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Portland Garment Factory Breaks New Ground After Fire

Half a year after its decade-old factory went up in flames, the victim of arson, a garment manufacturer in Oregon is plotting its return as a testament to resilience amid adversity.

Portland Garment Factory revealed Wednesday that it will be opening a new location 20 blocks away from its old address at SE 97th Ave. in southeast Portland. The move expands its footprint from 5,000 to 10,000 square feet, allowing it to tackle bigger and more complex projects with revamped capabilities and brand new machinery, albeit with the same zero-waste ethos it’s known for, the company said.

The certified B Corp, which has worked with brands such as Adidas, Levi Strauss & Co., New Balance and Nike, said it will continue to bring its expertise and “artist’s perspective” to improve an industry that still struggles to become more sustainable. It’s “butterflying,” said founder and owner Britt Howard, “embracing new shapes both physical and conceptual.”

Portland Garment Factory
The new location is at 311 SE 97th Ave. in Portland. Courtesy

“I couldn’t have done this without the support of our incredible community, who helped make our most challenging year into our most exciting,” Howard said in a statement. “As we reopen our doors, our team is reinvigorated by the possibilities that the new factory brings. We’re ready to take on our wildest projects yet.”

The Covid-19 pandemic had already forced a shift in Portland Garment Factory, which pivoted to making personal protective equipment after half of its orders were canceled or suspended last spring. It ended up stitching nearly 100,000 masks, thousands of which were distributed to underserved communities. But tragedy struck a crueler blow in the early hours of April 19 when a fire ripped through the facility, requiring 70 firefighters, along with 25 fire engines, ladder trucks and command SUVs, to extinguish the blaze. Andrea Renee Cadle, who was spotted by a witness emerging from a nearby alley as flames began to shoot from the building, is facing charges of second-degree arson and reckless burning.

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Writing on Instagram at the time, Portland Garment Factory confirmed that its “beloved factory and hub of creativity was completely destroyed,” leaving it “completely devastated.” The company had just been awarded the Climate Neutral Certified seal and was about to trumpet its achievement of removing 15.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide through various biodiversity initiatives. It had planned to slash future emissions by purchasing 100 percent renewable energy for its factory and advising customers to use more sustainable materials.

Instead of succumbing to grief, Howard said she decided to “breathe new life” into the enterprise, finding inspiration in the concept of the chrysalis. Friends of the factory posted a GoFundMe, raising more than $125,000 from 1,200-plus donors to rebuild. “Portland, you put the P in PGF,” Portland Garment Factory wrote in a recent Instagram post with a drawing of a butterfly. “Can’t wait to share PGF 2.0 with you!”