Alice Dobson’s Sofada,

Alice Dobson’s Sofada

The Face of Local Fashion

May 15, 2009
By Vanessa Nix

Alice Dobson has made quite a name for herself in the fashion scene. Her women’s clothing line, Sofada (whose name is derived from a misspelling of the Portuguese word for naughty), and its eponymous boutique have become a Portland institution and Dobson’s creations have been hailed by New York fashion insiders as “cute, playful and flirtatious.

“Chatting with Dobson is like having a conversation with your best girlfriend. She is unpretentious and seems unaffected by her local fashion celeb status. There is no fanciful, overblown talk about artistry when it comes to her design. Dobson is pragmatic about fashion as a business, yet enthusiastic about her love of that business and for creating clothing that is both flattering to the feminine form and affordable.

“I love making women feel beautiful and I love design, but I understand this as a business, too, and that’s what I am focused on,” says Dobson. “It’s harder than people think and not glamorous. It’s labor intensive on your body. If you don’t love it, you won’t last long.”

Dobson, who grew up on the Oregon coast and learned to sew from her mother and grandmother, is hard pressed to remember a time before design. “I don’t remember my first piece or when I started, but around seven or eight years old is my first memory of working on a project,” she recalls.

Inspired by those coastal memories of beach cruiser bicycles and surf/skate culture, and a fan of icons like Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe, Dobson has channeled that aesthetic into formidable Sofada designs. It’s a line that dares the modern, urban gal to feel the sexy, ladylike femininity of yesteryear while shunning the constriction of the fabrics and cuts of retro pieces.

“I hate the word retro [when applied to her line]. I like the way the classic old styles of the `40s and `50s looked, but mine are definitely a more modern cut,” she explains. “I’m busy – I have a 22-month-old son and a husband and a business – so everything I wear needs to be functional and comfortable, but I love being sexy.”

Dobson’s pragmatism extends into every aspect of Sofada. Though the pieces are off-the-rack, ready to wear, Dobson offers custom fitting (free of charge) to her customers and most of her clothing line is machine washable. Sofada’s pieces even tiptoe into plus size territory with sizes starting at X-Small (2) up to X-Large (12 – 14).

But the real surprise is the pricing – blazers for $120, dresses for $140 – $200 and skirts for around $80. Sofada makes designer style and tailored fit affordable to the every gal.

“I try to make the clothes easy to care for, modern and easy to move in, but they’re also made to showcase a feminine body with curves and hips and boobs. If someone comes in and a dress would look better if it was hemmed or they need more room in the hip, we do it and the pricing is the same,” says Dobson. “I like to really perfect things for people. If you’re going to spend $80 on skirt, something that has longevity, you want it to look and feel great.”

To that end, Dobson’s fabric choices are crucial, too. “I am inspired by color and fabrics. I like to use fun modern fabrics. I use a lot of stretch cotton and acrylic sweater knits – they’re comfy, warm and soft on the body – and they hold up well,” she explains.

Dobson’s business “blew up” after she attended New York’s Fall 2006 Fashion Week when she was six months pregnant and received tons of orders for Sofada (now being carried all over the country). But Dobson, who often names new pieces after customers and friends, has admittedly scaled back some to refocus her vision.

“I know that what keeps us going is the customer service, we go the extra mile with fit and everything,” she notes. “I have a really personal relationship with my customers and have thought about franchising the boutique to be able to provide the same level of service to our customers everywhere. But we scaled back to gain a bit more control of things, and we’re in a great spot now.”

Dobson is gearing up for a big celebration in September for her Spring/Summer line, which will also feature some new designers who were indoctrinated in the fashion industry through internships at Sofada. “I feel really fortunate to get to do what I do,” says Dobson.