Small business owner Elissa Breitbard is convinced she's in the middle of something new in Portland.
She calls her company, Kinstitch, "a key anchor in Portland's growing Garment/Textile District" which is comprised of Spooltown, Portland Apparel Lab and the Portland Garment Factory.
"District" might be a bit of a stretch since the Portland Garment Factory is along Southeast 79th Avenue and Kinstitch is in the back of the Ford Building along Southeast 11th Avenue, but she's in the mood to brand.
Kinstitch offers digital printing on fabric. A $45,000 DigiTab printer dominates the space. It's a giant inkjet printer, but instead of paper it takes bolts of fabric. Instead of little cartridges it takes huge silver bags of pigment ink which travel by tubes down to the printer heads. On its medium setting it can print eight yards of fabric per hour, with an image around 52 inches wide.
The machine is operated at a screen, which is hooked to Breitbard's Windows computer. The computer was custom built by Happy Hamster Computers along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. specifically for this task. She needs a lot of GPU.
After founding and running Betty's Bath and Day Spa in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for 15 years, Breitbard came to Portland for health reasons and noticed a gap in the fabric market. As far as she knows, there is only one other place to go to get high quality digital pigment ink printed on fabric, and that is Spoonflower. Located in Durham, North Carolina, Spoonflower makes print on-demand fabric, wallpaper and gift wrap.
Your face here
Digital printing on fabric sounds simple but it's not common. In a cubby at the back sit some early examples of pillows with photos on them. They were printed on a special 8-inch by 11-inch printable fabric and ironed on. They're faded and small.
The company uses organic fabrics, which is sourced from San Francisco-based Pickering International, which gets them from China and India. Despite their dubious origin, Breitbard is quick to say they are sustainably grown.
Beige is the new white
They offer six fabrics, all off-white, in ascending weight from 4 ounces to 12 ounces: Poplin, linen, muslin, duck, twill and canvas. She and her staff of one have experimented with printing on other fabrics, such as light denim and velvet. For now, however, the stock in trade is off-white natural fibers.
A typical use is for making a pillow, or a wall hanging, often with a photo printed right on it. (Her sister-in-law in the Bay Area provided her with some images including a lonely swimmer in the Atlantic Ocean, and some shops for the @Kinstitch Instagram feed.)
Other images are part of the great pattern industry: designers churning out abstract patterns that make it onto pillowcases or website backgrounds, depending on what you click.
Ginnie Young has been working with Kinstitch as a consultant. With a fine arts degree and experience as an art director
in advertising, Young introduced Breitbard to designers in Portland. In seeking more patterns, she turned to Felt Hat, which not only made patterns but worked on the branding of Kinstitch. She also linked to Textile Hive at Northwest 11th and Davis. It's a library of 40,000 fabrics, based on the Andrea Aranow Textile Design Collection, which are also available
as digital images.
Breitbard shows off a design that is sitting on the table, next to the block from which it was born.
"We wanted them (Felt Hat) to bring the hand-made to digital printing, so that it has that block look," she says. (Breitbard's earliest inspiration in textiles was Indonesian wood block printing.)
"It has some integrity and some richness to it." Someone hand carved the rubbery surface of a carving block, producing a wobbly image with some roughness in the print — such as tiny blank spots it missed. Then a high-resolution scan captured it for output.
A huge part of the work is color correction and fine tuning the digital file for putting ink on cloth. While most designers work from Pantone books — hundreds of chips bound together like a fan — Young and Breitbard spent months assembling a fabric wall hanging that displays the Kinstitch palette.
"What you see on the screen is very different from what you see on the fabric," she says. While the palette is not set in stone, it gives a guide to what colors work on beige cotton.
One fun order came from Performance Works Northwest, Linda Austin's dance company. They wanted 30 yards of fabric printed with a blue abstract pattern. They turned them into slightly baggy costumes. The client went to another print company, who set the image on vinyl which was used as a dance floor.
Research for Kinstitch began 18 months ago but it has been operating for six months. (Its official opening is on Thursday Sept. 28 from 4:30-7 p.m.)
The first-year goal is for sales of $300,000, doubling in the second year. That was adjusted downward when she realized the printer's speed was less than she thought. Starting into an industry as a neophyte, it's been a constant course of self-correction, or "pivoting" as she put it.
So far, Portland has been good to them. She did not make use of economic development programs from Business Oregon, OEN, GPI or Prosper Portland. But she did reach out to the design and maker community.
Both women owned and ran businesses for 15 years. Young ran an architectural paint company called Yolo Color House. They learned how to pivot — how to change direction when things are not going right. Young dropped the word Yolo when it became a hashtag (as in You Only Live Once). Breitbard had to switch to pigment inks, ditch the coating machine and embrace non-formulaic social media to keep going.
The first big job was for 600 yards of duck cotton for drapery in a hotel in Albuquerque. She expects average runs to be in the 15-yard range. For a while she had a coating machine. The only thing that remains now is the 30-gallon drum of solution that was supposed to fix and cure the ink in the fabric. It turned out it wasn't really necessary — the printer has a hot plate which does that — and the chemicals were smelly and she feared, toxic.
"You have to know what your business is, and coating fabric is really a separate business. Fortunately DigiFab let us exchange it for another printer."
It will arrive Friday Sept. 30, followed the next day by the installer from Los Angeles.Kinstitch also uses The Portland Printer Place for some maintenance. It's a big but sensitive machine. It's not loud, but the necessary extractor fan is. It will have a sticky belt, which holds finer fabrics taut.
"Taut is everything in printing," jokes Breitbard.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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