It's clear that a salient aspect of the quality of life in Portland is the diverse offering of independently owned businesses we boast. It has been my honor to profile shops that are making a difference in our city by diversifying each district. The first shops on my list are the crème de la crème of lifestyle boutiques; those with independent owners who not only curate a beautiful selection of products, but also make and manufacture their own collections. Mabel and Zora is high on my list of favorite shops in Portland, and it's no surprise it has been voted Best Boutique in Portland in both The Oregonian and at The Portland Fashion & Style Awards. Owner/designer Tiffany Bean, is an influential business owner, and her boutique deserves every bit of success coming its way.
I got the chance to ask Tiffany about her shop, her clothing line, and the upcoming events on Mabel and Zora's calendar.
How long has Mabel and Zora been open?
Bean: We are just about to celebrate our 8 year anniversary on April 10th with a party from 6-8pm. We opened in 2006 on Alberta Street and then added the Pearl location 2 years later. The next year I decided to start my own clothing line and we had a baby, so we closed the Alberta location to have a little bit more time in our life to manage all the others!
How would you describe the aesthetic of your boutique?
I designed the boutique after Doris Day movies. The goal was that if you were in one of her movies, this would be the boutique you would go into. Our Alberta store had been designed after James Bond movies! I love old movies and wanted to have something a little different than other boutiques. I also love the color yellow, so that's all over the place, and it's a nice addition to Portland's often grey skies. I think our boutique is happy and bright, we get tons of compliments on it being a happy place to be, and we enjoy being in it!
You also have an in-house clothing line, can you tell us a little about that?
I started designing my own line in 2009. I went to the Art Institute for a while and then transferred to Portland Sewing and learned a ton from Sharon Blair! Tiffany Bean Designs are flattering, girly pieces that have a bit of 1960s influence in some of them. I tend to design one piece just for my customers—things they ask me for that are super flattering and easy to wear, and then my next piece will be something that I really like... more '60s style and funky. So they balance each other out. I get a lot of compliments from curvier girls that the line fits great and is very flattering on them... I guess this is because I'm a very curvy girl so this comes naturally to me!
How did you become a clothing designer?
I had always wanted to be a clothing designer, but never had the nerve to try. I went to school for theater and art and somehow ended up in merchandising and loved it. But I was that little girl who made all of her dolls' clothes and after owning my own boutique for a few years I finally gained the courage to try. I mistakenly thought it would be an extension of Mabel and Zora, but it isn't... it's a whole other business. It has been a slow process for me because Mabel and Zora takes up most of my time and then I have a now 3-year-old daughter that is the joy of my life and I want to spend every free minute with her, so the clothing design comes last but has amazingly been successful even so! I love it and still feel that I'm just starting to really get into it as I find more time to devote to it and make more intricate patterns.
Can you tell us about the next collection for Tiffany Bean Apparel?
The Spring and Summer styles are really fun... There are several new pieces that I'm really excited about, some cute-sexy dresses and some classic shift pieces that I always love. I think it's a good mix of wear-to-work styles and wear-to-someplace-super-fun styles with a couple date night dresses as well. I'm also working on Fall/Holiday 2014 right now and I think it's going to be very glamorous... and gold! As Austin Powers would say, "I LOVE Gold!"
What do you like about your location in the Pearl District?
I love everything about it: it's beautiful and convenient. I take the streetcar downtown or up to 23rd for fun sometimes, there's a ton of great restaurants in the Pearl and other wonderful boutiques that I enjoy shopping in. We love taking our daughter to Jamison Square Park in the summer, and can take turns running the shop or playing in the fountain with her. I feel so lucky that my work day includes a "fountain play time!"
What are you thoughts on the apparel industry in Portland? Are there any NW designers in particular you really admire?
I think Portland has amazing talent and I'm excited to see all the growth in the industry side of it of late. When I started it was near impossible to find someone who could sew for me, and now there are a few options, which is really encouraging. And the sharing of ideas and growing as a collective is exciting. The fashion industry is not one that is known for it's warm-fuzziness. It can be extremely cut throat and catty, but I have found a lot of the people coming up in Portland have a totally different mindset and are open to working together to grow as a whole, which is so much more fun! And now there are more resources becoming available here, I think it's awesome. I am a huge fan of the Nashionland gals... Clair Vintage, Hubris, and Carolyn Hart... they are awesome and continually produce fun pieces that look great on all women. I also love Moulagerie. We have very similar styles, and she's making some awesome things. And Sarah Bibb of Folly... Her styles are so effortlessly beautiful on, and totally wearable everyday, I love them all.
Do you have any exciting events or sales coming up?
We have our 8-year anniversary celebration on April 10th from 6-8pm at Mabel and Zora. We're having a trunk show with Grayling Jewelry's spring collection, a color workshop featuring Vanessa Van Edwards from the Science of People (she's amazing and has the coolest information on color I've ever heard), a sale, and champagne! We'd love to celebrate with everyone in Portland!
What else should we know about Mabel and Zora?
We keep getting better! We keep changing and trying new brands and refining our mix. We are excited to welcome Nanette Lepore and James Perse into the shop this year, they have the same aesthetic as some of our best selling lines but are a little more toned down than say Lilly Pulitzer or Trina Turk, so I think we will appeal to a broader audience. We love what we do and want to keep improving at it; it's a challenge to see how we can do what we do better, and then we think, "why didn't we think of that sooner!" It's amazing how many aspects there are to owning a retail store and designing a line... and just when you think you have it all figured out, you have an epiphany and everything changes.