know how things go together and we teach those basics,” she said. “Any garment has a certain set of operations, whether you’re doing it by machine or by human being. What we try to teach our people is (they’re) not necessarily going to be doing the sewing, but (they’d) better know how it goes together so (they) can specify that to the factory or the sample sewer or the production house who’s going to be putting that together.”

Students enrolled in the certificate programs also are required to take 36 credits of business courses. Blair has tapped local professionals to teach classes on topics that include branding, marketing strategy, building financial plans.

The school also partners with Mercy Corps Northwest’s Business Development Services along with its Small Women’s Business Center, which offers low-interest loans for entrepreneurs, especially women and minorities. About 80 percent of the students at Portland Fashion Institute are women, while 40 percent of the school’s students identify as minorities, Blair said.

Most students complete the certification program in two to two-and-a half years. The programs are broken into quarters, which align with those at local public schools.

“Most of our students have jobs, are married, have kids,” Blair said. “So, they’re trying to have a work-life balance and fit in schooling.”

Next steps

Blair is looking at possibly finding a third location in the near future. The school is “very close” to receiving accreditation, according to Blair, and she believes that will attract even more students. The status means Portland Fashion Institute will be included in Department of Education and career counseling lists available to students at high schools. It also will allow the school to accept to accept Oregon Savings Plan money and federal financial aid.

The institute has long had a commitment to helping students graduate with little to no debt, even using the hashtag “studentswithoutdebt” on social media. While the school will continue to offer plans that allow students to pay for classes as they go or break up payments through a quarter, Blair also plans on hiring a financial aid officer once the school receives the accreditation.

“If (students) really insist on borrowing … through financial aid, then we’ll have somebody to help them,” she said. “But we’ll find every avenue we can to make this education affordable to them so they graduate with a clean slate and not have a monkey of debt on their backs.”

Designing Ways

Portland Fashion Institute will serve up a double celebration on Wednesday, April 10, in honor of Portland Design Week and the school’s ninth anniversary.

The school will offer a series of demonstrations from 4 to 5 p.m. that will include patternmaking, machine knitting and fabric painting.

From 6 to 7 p.m., Michelle Lesniak, a self-taught Portland designer who won season 11 of Project Runway and moved on to become a cast member of Project Runway Allstars, will discuss what it takes to succeed in fashion design. 

The school also will offer tours of its new building, including a fabric store that’s open to the public, and a special exhibit of Barbie dolls featuring 100 outfits by some of the biggest names in fashion design.

Registration to attend the demonstrations is available online here.

How to get a job

How to get a job at Columbia Sportswear — or any of Portland’s major apparel companies.

We asked Adam Andreas, senior product developer at CS and instructor at PFI.  Here’s what he had to say.

Q. In your field of work, what education, skills, and training do you seek in the ideal candidate?

A. I seek someone with concrete skills in design and computer applications like Adobe Creative Suite who can demonstrate and show those skills. Ideally someone with a college degree and certificate, or certificate in apparel and demonstrating high level of skills and understanding of apparel construction and design. [Editor’s Note:  PFI offers these certificates.]

Q. Does your field of work genuinely hire full time?

A. Yes generally 90% of roles in design/development are full-time. Usually if temp there is opportunity to be hired on which happens quite often.

Q. Are there specific schools or training you recommend?

A. I recommend a training in apparel design or tech design. It is important that the person who has training has it specifically in apparel and not another design concentration such as industrial or interior design as the ideal candidate has knowledge in apparel construction.

Q. Does this job have any special requirements? (Ability to travel, shift work, special licenses, etc.)

A. Ability to travel is a must. Typically 1-2 international trips to vendors, some domestic travel at times. No other special requirements.

Q. Do you know other employers that hire for this or similar occupation?

A. Yes.  There are quite a few apparel companies [in the Portland area].

Q. What is your entry-level salary range?

A. $40-50K per year is typical entry level salary.

Q. Are there advancement and educational opportunities?

A. Yes. There is an online and onsite Learning and Development department with classes available to increase skills in every way possible. For advancement opportunities there are many. There are opportunities to move up in departments and there is also opportunity to move laterally between many different apparel focused departments such as design, development, materials, quality, merchandising, sourcing.  All areas are valid to move into with an apparel design background.

