By Sarah Donofrio @sarahnicole_d
Whether it's intuition or business savvy, Leah Bloom and Krista Stovel know how to make things work in the fashion world.
The two sisters started the North of West brand and retail store almost four years ago, after seven years running a women's line, Nell and Mary, and a line of housewares, Make It Good. In that time, the brand has grown in size and demand. A self-proclaimed "mercantile," the brick-and-mortar—located in a prime space close to Union Way and Powell's—carries lines such as Pigeon Toe ceramics and Baggu. The brand has built a successful wholesale business as well. Along with their retail location, the sisters own a factory and warehouse space in Southeast Portland.
And in fall 2017, North of West started a line of baby clothes. Sales exceeded their expectations and grew faster than they ever expected. The line, called North of West Kids, is about to launch its third season and is already in 25 stores up and down the West Coast.
"It's super-humbling," says Bloom. "People found us—we didn't have to sell."
Their business operation reads like a how-to book on growing a healthy fashion line. Of her and Scovel's partnership, Bloom says, "It's a typical front-of-house, back-of-house situation." Scovel—who manages the retail store, designs the prints and handles the photography—is the creative director. "She takes the product and puts it visually into the world," Bloom says. As for Bloom, her role includes patterning as well as overseeing production, sourcing and finances.
Their children's line mimics what one would find in their women's line. The prints are simple yet unique, without being whimsical. Made of organic cotton blends, the pieces are comfortable, breathable and, at $28 for a onesie, reasonable on a new-parent budget.
The rapid growth of their baby line, combined with the demand for their womenswear, found the brand taking 90 percent of production out of the Water Street location and down to Los Angeles.
"Once we started using real factories, our quality increased," Bloom says. And with the number of units they're dealing with now, moving production to bigger facilities once again showed Bloom's excellent entrepreneurial sense. She's on the phone with her L.A. factories every day. "We keep our production very close," she says.
The manufacturing may have relocated to a different state, but it's important for the company to maintain its Southeast Portland location for the creative side of the brand. The warehouse, which is large for Portland at 4,000 square feet, will be used for sampling, small print runs and special collaborations. But right now, there is no plan for North of West to expand to other parts of the world—Bloom and Stovel plan to keep the company in North America and continue building their apparel business.
The latest North of West Kids line will be available starting Aug. 20 at its retail store as well as many stores across Oregon and California, which are listed on the company's website.