In Portland, a street apparel brand is growing up alongside the youth who run it.
At a ribbon cutting celebration for dfrntpigeon’s new retail storefront, its 21-year-old business manager Anna spoke about how the role has changed her life.
“I’m not someone who thought I’d have a professional future,” said Anna, who had been working a variety of retail jobs since she was 15. “I’ve learned so much over the past two years, and I have so much hope for my future now.”
The brand is a social enterprise owned and operated by New Avenues for Youth, a nonprofit which provides at-risk and homeless youth with basic needs such as meals and counseling, as well as job training and assistance with education and housing. Since its founding in 1997, the organization has helped more than 20,000 youth in Portland.
The dfrntpigeon brand, meanwhile, was formed in 2016 in a design class at New Avenues. Its name, pronounced “different pigeon,” represents how homeless youth often feel overlooked – in the same way passersby view pigeons on downtown streets.
The brand aims to change that perception, said Anna, by encouraging each youth designer to apply their different points of view to a singular theme for each line of apparel.
Now, with a $20,000 grant from U.S. Bank, dfrntpigeon’s new retail space puts that apparel front and center in the trendy Pearl District of downtown Portland. As part of its Community Possible social responsibility platform, throughout the summer the bank has helped organizations nationwide develop makerspaces.
“It’s our privilege to support New Avenues for Youth and Dfrntpigeon, which embody our community’s spirit of creativity, diversity and social good," said Stacey Dodson, market president for U.S. Bank. “We can’t wait to see what these impressive young people create.”
Their latest creations were on display at the ribbon cutting event when dfrntpigeon unveiled its new line, called The Transition Collection. Having drawn inspiration from the recent wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, many designers channeled themes of metamorphosis, rebirth and resiliency.
For Anna, transition will soon mean going back to college, having given it an initial shot – before she was ready – after earning her GED at 16. Since then, the natural leader with a knack for marketing has gained both skills and confidence at dfrntpigeon.
“I’m endlessly grateful for the opportunities that dfrntpigeon has provided me,” she said. “Now my main goal is to continue to grow this business so that others can have those same opportunities.”
And for youth in transition, its growth into a bricks-and-mortar retailer takes on outsize importance.
“It’s exciting for us to have something permanent,” said Anna. “It is uniquely ours and we can mold it with each new collection. All while these big, beautiful antique windows shout our name to the masses.”
Story by Pat Swanson with U.S. Bank. Photos by Nicholas Wilson.