[Editor’s note:  Adam teaches Flats & Techs plus Concept & Development for PFI.  Look for all of these classes at PFI.  After all, “we are apparel people teaching apparel people.”  Flats by Erich Treeby, PFI graduate and tailor at Wildwood & Company.]

Lake Oswego teens win $2,000 Fashion Design Scholarships

Charlie Ryan and Dieter Vlasich just landed a future in fashion design.

Each won a scholarship contest and $2,000 worth of fashion design classes at Portland Fashion Institute, an apparel design and sewing school in northeast Portland.

As a result, each will build their skills and create a portfolio that could land entry into a prestige fashion design university.

“Normally, we choose only one winner each year,” said PFI director Sharon Blair.  “But both of these applicants were so strong, we had to choose both.”

Ryan chose a sportswear theme he calls “Spacesuit for the Streets”.  A varsity lacrosse player, he took advantage of a knee injury to design what he saw was missing from menswear:  An updated angle on the traditional t-shirt, hoodie, sweatpants that every teen wears. Bright orange and white with lots of zippered circular pockets, his outfit is not only functional, it is stylish.

“I aim to create high fashion for everyday use,” Ryan says.

Vlasich won based on his designs for an oversized angular suit he calls a “reaction to the toxicity of modern society.

“I wanted something fierce, aggressive and empowered.” His colors and silhouette reflect current trends and reminded PFI’s judges of high fashion designers Yves St Laurent and Comme des Garcons.

“I’m looking forward now to learning professional techniques at PFI,” Vlasich says.

Both taught themselves to pattern, fit and sew. Both are 17.

Vlasich plans to attend Central St. Martins in London. Ryan is interested in possibly attending Parsons or Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.  All three schools are internationally recognized colleges for fashion design. Their alumni include designers Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen and Stella McCartney.  Such schools require portfolios as part of a very competitive admissions process.

This is the eighth year for the annual contest. It is open to full-time students in Portland and Vancouver area high schools who have a GPA of 2.5 or more. Each contestant creates an original apparel design idea with sketches, interviews of influential people and an essay on fashion design.

Judges included directors and managers for Kroger, Columbia Sportswear and Nike.

More than 6,000 persons have studied at PFI since it opened in 2010.  While most students come to PFI for a class or two, those interested in a career have gone on to start their own clothing lines, to work for one of the area’s many apparel companies or to gain entry into one of the top schools in New York, London or Paris.

 

Color Trends for Spring/Summer 2019

So, what will be the new color palettes as we look forward to a new year in fashion? Pantone, the world authority on color, has its color trend predictions set for Spring/Summer 2019.

Featuring 12 colorful shades and four neutral tones, the report declares the mindset for Spring/Summer 2019 to “reflect our desire to face the future with empowering colors that provide confidence and spirit; colors that are uplifting; joyful hues that lend themselves to playful expression and take us down a path of creative and unexpected combinations,” according to Pantone.

Pantone describes the roundup of colors as choices that “transcend seasonality for both men’s and women’s fashion,” and, at a glance, that seems to be true. Hues like Jester Red, Terrarium Moss, and Toffee would be just as lovely and at home in autumn and winter, while Living Coral and Pink Peacock are as summery as they come.

Here is the full report:

It’s not a surprise to see colors like Sweet Lilac, which recalls the Millennial Pink craze, and Princess Blue, an electric take on the mainstay color that promises to dominate the year ahead.

Turmeric, Pink Peacock, and Aspen Gold are all bright, cheerful colors that will prove exciting additions to any warm-weather wardrobe, and the quartet of neutrals in this recent report are beautiful and breezy.

There are some similarities to the 2018 Spring/Summer report, but the choices here are a bit more saturated, where 2018 had more of a pastel look about it. The 2019 selection is decidedly bolder, brighter, and fun. It will be very interesting to see which colors turn out to be crowd favorites, but at first glance, it looks as though 2019 may be a year for orange.

Images courtesy of Pantone