Rising StarRising Star: Crispin Argento of PAL Wants Portland to Disrupt the Apparel Industry

Crispin Argento, CEO & co-founder of the Portland Apparel Lab.
Crispin Argento, CEO & co-founder of the Portland Apparel Lab.

We’ve all heard of disruptive tech startups, but is there such a thing as disruptive apparel? Yes, says Crispin Argento, co-founder and CEO of Portland Apparel Lab (PAL), and the industry desperately needs more of them.

According to Crispin, life is too short to wear boring clothes. Yet the apparel industry is dominated by behemoths who don’t value innovation and pose formidable barriers for the “little guys.” Tech accelerators continue to multiply—in Portland and across the country—but there are few parallel resources for apparel startups that need help getting off the ground.

Here’s more from Crispin:

Tell us about Portland Apparel Lab: PAL is a new accelerator that aims to foster a culture of entrepreneurialism in apparel design and fashion technology in Portland. This industry is historically and purposefully opaque. We want to change that by lowering the economic, psychological and geographic barriers that many lifestyle startups face.

The problem you’re solving: Portland is talent rich, yet resource poor. The apparel industry as it exists today favors larger brands with substantial procurement requirements, capital, market share and distribution. The concept behind PAL is that it alleviates many of the barriers and pain points for small apparel companies to operate cost effectively and scale.

Working smart and working hard makes the impossible, possible.” (Tweet this.)

How you’re solving it: Through PAL’s member-supported collaborative model, lifestyle entrepreneurs will have access to the tools, knowledge and support to make their dreams, careers, and success, attainable. The dream killer/money pit for new startups is cash tied up in inventory, wholesale accounts receivables and expensive and ineffective marking initiatives with low ROI. It is truly an industry where the lure of success transfixes early stage designers to throw good money after bad, putting all hope in “luck” and “time,” rather than sound business practices and growth-focused strategic planning.

The impact you hope to have: Innovation is something this industry desperately needs. Few brands outside of Nike, Patagonia, H&M, Marks and Spencer (UK), among a handful of others, are truly investing in new concepts and ideas, where innovation and business objectives are based on achieving a balance of ecological, social and financial outcomes.

Taking a page from the Silicon Valley playbook, PAL aims to cultivate innovation from the bottom up. Sure, incremental change will come down from the top, but really what this industry needs is a reinvention. Reinvention, we believe will start at the bottom and go up.

How entrepreneurs can reinvent the apparel industry: Sustainable and innovative apparel development will come from entrepreneurs, just as many of the innovations in the tech world have for decades. The advantage of being small and agile is that rules are broken, innovation erupts and new products and processes are created—something most large brands cannot do. At the end of the day start-ups generally do not have to satisfy uninformed singularly-minded shareholders—they can take calculated risks. If it were not for tech entrepreneurs, I might still be pounding the keys of a three-inch thick Dell laptop. Thankfully, I am not.

Angel and VC investors have been slow to approach fashion because it is generally a high-risk, long-term investment, has a low IP environment and takes tremendous amounts of cash to substantiate the returns on their money compared with proven investment channels, like traditional tech.

The new generation of apparel companies, such as Nasty Gal, Bonobos, Rent the Runway, Warby Parker, etc. really operate like tech companies, have sophisticated and proprietary inventory management systems or customer service models that make selling products (and lots of them) an interest to traditional tech investors. Investors are seeing revenue figures in actual dollars because those companies have the users, they have the technology, they also have things to sell and revenue to report each quarter.

Why Portland? In our view, there is no reason why the next generation of $50-$100 million+ fashion start-ups couldn’t be based in Oregon. Already companies such as Poler, Tanner Goods, Shwood and Wildfang are blazing a trail, if unintended, to a more diversified and expanded fashion/apparel industry in Portland. We have the talent, drive and potential to serve as a leader in the growing industry of fashion+tech, where fashion, technology and sustainability are quickly converging.

The problems PAL addresses are not Portland-specific, they are systemic. Portland is just the best place start and prove this model. The global apparel desperately needs rethinking, innovation, systems redesign and new leadership. This change will occur globally, but Portland has a lot to throw in the mix.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur: Solving problems. Watching intangible ideas become tangible revenue. Working smart and working hard makes the impossible, possible. There is nothing more satisfying then that in my view.

The spark that inspired the birth of Portland Apparel Lab: I began PINO, www.pinoportland.com, as an experiment to better understand the challenges of apparel design, production and promotion in Portland. Through that experience, I realized that something like the Portland Apparel Lab was desperately needed to launch and cultivate lifestyle companies in Portland. PINO needs PAL to remain in Portland and not go to known fashion capitols such as L.A. and New York to get to the next stage.

How PAL makes money: We make money when our members make money. Our membership, products and services are as low as they can be while supporting member brand development and maintaining operational solvency. Our investors will have an opportunity to invest in member companies if they demonstrate high growth potential. We want the Portland Apparel Lab to be home to the next generation of multi-million apparel brands.

The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: How willing people are to help.  Sometimes you begin to think you are on your own and alone because it’s your ideas, your expertise, your hard work and hustle that will get you there. But that’s not true. Successful entrepreneurs and business owners share one common trait—leadership. They also are willing to learn from others. If you are an effective leader, by the time you say “success,” your credit is due to those that supported you, carried the heavy weight and were inspired by your leadership.

Your biggest success: Success to me is learning, and I do this through perseverance and making the decision to “go for it.”

Your biggest failure: There is a quote about failure and it goes, (paraphrase) you can fail a million times, you only have to be successful once. I have many failure stories. The common theme is that I didn’t “trust” people and tried to do things on my own. Trust is key. You can’t do it alone.

What keeps you up at night: Everything.

The best entrepreneurial advice you have received: Call your parents. Check in. My parents gave me that advice.

Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Never quit.

The #1 book you would recommend for a budding entrepreneur: There are so many… but if there is just one, I’d recommend Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon. It’s 10 bucks; buy it at Powell’s. Read it fast once, then read it slowly. Then read it again. As entrepreneurs, artists, etc. we are not special. What makes us unique is our ability to take ideas, form them into our own and share them with the world. That is the art.

Your favorite quote: “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” – Andy Warhol.

Learn more: Join PAL’s Launch Party | Like on Facebook | Follow on Twitter

One comment on “Rising Star: Crispin Argento of PAL Wants Portland to Disrupt the Apparel Industry

  1. Hi there,

    I would like to know if you might be able to help me. I have a start up graphic sports apparel company in Portland. Had my line in a showroom in Los Angeles at $650 a month, I know their has to be a better way. I look forward to hearing from you.


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