I am holding a pair of cargo pants made from flexible orange nylon. Their surface is symmetrically festooned with several smartly constructed, triangular fanny-pack zipper-compartments, which look large enough to be useful, and small enough not to obstruct the wearer’s mobility. Nearby, the drapey sleeves of an oversized, mustard colored sweater, hanging from the end of a clothing rack reach lazily toward the floor.
The chest of the sweater is divided equally by two geometric patterns. On one side, a white triangle floats atop an ultramarine background. On the other, a thick doughnut of mustard colored fabric is framed by a white square. The sweater seems to transfer the minimalist perfection of a Piet Mondrian composition onto a three dimensional, wearable garment. If sweaters had personalities, this one would be simultaneously blasé and purposeful.
The clothes I am combing through were created by the inquiring minds of the designers at Everywhere Space, an avant garde fashion retail collective on East Burnside. The collective’s co-owners include Alexa Stark (@alexastark), Alec Marchant (@alec.marchant), Ryan Boyle (“Collect Call,” @collect_call_), and Rose Mackey (@thingsrosemakes). Everywhere Space is Stark’s brainchild, and occupies her former studio and retail space. Over the course of several visits to the shop, Stark and I discussed her inspiration for the space, the collective’s ambitions, and her views on the contemporary fashion market.
Everywhere Space, Stark tells me, is a “fun fashion playland, run by designers who want you to feel joy.” Producing “clothing that is affordable, approachable, playful and for everybody,” all the designers in the collective up-cycle, establishing new relationships between raw materials, clothing manufacturers, and consumers. Up-cycling (or reworking) entails deconstructing and reconstructing garments, or creating clothing from materials that would otherwise be scrapped, like “deadstock” fabric. Ryan Boyle (Collect Call), the designer of the orange cargo pants described above, often uses found materials excavated from waste bins and free boxes. Boyle explains: “Not only is new fabric unsustainable, it’s financially unattainable. Even if I could afford new materials, I rarely find anything that inspires me…I learn a lot from taking apart pre-existing clothing.”
Everywhere Space is the only clothing retail space of its kind in the Portland metro area. The designers in the collective each work one day a week, and it is only open four days a week in order to conserve production time. The co-owners receive 90% of revenue from their own design sales, while 10% goes towards rent, upkeep, and miscellaneous projects. In addition to the four owners’ clothing lines, Everywhere Space features clothing from designers around the world who sell and participate on a consignment basis: non-owners receive 70% of the revenue from the items they sell. This is a significant jump from typical designer-retail space agreements in which profits are split 50/50. The remaining 30% consignment revenue goes towards rent and maintaining the space.
Stark refuses to conform to many of the conventions of the fashion market, and her business practices are distinct from a lot of designers who sell short-term trends to young consumers with disposable wealth. She doesn’t produce seasonal collections, just one collection per year. She used to participate in trade shows, but now prefers to show her clothing alongside other brands that are also bucking business norms and aesthetic trends. “If you’re interested in doing fashion, you shouldn’t be doing what’s trending. I just don’t care about that shit anymore. I like making what I make” says Stark. “I want to make clothes that are durable, and I want to market them to people who are older. The mainstream standard of beauty that privileges young people isn’t really interesting to me, because that’s the norm in my industry, and I think it limits what I have to offer.” All the production for Stark’s clothing line is done here in Portland by Stark herself, and she primarily uses dead-stock fabric or reworks secondhand clothing, occasionally buying sustainable fabrics like hemp. “When I first started making these clothes,” she tells me, “people didn’t want to hear organic, sustainable clothing, because they immediately thought: hippy clothes.” Today, the same language has become compelling to “woke” consumers who want to celebrate their virtuosity by substituting their fast-fashion wardrobes for vintage, “sustainable,” and up-cycled garments.
