Meet Your Merchant: From fire dancing to festivals, a Nevada City couple has built a creative clothing line with an international customer base
July 8, 2018
Jessica Bottomley and Isaac Rappaport met at U.C. Santa Cruz, where they fell in love with the art of fire dancing — and each other.
Soon they began touring, performing at festivals and stage shows. They wanted unique costumes that reflected their own sensibilities, so when they couldn't find them, they decided to make their own.
"That's how we got into fashion designing," said Rappaport. "We started making our own wearable art and as it turned out, people liked the cuts and the look."
This led to the couple launching their own clothing line under the name "Phoenix Rising" in 2002. While on a trip to East Asia, they approached Balinese artisans and tailors to see if they might be interested in a collaborative venture. As a result, a small sewing house was established, featuring the production of Phoenix Rising's signature natural fibers and fabrics. New products emerged, reflecting a fusion of Bottomley and Rappaport's artistic designs with traditional Indonesian batik.
"We are very conscious about fair trade practices and keeping our impact on the environment as minimal as possible," states their website. "We spend much time working side by side with the artists who produce our designs. Our facilities are generally filled with smiles, laughter and positive vibes, which is a good sign that our producers are happy about the work they are doing."
As production evolved and more than 20 employees were brought into the facility, two more American companies joined in to share resources and inspiration.
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"They're part of our community of designers," said Bottomley. "We're sharing the facility, it's a collective."
"We feel good about the way we produce things and where we produce," said Rappaport. "We know everyone's name and who touches our clothes every step of the way. For the past 17 years, we've supported about 20 different families in Bali."
Earth-friendly practices are also important during the production process, Rappaport added. Fabrics are organic whenever possible. All of the excess dye is put into an evaporation trough so as not to contaminate any groundwater or be dumped down the drain leading to local waterways. All excess scraps of fabric are sewn together to create their Mosaic line of products, and a baby clothing line, which is made of 100 percent recycled fabric.
As the surge of festival culture began to expand roughly a decade ago, so did the demand for Phoenix Rising clothing and accessories. Their website, PhoenixRisingArtists.com, developed a strong international customer base, and other stores were eager to carry their line.
In 2013, Rappaport and Bottomley opened their brick-and-mortar store, The Phoenix Rose, on Broad Street in Nevada City. In addition to their own line, the shop also carries products from 18 different companies (owned by their "family of designers"), at least half of which are based in western Nevada County.
"We moved here to Nevada County to start a family," said Bottomley. "Opening the store grounded us — we now have kids ages 7 and 3. When we first rented that space, it was a blank canvas — with blue carpet, white walls and no vibe. But now it's filled with a lot of up-cycled materials, like old trunks and Balinese beds. We used our creative vision to create something new. We were inspired to share our artistry with the community. Even if you don't buy anything, it's worth coming in just for the creative displays."
When describing the inspiration for their clothing and accessories lines, both Bottomley and Rappaport say they like to "ride the fringe of a few different styles," gearing their collection to those ranging in age from their 20s to 60s who are "more daring to step outside the box."
To describe Phoenix Rising's style as a nod to the likes of Burning Man, Steam Punk or the post apocalyptic era would be too limiting in scope. A broad spectrum of looks are taken from designs from many different time periods and cultures — a sort of "world bridging," mused Bottomley.
Made from breathable, natural fabrics that are mostly organic, Phoenix Rising website probably best encapsulates their stylistic mission:
"We are realizing that in essence we are warriors, and we are regal … we are rugged, and we can express this rugged beauty through how we present ourselves to the world. We believe that clothing can express a deep sense of strength and power as well as incorporate beauty, grace, and elegant form."
"Plus, you'll still look good after the apocalypse," said Rappaport.
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email Cory@theunion.com.
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