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Pendleton: Born in the USA and still going strong

August 5, 2011 | 12:42 pm

I have been having a terrific time in Portland, Ore., the last couple days. I'm here to report a story about Pendleton Woolen Mills, which is based here, and its entry into the boutique fashion business with the Portland Collection.

The Beach Boys, wearing Pendleton Designed by a trio of young local designers, the Portland Collection will be landing in stores, including Anthropologie, Shopbop.com and Revolve.com, at the end of the month. The line includes men's and women's clothing and accessories made entirely in the United States.

It features new twists on Pendleton classics, such as a cream and black Harding-patterned Toboggan jacket, which the designers engineered to be reversible. (The Harding pattern dates to 1923, when President Warren Harding visited the Pendleton mill and was presented with a blanket in a pattern made for him.) There are lots of thoughtful details in the clothes, such as contouring seams on a plaid shift dress, front and back cutouts at the neckline on a feminine, belted wool shirt with puff sleeves, and double patch pockets and piping trim on slim-fit wool shirts. Prices top out at around $700.

Pendleton, founded in 1863, has been family-run for sixth generations and produces all of its American Indian-patterned blankets and much of its clothing in the Pacific Northwest. Pendleton's three mills are among a handful that have survived in the U.S., which once had a booming textile industry with nearly 1,000 mills in operation at the beginning of the 19th Century.

I had the opportunity to visit the Pendleton mill in Washougal, Wash., on Thursday and got the grand tour from Charlie Bishop (he and company president Mort Bishop III are cousins). The mill has been open since 1910 and producing wool shirts since 1924, using the same Umatilla wool, with the same size yarn, made from the same sheep from Cunningham Ranch and other local farms. That's quite something.

  Beach Boys
The Pendleton wool shirt rocketed to fame on the backs of a little group called the Beach Boys. When it first got together in 1961, the band called itself the Pendletones, at which time the folks from Pendleton sent what I'm sure was a very polite letter advising them they could not use the name.

So the Beach Boys were born, and Pendleton wool board shirts became a surfwear icon when the group posed wearing them for the cover of 1963's "Surfer Girl" album.

In honor of the Beach Boys, Pendleton has reissued that board shirt in the same ocean-blue plaid, made of washable Umatilla wool, for $105 at pendleton-usa.com.

Pendleton has a whole new understanding of itself in the world, thanks to a successful string of collaborations over the past few years with Vans, Hurley, Nike, Adidas, Comme des Garcons and, of course, Opening Ceremony, which brought the heritage brand to a fashion audience and inspired Pendleton's own boutique brand the Portland Collection.

It was interesting to learn from Jim Buckner, Pendleton's division manager for menswear and the lead on collaborations, that brand partnerships will be a permanent part of the Pendleton business going forward. Now not only is Pendleton being pursued, but the brand is also pursuing. The latest partnership is with Workman Bikes. Sunglasses and cars were also mentioned as future possibilities. I'd like to suggest Pendleton Ray-Ban Wayfarers and a Pendleton Ford Explorer.

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-- Booth Moore

Photos: The Beach Boys wear Pendleton shirts in a photo shoot and on the cover of 1963's "Surfer Girl" album. Credit: Pendleton

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