Since 2012, Stark’s idiosyncratic designs have been generating a buzz in the slow fashion scene in Portland and beyond. In the past few years, her experimental clothing has started percolating into other provinces of pop culture, even though, she says, “trying to stay in the scene is not worth it for me personally.” In 2019, Stark produced a line of airbrushed weed socks in collaboration with Broccoli Magazine. What’s more, the cover of JPEGMafia’s third studio album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs (released in September, 2019, to much critical acclaim), features a photo of the experimental rapper (taken by none other than Everywhere Space’s Alec Marchant) sporting an open, flowing gown and balloon-pants designed by Stark. In the image, JPEGMafia (AKA Devon Hendryx, or “Peggy”) sits with his legs folded underneath him on the shag-carpeted floor of an A-frame, nestled in the folds of a gown composed of three consecutive layers of gold, silver, and lavender silk. Silk manufacturers typically boil thousands of silkworms to produce a single pound of silk, but Stark sourced the materials from a manufacturer that harvests silk from the evacuated shells of silkworm cocoons. The layers of color and material in this outfit are suitable for a critically acclaimed artist like JPEGMafia, who experiments with a wide array of vocal techniques and textures, from harsh, distorted screams to meticulously crafted bars that eviscerate long-standing social stereotypes related to age, race, gender and sexuality: “Feel like I’m shooting, I’m shiftin’ time/ Dressed in your grandmama’s hand-me-downs” (JPEGMafia, “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot”).
The merchandise at Everywhere Space weds practical necessity to the unique aesthetic value of a work of art. The designers exemplify a form of creativity that is simultaneously playful and serious, and challenges our inherited, conventional expectations about the basic garments in our wardrobes, asking: “How many ways are there to make a shirt?” Or, “At what point does a pair of pants stop being a pair of pants?” Everywhere Space hopes to provide a platform for other independent artists and designers in the community to gain traction. “There are a lot of people who go to fashion school, but not everyone becomes a designer because of student debt,” explains Stark. Ryan Boyle adds: “I want people to have access to creativity unhindered by marketability. As more artists turn towards wearables and functional goods to communicate, there should environments that support fresh ideas.”
Everywhere Space’s interior design also challenges consumers’ expectations about a traditional shopping experience. In the shop window, a security camera hooked up to a television monitor faces the street outside, so rather than the retailer monitoring the consumer’s behavior, passersby are invited to scrutinize their own conduct and appearance. When I spoke with Stark, there was an art installation created by Ryan Boyle highlighting Collect Call’s bucket hats in the store. PVC pipes criss-crossed the ceiling, and heavy strings were threaded through the length of each pipe. Attached with a clothespin to the end of each string were fashionable bucket hats made from different materials, from up-cycled floral print tablecloths to parking-meter-green plastics. If you pulled down on one hat, another would ascend toward the ceiling. Everywhere Space has started to feature non-wearables as well, including tubular, amorphous pillows designed and produced by Moe Noza (@moenoza), as well as distinctive pieces of jewelry, ceramics, and furniture.
Slow fashion movements have been picking up speed in many major metropolitan centers, and Portland has long been associated with vintage shopping, fiber arts, and environmentally well-meaning consumers. Adidas recently rolled out a campaign advertising products made from %100 recycled ocean plastics. The company claims that their efforts have significantly reduced their production of new synthetic materials, and therefore, their overall carbon footprint and consumption of valuable resources, including water. Echoing Ryan Boyle, Alec Marchant remarked in an email that found materials are financially “imperative” to their clothing line’s existence, but that they hope to eventually invest money, time, and design thinking in new sustainable materials. Marchant’s take: “Innovation will keep us moving forward once we’ve recycled everything we can.” Like sustainability, accessibility has become a buzzword in Portland’s creative community and the national discourse surrounding fine art, fashion and music. What exactly do we refer to when we talk about accessibility? Does increasing accessibility mean something like minimizing the number of barriers that stand between all members of the public and the multifaceted manifestations of creativity available to them?
Stark explains: “My clothing line is a one-person operation, so I can only do so much. Right now, I can’t afford to donate money to organizations, but sometimes I can let my work do it for me.” For example, Stark donates 100% of the profits from her Never Mind What’s Been Selling shirts and sweatshirts to Planned Parenthood. One strategy Stark has found for increasing avant garde fashion’s accessibility and sustainability is to offer clothing manufacturing and re-workshops to the public. “I can try to give back by sharing the skills that I’ve learned as a sustainable designer, and by running donation programs out of my retail spaces. Even if I can’t be 100% sustainable in my collection, I can teach other people how to repair and rework clothing to fit their needs.”
Stark recently concluded a two-day “re-workshop” for adults at the Portland Garment Factory. She will be leading the same workshop for teenagers on March 15th and 16th, and will offer the workshop for adults again on May 9th and 16th. Registration costs $350 for adults, and $300 for teens, but the payoff is substantial. All of the participants in Stark’s workshops have left with at least one wearable garment they made themselves, and the skills to produce more from recycled materials. “Simply being open and actively posting on Instagram about what we do is inspiring to others; it shows people what’s possible” says Stark.
