“Many customers get teary eyed when they’re talking with me—I talk to them about what it’s like to believe in yourself suddenly. That you can do something else besides what it is you’ve always known…”

Tiffany Kirkpatrick | Founder Parker+Simonne Designs

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Before Tiffany Kirkpatrick started her clothing business Parker+Simonne Designs in 2017, she didn’t know how to sew. Kirkpatrick decided to walk away from her 25-year career in the gerontology (study of aging) field. She had worked her way up, serving as an activities director at senior facilities, running a senior day center program, and eventually working on research at OHSU, where she recruited African Americans to do annual surveys and memory testing. Kirkpatrick says the job became very personal for her as she developed relationships with the Black elders she was surveying. “It felt like I had finally found the Black community after years of being [in Portland],” Kirkpatrick says. She calls this experience the tipping point for “finally deciding to be more authentic in my life, and wanting to be creative, and make a contribution to the community.”

Kirkpatrick taught herself to sew to make her own baby clothes and then began crafting original designs. She laughs now looking back at her beginnings when she couldn’t even thread a machine on her own and would ask someone else to do it for her. Still, the compliments she received for her DIY clothing sparked an interest in selling to others as Parker+Simonne Designs, named after her daughter.

Kirkpatrick uses her home sewing machine to create wearable art: wrap-style pieces that vaguely resemble a Japanese kimono. Each design, made to be worn by all sizes and genders, is one-of-a-kind, created from textiles she’s sourced from Africa, Guatemala, Mexico and beyond.

She’s learned some valuable lessons in her first two years as an entrepreneur and independent artist/designer/textile queen. A friend warned that most people wouldn’t pay upwards of $200 for her pieces—special items reflecting culture, labor, and history that required a week to lovingly sew together. This well-intentioned naysaying only motivated Kirkpatrick; she was determined to prove her friend wrong. She just needed to find the right customers, who would recognize how special her pieces were.

Kirkpatrick later found out her worth the hard way: a shop in New York City bought her wraps for $150 each and then sold them for about $350. Today, her multicultural pieces have a $250-275 price tag that matches the labor going into them. A few pieces have become part of the costume selection for Lily Tomlin’s character on the Netflix show Grace and Frankie. While Kirkpatrick offers some items on Etsy and does custom orders online, CARGO is the only physical place to buy Parker+Simonne Designs. The expansive shop on SE Yamhill specializes in authentic international goods and the kind of African, Mexican, Guatemalan, and Indian textiles that Kirkpatrick chooses for her own pieces.

Kirkpatrick’s favorite part of her job is shopping for textiles from different countries and then combining them, which allows for some creative agency. But she says she also enjoys the very personal process of creating custom orders and connecting with people at fairs and events.

Kirkpatrick is keeping her business small to focus on meeting demand at CARGO. Her success at street fairs like the Portland Night Market and Crafty Wonderland lies in chatting all day with customers and telling them the story woven inside each piece. She still marvels that she’s been able to create space for herself, a woman of color, in Portland’s scene of artists and makers.

“Many customers get teary eyed when they’re talking with me—I talk to them about what it’s like to believe in yourself suddenly. That you can do something else besides what it is you’ve always known,” Kirkpatrick says. “I make sure they know that this wasn’t my life before. It’s not about ‘Oh, I’m special.’ It’s about: You can do this. I am telling you, I was someone else not that long ago. I didn’t know how to sew, never imagined I would be on this side of the festival tent, and here I am.’”

Storytellers

Author: Jenni Moore
Photos: Kim Nguyen
Published: June 2019

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w: parkersimonnedesign.com
e: info@parkersimonnedesigns.com
p: 503.515.5905
Find her designs at Cargo

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