BY MAURICE MERRELL
Angela Medlin has more than 25 years of experience as a designer for brands Portland knows well, like Jordan and Adidas, and other global apparel companies like the North Face, Levi Strauss and Eddie Bauer, to name a few.
After an impactful career behind the designs, she felt it was time to look toward leading the industry's next wave of apparel creatives. As the founder and director of Functional Apparel and Accessories Studio at Pensole Academy, Medlin is blending her insights and passion with real-life training and trials to prepare her students for life as designers.
WW spoke with Medlin about how FAAS (pronounced "phase") is shaping the future for young apparel designers and her other, untraditional design projects.
WW: After working with Adidas and Jordan, you've dabbled with Portland along your journey. What got you to stay here this time?
Angela Medlin: This is my third time around in Portland, and every time I've left, I thought I was done. But the thing that's making me stay is my entrepreneurship with FAAS. I also have a second business called House Dogge that's an apparel line for pets that's taking off, and I think there's a lot of opportunity for people of color here because it hasn't been tapped yet.
FAAS has changed my life. It's been very gratifying. I talked to [D'Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Academy] a year ago, and we started comparing experiences and realized we had such similar stories. He told me starting Pensole was gratifying to be able to affect the lives of aspiring designers in a positive way. That's where it all started.
It sounds like a truly pivotal conversation. Can you tell us more about how it led to the start of FAAS?
One day last year, we grabbed lunch and talked about what we thought could be improved [in the industry], creating more diversity and giving the next generation the tools before they get on the job. We want to nurture the next generation so they're well-prepared and give a reality check to people who have a fantasy about what the industry is like by working with them more like directors than instructors.
So helping aspiring designers was your main inspiration behind founding FAAS?
When athletic-apparel designers get to their respective companies, the products they create either enhance or protect athletes. It gives them their superpowers. No one teaches those attributes in regular programs, and that's what sets us apart from other programs. Our students learn to understand that innovation, sustainability, color—it all serves a purpose in helping the body function better. We instruct anyone interested in learning about apparel to understand that first and then apply it to fashion. It's hard to learn fashion first and then try to tie in the functional elements.
FAAS hasn't been around a full year yet, but have some of your alumni already found work?
One of our alumni is contracting with the North Face, and another one is living in SoCal working for a prominent cycling company. Every other week, a student calls me and says they got a call from Nike or New Balance or some other big brand and asks me for a reference. They're getting attention from the work they've done.
If you had to give advice to an aspiring designer or fashion industry creative, what would it be?
Three words: Do the work. That's the thing. It's great if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and passion, but nothing comes automatically. Do the long math so you understand what you want out of design and out of the industry. More people would be successful if they took the time to learn more about exactly what the industry is about.