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Customer at Wildfang

Empowering Entrepeneurs

Portland pretty much wrote the book on bootstrapped and boundary-pushing handmade goods. And there’s still no shortage of dedicated artisans working hard to bring unique ideas to the table. Today Portland’s artisan thought leaders have shifted their sights as a cadre of female entrepreneurs are dedicating their craft to inspire social change 


Case in point: Paula Hayes. Acutely aware that women of color are underrepresented in the modern cosmetics industry, Hayes, a product chemist and woman of color herself, took the bull by the horns and developed her own line of makeup. Founded in 2009, her company Hue Noir produces a gorgeous selection of lipsticks and glosses, eye shadows and foundations specifically formulated to complement multicultural skin tones. And the cosmetics are made from start to finish in her Portland facility. 


By the same token, Portland is home to several clothing designers actively rewriting the rules of fashion. Local designers like Clarie Doody of Copper Union, and Shawna Farmer of Chubby Cartwheels, have transformed plus-size fashion from shy and matronly to boldly beautiful. And Wild Fang founder Emma Mcilroy has elevated “tomboy” clothes into the realm of super-cool. Not only that, her company has raised over $400,000 for non-profits like Raice, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU with in-house designs like its famous Wild Feminist T-shirt. 


Mcilroy isn’t the only one using her business to fund causes she believes in. Upper Metal Class, a jewelry line designed and made by first-generation Vietnamese-American T Ngu, similarly celebrates equal rights. Ngu donates a portion of the profits from her female-empowered jewelry, as well as items made by other minority and LQBTQ+ designers, to social-justice nonprofits. And Eden Dawn and Ashod Simonian, owners of feminist-leaning, cruelty-free, nontoxic nail polish company Claws Out, donate 20% of the company’s earnings to progressive non-profits such as, the “Matriarchy” polish for Mom’s Demand Action or the “Force of Nature” polish for the Environmental Defense Fund.  


Other Portland makers use the products themselves to provide empowerment opportunities. At Central City Coffee, single moms recovering from homelessness and substance abuse get full time employment and job training in marketing, office administration and sales of whole bean coffees like Gutsy Goddess French Roast. And Ground Up may be known for gourmet nut butters like Coconut Cardamom and Chia seed Cashew Butter, but the women-owned company’s mission is to hire women overcoming adversity and provide them with job skills training they can use to advance themselves in life.