In the Spring, she and the other co-owners of Everywhere Space will start offering workshops at the shop on Burnside in ceramics and fashion illustration, and lectures explaining tactics for negotiating for better pay as a creative professional. Stark has taught at local schools in the past, and Rose Mackey intends to produce a film next year starring adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in collaboration with the organization Island Time Activities. Mackey hopes the designers at Everywhere Space will produce the costumes for the film.
It seems that more often than not, efforts to increase accessibility in fine art and fashion are misguided, fall short, or plainly miss the mark. Works of fine art are by and large singular objects owned by discrete individuals. The fashion industry, on the other hand, peddles in reproducible objects which vary in size to fit the needs of as many consumers as possible. At first glance, clothing seems inherently more accessible and democratic than fine art. Washing, clothing, feeding, and sheltering the body––these are basic necessities for living. Purchasing a piece of fine art and having the space to display or store it is a luxury few can afford. Consequently, we often rely on public institutions like museums or plutocratic private collectors to house highly valued works of art, and for some reason, admission costs to museums in the U.S. remain high.
Everywhere Spaces’ designers would like to extend a standing invitation to everyone to browse, shop, and try out new looks, but do their price-tags pose a significant barrier to those interested in adding these clothes to their wardrobe? To what extent, one feels obliged to ask, are these eclectic garments really “for everybody?” Stark, for her part, offers two price tiers: one that includes her signature airbrushed T-shirts and socks for $20-50, and another which includes her limited edition garments, which range in price from $100 to $1000. Ironically, by comparison to some designer fashion moguls, $100 to $1000 for a one-off garment from a designer label isn’t such a high price to pay. Especially considering that all of the designers at Everywhere Space do all of the labor themselves, from sourcing materials, to developing patterns, to stitching and detailing.
Although designer clothing and art are often thought of as two separate modes of production, fashion as art, and the extravagant value placed on clothing, were hot-button topics in 2019. Last year, Sterling Ruby became the first major visual artist to produce a fashion line. Renowned for his massive paintings, collages, and multimedia sculptures (which often sell for millions of dollars), Ruby has been lauded for his entrepreneurial instincts and his ability to renegotiate the traditional 50/50 split model that exists between galleries and artists in his own favor. Among some, he has earned a reputation as “a careerist gallery-hopper, without loyalty” (Christina Binkley, The New Yorker).
The financial barrier that Sterling Ruby’s clothing line poses to consumers is significantly higher than that of any of the designer’s at Everywhere Space. Ironies and incongruities abound in Ruby’s story. His central concern in launching his fashion line was to produce “affordable” clothing, without incidentally depressing the value of his artworks. He wanted to “democratize” his artwork and brand by producing a clothing line available to a wider group of consumers. The most expensive, one-of-a-kind items in Ruby’s collection sold out fastest, whereas “the cheaper T-shirts and sweatshirts… went largely unsold” (Christina Binkley, The New Yorker). (Cheaper, by the way, still means $500+ for a T-shirt.) Ruby casted models for his debut show who looked like they “haven’t had it easy,” to market workwear to a demographic that has, at least financially, probably had it very easy (Christina Binkley, The New Yorker). He ended up selling his clothing for hundreds or even thousands of dollars to protect the value of his artworks, subsequently reinforcing the preexisting hierarchy of creative pursuits: fashion, according to his logic, remained less valuable than fine art.
In his dilettantish venture into fashion design, Ruby’s mission was not to “fix the fashion industry,” but to “reset the rules of what it means to be an artist” (Christina Binkley, The New Yorker). The designers at Everywhere Space would much prefer the former to the latter. The philosophy guiding their decision-making as a collective was informed by their frustration with the 50/50 consignment shop business model, which still remains the norm in designer fashion retail today. Everywhere Space’s co-owners want designers and producers to receive as much revenue from their sales as possible, while also challenging consumer habits, scrutinizing hot-button topics like “sustainability” and “accessibility,” and empowering others to create their own clothing from recycled materials. “Watching, listening to, and interacting with people experiencing my work first hand has been invaluable,” Alec Marchant tells me. Ultimately, the collective’s ambition is to nurture a space and a community where innovation, dialogue, and education come first, and “marketability” comes second––a goal worth striving for everywhere.