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Seawall
Our interview with the proprietors of Portland's first pop-up shop and gallery space highlighting Maine-made goods
by Kat Herriman
on 11 September 2012
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A hybrid between a retail and gallery space, Seawall is home to Portland, Maine's first pop-up shop and also its newest clothing line. Founders Daniel Pepice, Sara Lemieux, Thom Rhoads and Brook Delorme opened Seawall this spring with the hope to open people's eyes to talented Maine designers. Housed in a refinished space in the Old Port, Seawall is a sign of the new aesthetic culture that is overtaking the city.

Seawall's collection draws inspiration from Portland's nautical heritage while offering a contemporary twist on Maine basics; their main line is a collaboration between Delorme, Pepice and Lemieux—sourced and made right in Portland. Most of the pieces are actually finished next door in Delorme's first store, Brook There. To compliment the collection, Seawall also offers a selection of products from local designers as well as some sturdy basics like denim from Levi's Made and Crafted.

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Designed as a flexible retail space to showcase new talent, Seawall hosted Portland's first ever pop-up shop in August featuring the re-launched tennis line, Boast, and plans to host many more in the upcoming year. We recently sat down with Seawall's founders to get the scoop on the store's beginnings and the new online store, which launched 9 September.

Where did the idea for Seawall start?

Seawall is a concept retail environment that grew out of the gallery space that Brook and Daniel were running called 37-A. Everyone involved in Seawall is tied to art in some way but the gallery setting started feeling less like something special. When we decided to open Seawall we made a decision to shift our focus away from a traditional gallery setting and into a retail space that could operate on some of the principles of a gallery like collaboration, co-operation and, of course, a string of parties where we get to see old friends and make new ones. The name is kind of a touchstone for us—our building is a few streets up from the water in Portland—at one time, before a series of fires leveled the town, what is now our foundation was actually the seawall.

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You mentioned that the idea of a concept retail space. How do you imagine that playing out at Seawall?

We call it concept retail because of the approach we are taking to the space and the products. Many of the products are made within 20 feet—just on the other side of the wall—and so we can have a super short design-to-rack cycle.

We're also focusing on doing pop-ups within the retail space, partially transforming it for a week or two to showcase a brand that doesn't already have much presence in Portland: over the past week we've had a pop-up with Boast and we're working on the still-secret details for a couple more pop-ups this year, and we work closely with Black Point Mercantile and a Maine-based bag-maker, Jeremy Bennett, who is taking the traditional Maine-made canvas bag to the next level. The shop is really meant to feel comfortable with plenty of chairs, a sofa and a big center table that in a moment's notice switches from a display to a workstation to or a place to mix drinks.

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What do you think makes Maine designers and their products special?

When we consider design in Maine a few names come to mind, we can talk about the Quoddy Moccasin people, the folks at Rancourt and Co. and Swann's Island Blankets. There's a kind of dyed-in-the wool heritage inherent to all of these brands. Maine, in some ways, is what we would consider part of the American frontier. Its quite a big state, we have more linear coast line than California and in the northern part of the state there are territories where you'll find more moose than people. Artists have been visiting Maine forever—we have the Winslow Homer studio on Prout's neck, Robert Indiana lives on a small island off the coast, and it seems like every time you turn around a mega brand is shooting a style guide here. That is all to say that Maine has always been a creative and design-centric place and those who choose to conduct their work here get to see things every day that you can't get out of a Madison Avenue window display.

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Could you me a little bit about the thought behind Seawall's brand name collection? What does your design process look like?

We're taking super classics shapes for men and women, sourcing the best fabrics we can find, and making everything within ten miles of our store. And, there are a lot of projects in the works, which will surface this fall.

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