Designer Profile: Lindsey Reif, Owner of REIFhaus - Portland, OR
Hi Lindsey! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Lindsey Reif (pronounced Rife). I’m a clothing designer and stylist living in Portland, Oregon. I am originally from the Black Hills of South Dakota, but I moved to Portland about 15 years ago for college and have been here ever since. In my free time, I like making things and learning new skills, however my one true love is sewing. I am a mom to a cat and a dog, and more houseplants than I can count.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I am a self taught designer. Most people are surprised to learn that I have a degree in Spanish and Applied Linguistics rather than Fashion. I took up sewing as a hobby when I was in college, and I guess it just clicked for me. It wasn’t until I was almost finished with my degree that I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in design. I have always been a hands-on learner, so rather than going back to school for fashion, I decided I could teach myself.
After college I worked as a barista while I developed a business plan and honed my design skills. I was also picking up freelance gigs doing sample sewing for local Portland designers, where I was able to get an inside look into how the industry worked from a business standpoint.
From there, I found myself in the stop motion animation industry, where I worked for a few years before officially starting my line. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work as a character fabricator for the movie ParaNorman, produced by the Portland based animation studio Laika. Basically, my job was to make miniature wigs for the puppets, who were the characters in the movie. It was a dream to be able to make things all day at work. At the same time I was still working on developing my own designs, and I felt the draw to do my own thing.
In 2012, I started my line REIFhaus. Just about a year later, I quit my job to pursue REIFhaus full time. Leaving my job was a scary thing to do early on in the business, but I felt like I couldn’t really focus and I needed to put my energy all in to make it happen.
What inspired you to start REIFhaus and what did the initial creation of your business look like?
I’ve always been a collector of vintage clothing, and ultimately that was what led me to start my line. Some of my first sewing projects in college were modifying vintage pieces I would find at thrift stores, which taught me a lot about garment construction. I would just randomly make things and experiment with whatever I found that was interesting. My roommate at the time suggested that I should try to sell these pieces at a small boutique in our neighborhood. I went in and showed them the garments, and they offered to sell them on consignment. To my surprise, they actually sold and I was asked to make more. It’s funny to think back on those garments now, the designs were all over the place, and I don’t even think they had labels in them!
This was about seven or eight years before I started REIFhaus, and in that time I worked on developing my sewing skills and teaching myself patternmaking. Through my freelance gigs doing sewing work, I was able to meet other designers and artists that were also in the process of starting their own lines - it was so helpful to have a community of people who were all going through the same things I was as a business owner and an artist. At that time, the indie fashion scene in Portland was blossoming.
Once I started to work on the plan for REIFhaus, I knew that I wanted to focus on high quality garments made from interesting and comfortable textiles. My focus was on timeless designs that were meant for everyday wear.
You have a small team of female sewers creating your garments; when did you begin to grow a team and who were you looking to bring on board?
I began to grow a team about a year or two ago when I realized that I couldn’t sew everything myself and also effectively run the business side of things. I love sewing, that’s how I found my way to being a designer. To this day, I still personally sew all of my samples and help out with production orders as needed. Sewing is very much a part of my process, but as things have gotten busier I’ve had to pass some of that on to others.
Right now I work with a small network of (mostly) female sewing contractors who all live here in Portland. I look for sewers who are detail oriented like I am, and who value spending a little extra time to make something look good. Each garment we send out to customers is literally handmade from start to finish, and I want the customer to feel the love and attention that was put into it by the person who made it.
What is your design process like - from choosing fabrics to creating patterns?
My design process is very hands on. I start with some initial sketches, where I hash out the details of the garment. From there, I start drafting the pattern, which I do by hand. Once the pattern is made, I will sew a mock up to test the fit. At this point, the design usually evolves from the sketch a bit. Sometimes seeing something in 3D versus on paper will dictate the direction that it should go, and sometimes that leads you down a whole different path than you expected!
Most of my designs are meant for everyday wear - I elevate them by selecting textiles that are interesting yet still very wearable. I am drawn to texture, and natural fibers. I’m someone who doesn’t like to fuss with my wardrobe, and that means selecting textiles that are easy to care for and clean. I work with a lot of denim, linen, and washable silks, for example.
Sustainability is at the core of your brand, what do you think more people can start doing to shift consumption to be less wasteful? When did you alter your personal practices to become less wasteful?
I think that the biggest thing that people can do is to just buy less and make informed purchases. “Retail Therapy” is an idea that is very much ingrained in our society, but it comes at a huge cost to our planet. Part of my goal with REIFhaus is help guide consumers on why it’s important to buy from sustainably minded businesses, and to take their time with purchases. Finding out where your clothing is being made is important. It’s not just fast fashion companies making things in unsafe conditions, it’s designer brands, too.
