As an artist and founder of Portland Garment Factory (PGF), Britt Howard has been a constant inspiration to all of us at Frances May. As she was installing her new work, Lifeline, for the Frances May windows display last month, we had a chance to learn more about the piece, her relationship to personal-style, and the exciting things on the horizon for her and PGF.
FM: Tell us about your inspiration for the installation you have in the France May windows this month.
BH: I belong to a business development group and every so often when we gather we do exercises. On a particular day we did an activity called Lifeline wherein we plotted the highs and lows of life from 0 to current age on a ‘very good’ to ‘very bad’ axis. After I did this, I was thinking about it and mulling over all these good and bad moments of my life. In my mind, I chopped off the lowest-lows and highest-highs and began assigning little pictures to them. This became a smattering of random shapes and objects in my mind and I built on the concept from there. My favorite two are the pink purse, which comes from a recurring dream I had as a kid of a giant pink purse I could get inside of, and the dog. I love the way the dog turned out—I thought it would be difficult to make but it only took one try. I just love the way it falls (and I love my dog Rory!). The silhouettes also remind me of Peter Pan’s mesh shadow in the 1954 version with Mary Martin as Peter Pan. I used to watch it over and over again growing up. Peter Pan keeps losing his shadow until Wendy sews it on him—I think there’s something deeper there about keeping our shadow selves close.
“ The silhouettes also remind me of Peter Pan’s mesh shadow in the 1954 version with Mary Martin as Peter Pan. I used to watch it over and over again growing up. Peter Pan keeps losing his shadow until Wendy sews it on him—I think there’s something deeper there about keeping our shadow selves close. ”
FM: PGF does so many different kinds of projects for so many different kinds of clients—how have you developed the capacity to meet the many different needs of an organization, and how do you personally maintain that kind of flexibility?
BH: I am a people person. I like getting on other people’s pages, feeling their passion and figuring a way to work.
FM: As a creative person who also balances a lot of different roles (artist, mother, business owner, board member, wife, etc..) how do clothes and dressing impact your lifestyle and sense of identity?
BH: I dress the part when I need to (from school conferences to night clubs) and all the other days I am unaware of what the world asks of me and I simply get dressed to my mood. Even if that means matching a tulle dress to a Tuesday.
FM: What is your relationship to your personal style?
BH: Very deep. When it’s off (as in when I’m not feeling my clothes, I cannot move forward and be myself), it’s not gonna fly. I want to wield my power through all my senses and costume is my 6th sense! This doesn’t mean I need to look “good” or “right”-it’s just that I need to match myself in a particular moment to how I am adorning myself. There is no formula, it’s just a feeling.
“ I need to match myself in a particular moment to how I am adorning myself. There is no formula, it’s just a feeling. ”
FM: What role does the Portland community play in your work? How has your connection to this community shaped the way you work and create?
BH: I have often felt ”very Portland” and at other times so disconnected as a part of the design and build community (it ebbs and flows). However, I think the community has never failed to embrace innovation and that has served and inspired me and the work I do at PGF. Support from Portlanders is quite overwhelming and so appreciated. I think Portlanders have shifted in certain ways in the last 15 years or so but the deep appreciation that many of us share for connection and an intimacy with how/why/what we make keeps us all inspiring to each other and doesn’t seem to be a fleeting thing.
FM: What kinds of projects are the most exciting to you right now? What are the exciting challenges that you are facing right now?
BH: I am so thrilled that PGF is soft launching PGF Blanks, a program of about 5 styles that can be ordered and are ready to ship within days. Everything comes blank and ready to add print. So that is pretty exciting! We have also been working on our zero waste initiative and have some exciting news surrounding the new life of our fabric scraps! Speaking of scraps, we loved making a limited run of scrunchies and evening bags from the remaining organza I used for Lifeline, available only at Frances May! In general, I am always excited to partner and collaborate on creative projects that keep PGF buzzing with life!
FM: In the spirit of the Lifeline exercise—What kinds of things would you like to be in your highs for 2019?
BH: Love this question! My son is graduating high school, I will set off on my 3rd 150 mile solo-hike, and my daughter & I will start a band called “Blood Harmony.”∎
View Britt Howard's piece at Frances May through mid-June.