We wrote recently on this blog about the Athletic and Outdoor Young Professionals of Portland, a local networking group for people working in the the athletic footwear and apparel industry in Portland. Besides introducing that specific networking group, the message was that Portland offers many opportunities to get involved with a very close-knit community of footwear and apparel companies in the area. While there are plenty of well known companies here like Nike, adidas, and Columbia Sportswear, to name but three, we thought it would be good to highlight some of the smaller but equally innovative companies that are active in and around Portland.
Two of those companies, RYZ and Source Material, offer interesting glimpses into other facets of the local industry. RYZ is a footwear brand that caters to those who want the comfort of a running shoe but that is stylish enough that it could be worn to the office or other dressier occasions. Source Material is a company that represents Asian-based footwear materials manufacturers in the US, and works with footwear brands to meet their demands for style and quality.
Both companies agreed to provide some background information on their place in the industry and Portland’s importance as a geographic center of the footwear industry, as well as some insights for students on how to get started in the industry yourself. Be sure to check out their websites and Facebook pages for more information!
RYZ has viewed Portland as the only logical base for our business from the beginning. In addition to being home to some of the true giants in the industry, the Portland fashion market is considerably more forward-thinking than many other cities in the U.S. What really makes Portland the ideal place for RYZ is that we are a company by runners, for runners. Portland, as well as the rest of Oregon, is one of the running meccas of this country. A recent poll by Men’s Fitness ranks Portland as the fittest city in America. Runner’s World magazine found that in 2012 Portland had the 9th most marathon finishers per capita. What this tells us is that Portland is the place to be for making direct contact with runners and getting them behind our product.
While the industry may seem huge on the surface, in reality it is a relatively small world where most players know each other, at least by name if not in person. Particularly in as interesting and vibrant an environment as Portland, there are other local companies doing lots of interesting things that serve as both inspiration and points of collaboration for RYZ. Grassroots marketing is something that we are always looking to partner up with local brands on. Keeping abreast of the best practices and changes in the sourcing sector is something else that we collaborate with other local companies on. If we find a truly great supplier that has capacity to spare then we are happy to do what we can to introduce them to other local businesses. As the industry as a whole grows, so can we.
What we really look to do is partner with local retailers who sponsor their own races and running events. At these events we love to have other footwear and apparel brands present because we are confident in the uniqueness of our product and feel that more companies brings more attention. Our goal at RYZ is to have every runner in Portland aware of us and to have had at least one instance of direct contact with RYZ. We aim to be intimately associated with the running community in Portland and believe that this commitment to knowing our core customer is one of our key competitive advantages.
RYZ pacesetters at the recent Pints to Pasta race in Portland.
Source Material is based in Portland but represents footwear materials companies in Taiwan and China. Their products include genuine and synthetic leather, as well as textiles. The company occupies an interesting space in the industry, working as a sort of intermediary to provide materials options to footwear brands, while also communicating needs and requirements to the materials producers in Asia.
Portland is a hub for footwear and apparel. Other locations regarded as hubs for apparel and footwear would be Boston, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles/San Francisco. In my opinion, Portland’s attitude makes it the most unique. The mindset of someone living in Portland embodies an attitude of willingness to try new things, and to look for the positives when faced with difficult business scenarios and technical needs in products. The bottom line however is that some of the best human resources are located in Portland. With unemployment so high for several years, the competition was stiff to get jobs in the industry and this has only furthered the talent located in Portland.
The concentration of footwear materials suppliers certainly helps to keep them on their toes to innovate, but a larger challenge is communicating the technical side of the innovations across cultures. Because so many of the suppliers are Asian, the ability to innovate is only stifled by the need for more cultural bridges to be created. Historically, Japan and Korea led the charge with manufacturing (particularly in footwear), but once China’s doors opened, they were forced to invest in factories in Dongguan or Jinjiang. Both of these cities have led the march for China footwear, but like any manufacturing the suppliers had to follow. This trend has continued in Vietnam and Indonesia as China’s labor prices increase. Developing new materials is a matter of getting brands the right materials (thousands of options), at the right time (2 season annual calendar-different for every brand), for the right price (commodity prices change, natural disasters, competition, etc.). This is easier said than done when so many factors are changing so quickly.
Source Material strives to build cultural bridges, add value to the developers and designers we assist, and contribute meaningful dialogue with everyone we interact with in the industry.
For students interested in getting into this industry, I would encourage you to meet as many people as you can, never stop learning, and provide solutions or ideas for solutions whenever possible. There are many things all around us that could be done better and if you can find the ways to express how you would do that, people will listen and you will build a tribe of people that will believe in you. The international business solutions can be the hardest to see, but can be the most rewarding.
Once again, if you are a student looking to get into the footwear and apparel industry, Portland and PSU offer opportunities that are hard to beat. Looking for opportunities at big, established companies can be great, but there are also plenty of smaller companies that are doing some exciting things and have plenty of opportunities for growth, and RYZ and Source Material are both great examples!
Josh is a full-time student in the Master of International Management program. After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in Japanese, he taught English in Tokyo for 3 years, before moving to China and teaching at a university in the city of Zhengzhou. Inspired by his experiences in Japan and China, he was drawn to the MIM program because of its regional focus on Asia, as well as for Portland State University’s reputation as a leader in the field of sustainable business. He is studying Chinese in the MIM program, but tries to keep up his Japanese whenever he can.