In addition to choosing to work with natural and sustainable textiles, we make each garment to order, which means we don’t have much inventory left over at the end of each season. Excess inventory is a huge problem in the fashion industry - I’m sure many of your readers have seen the recent articles about Burberry burning over $150 million worth of unsold inventory. Alongside unsafe working conditions, this makes the fashion industry one of the biggest detriments to our planet.
Making each garment to order means that there is a 7-10 day wait time for online purchases while they are sewn. It also means that we don’t have the crazy 70% off sales that many people are used to seeing at the end of a season. I think of sales as a way to say thank you to our customers rather than a way to move through excess inventory.
Another important theme in my designs is timelessness. I want each REIFhaus garment to feel modern yet timeless all at once. If we fill our closets with things that can weather the trends and provide versatility in our wardrobe, then inherently we don’t need as many things.
One of the ways that I integrate sustainability into my own wardrobe is by mixing in vintage pieces and also by reselling clothing that I no longer wear. There are several resell communities for indie designer pieces on Instagram, it’s a great way to make some extra cash or to find a great deal on a piece you’ve had your eye on.
We also recently implemented a repair program for any REIFhaus garment to help customers get the most life possible out of their clothing. Customers in need of a repair can contact us via email and we will arrange to have the garment sent back to our studio for repair, free of charge.
What are some other sustainable brands and designers you are fond of?
I love the Palatines, a shoe line designed and produced in Los Angeles. Their shoes are incredibly well made and unique. Also, I love Pansy and Botanica Workshop, they are doing great things to provide sustainable underwear options that are also made in the USA.
Since you make your pieces to order, what does your process getting stockists look like?
In a lot of ways this process is very similar for us as it is for other lines. For example, I attend the same trade shows geared toward independent boutique owners where I have the opportunity to show them our upcoming collections. Generally speaking, most store buyers place orders about 6-8 months in advance of a season, so it’s important to me to be at the trade shows during the buying seasons to meet with new and existing stockists.
One of the reasons why shops order so far in advance is because it typically takes about that amount of time to have things made in factories. Since we don’t have to rely on factories to sew our garments, we are able to accommodate wholesale orders throughout the season, with a 3-4 week lead time for delivery depending on the quantity.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
One of the things that makes me passionate about what I do and keeps me going is seeing customers come back for repeat orders. Also, I love hearing that a REIFhaus garment someone has purchased has made them feel good/sexy/confident or become their favorite piece in their closet. Owning a business can be very stressful, so it’s the little things that make it all worth it.
How has Portland helped shape your business?
Portland is known for a strong community of artists and makers, and also for a DIY spirit. Creatives in Portland are scrappy, we make great things with less resources. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re in the fashion industry to be in LA or New York, but I think starting my business in Portland has taught me that it doesn’t matter where you are. One of the challenges of having a fashion line here is that there are not very many local resources to support this type of business, but I think that being apart of a community that doesn’t let things hold them back has been crucial to my path as a designer.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with your work?
Fashion is a very competitive business. There’s always going to be someone who can sell something cheaper and faster than you can, and there is a bit problem with copycats. It’s not just fast fashion brands knocking off indie lines, it’s sometimes other designers, too. But what I’ve learned is to just use those experiences as a stepping stone to design something even better than before, or do something in some way to enhance your work to the next level.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Being a business owner can be very isolating. You have to work long hours, and sometimes it can be hard for friends and family to understand some of the stresses that come along with running a business. On top of that, I think that there is an unfair bias in our society towards women in business, and being supportive of other women is especially important. One of my favorite things about going to trade shows is getting to chat with other designers and store buyers as people, and realizing that we are all going through the same ups and downs.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
I find Solange very inspiring. Her fashion sense is impeccable, and she has solidified herself as an artist in so many avenues, not just in music. I am also inspired by the female artists of the Bauhaus era, like Ray Eames, Marianne Brandt, Anni Albers, and Florence Henri to name a few. Design has long been a male dominated field, and these women made a mark for themselves, contributing to modern design as we know it across mediums.
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you want to learn?
I recently took a class on machine knitting, and I’m excited to explore this technique further and see how I can incorporate it into my designs in some way.
What are some of your goals/aspirations for REIFhaus?
In an effort to help build the perfect seasonless wardrobe, we are very excited to be launching a permanent collection in the fall, which will be available only through our web shop. This will be a capsule collection of wardrobe builders available year round. The permanent collection is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and I’m very excited to get it off the ground.
We also recently launched a small selection of menswear, and I’m excited to be adding some new designs to that collection this coming season.
What are some of your favorite places in Portland?
One of my favorite things about Portland is being surrounded by nature. We go to the Oregon Coast a lot, which is about an hour from the city. I also love hiking around Forest Park and the Japanese Gardens. As far as eating goes, there are so many great places in Portland. I love Luce for dinner, Sweedeedee for brunch, and Angel Face for drinks.