I am thrilled to have interviewed Sarah Bibb, owner and designer at Folly on NW 16th. Not only is Bibb one of the funniest and most personable business owners in Portland, she has a wealth of insight as a designer and retailer. Bibb is a looking glass for emerging designers who plan to make and manufacture products while operating a brick and mortar (which is the dream, right?). As I talked with her, I inwardly thought to myself that she could teach a class with her years of experience in the fashion industry, and it would probably be the most informative, beneficial crash course in sourcing, pricing, selling, and retailing apparel that one could take. I would sign up for Sarah Bibb 101.
Her production facility is a small, subterranean workspace packed full with industrial machines. She operates four primary types of machines with a broad range of textiles and styles. Her team is small, but they clearly have their production schedule at full throttle. In addition to supplying most of the clothing in her own shop, Bibb also wholesales her apparel and accessories in boutiques across the United States.
I interviewed Sarah Bibb to ask her about how her incredible shop and clothing company came to be, and what exciting things she has for the year ahead!
How and where did your career in fashion begin? How did you end up in Portland?
My career in fashion has been a circuitous one. I attended FIDM and Parsons but didn’t immediately pursue fashion full time. I have had my clothing line for over 10 years. I came to Portland with the intention of opening a store. I love design and manufacturing, but I really missed having contact with the consumer. It’s fascinating to hear about people’s lives and to understand their needs and expectations with clothing. I find it informative and it gives me a focus I never had before. I want people to be comfortable and stylish and showing them how to do that is so fun... nothing better than helping lead someone to a place where they feel good in their own skin and look great to the rest of the world! I am lucky to get so many hugs in my business.
Does your house line make up most of the clothing featured in your store?
The Sarah Bibb line is about 25-30% of Folly. With our own production facility it makes it much easier to keep a steady flow in stock. We opened the factory in February 2013, which made the last year one of big growth, including the addition of wholesale. Now Sarah Bibb is stocked in stores all across the U.S.
What is your design process like? What inspires you?
This is a great question and a hard one to answer... I am a visual person so I think everything that I see inspires me, and then my biggest job is to filter through it all. I love fabric and texture, so the materials play a big part in what we make... You know, "What does this want to be?" Sometimes it’s really clear, and sometimes the fabric has to sit around for a while before we know what to do with it. I love watching old movies and flipping through fine art books if I am in need of a dose of inspiration. Anything beautiful can lead to something else beautiful. I think I have more ideas than I will ever get to execute, so the ideas are not really the hard part... it’s more how to do it all in such a short time!
What about being in Portland impacts you as a clothing designer (and boutique owner)? Positive and negative.
Well, the obvious answer is the weather. That impacts us all so much! It’s a boring answer, but the weather is undeniably specific in this part of the country. The lifestyle of Portlanders is also a huge influence. I think people approach their clothing from a very practical place. This is not inherently a fun thing, so the challenge is to make it more exciting through detail, fabric choice, styling, and attitude. What is great about Portland is the level of support... I feel so blessed with the kindest customers! The relationships I have built over 5 ½ years in business have really changed my life. When someone comes in from out of town that has been coming here as a “first stop in Portland” for years, I seriously want to cry! That kind of loyalty is better than anything I could have imagined when I opened my shop.
Do you have any exciting events or collections coming up?
The Unmentionable 2014: A Lingerie Exposition is coming up in February and I am super excited about this show [Full disclosure: Cassie Ridgway is a producer of this event.]! I had so much fun attending last year, and felt so honored to be asked to participate. The lingerie aspect of my line is relatively new, and we are having a blast working on foundations of all kinds. I get giddy whenever I talk about my slips and things... it’s silly. But it’s kind of a big deal, because I wanted to make lingerie for years, and finally have the ability to get it done. Also, we are selling them in stores nationwide, and that just thrills me to the core.
Is there anything else you want us to know about Folly?
FOLLY is my heart. My blood, sweat, and tears, and if you haven’t been in I would like to invite you to come see me and check it out! We love to meet new people!
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!