Friday, August 21, 2009

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

If all else fails, buy plaid

Historically, plaid started out as a marker of the Scottish clan. Much later, it became the pop-cultural emblem of the Pacific Northwest, literally lifted whole cloth from the working man by grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Today, the tartan colors could be a vital part of another, much different kind of stimulus plan for the nation’s sagging retail sector.

Yes, plaid is back, and local retailers like Jeff Shafer, owner of Agave Denim Outlet in Ridgefield, are hoping it will bring a flood of customers to lift all boats in a local economy battered by an unprecedented drop in consumer spending.

“People are still buying very conservatively, which is bad for business,” Shafer said. “For us, it’s about bringing back excitement, a sense of fun and newness to the store.”

That’s where plaid comes in. Clothing manufacturers and retailers see the fabric as the perfect blend between a sense of utilitarian necessity brought about economic recession and the cyclical nature of fashion.

“Plaid is a nice bridge between function and fashion,” Shafer said. “It’s something that seems practical and fun and exciting at the same time.”

Unsurprisingly, the Pacific Northwest is at the center of the reemergence of the trend toward gear once almost exclusively belonging to lumberjacks, cowboys and longshoremen.

Even in fashion-forward New York, young people have been flocking to plaid-heavy Seattle-based outdoor boutique Filson, making it one of the few outperforming retail outlets in the nation, according to Shafer. Other Pacific Northwest outdoor apparel manufacturers and retailers like Pendleton are also well-positioned to cash-in on the new trend.

But will plaid salvage the sinking fortunes of retailers? For Shafer, who just opened his store on South 11th Street in Ridgefield last month, times have been tough. “We can only do as well as our customer base,” he said. “And they’ve gotten hit over the head with a baseball bat by the economy.”

Shafer does see plaid’s potential for getting warm bodies and more cash-flow into the store. But as with all trends, this one could be just as fleeting – next year it could be a pair of castaway bell-bottoms taking the spotlight from the once-mighty plaid.


Matthew Davis said...

Someone needs to add plaid to this:

A plaid strap.