One of my intentions for Tortouga is to not only unearth the possibilities of my own creativity, but to also celebrate the lives of other creative women who inspire me. Now more than ever, women have the opportunity to empower each other in impactful ways. And one of those ways, which I am immensely dedicated to, is supporting female business owners. These women are a force to be reckoned with. And their creative endeavors are true gems within their respective communities. Which is why I’m excited to share with you the story of Dominga Ramirez and her new Portland-based, lifestyle boutique, Perican Bing.
After meeting Dominga, you can immediately tell how bold, creative and driven she is. She offers uncommon but standout clothing lines at Perican Bing, such as La Causa, Sugar Candy Mountain and Ali Golden, most of which provide timeless fabrics in flattering silhouettes for women. The colorful, handmade art objects she carries are unique like the Mini African Folk Art Paintings and the Hand Screen-Printed Kites by Frederick & Mae’s, which, juxtaposed with her modern and feminine clothing, makes for an eclectic shopping experience.
I was thrilled to get the chance to ask her a few questions about how she and her mother started Perican Bing, what inspires her and how she strives to empower women through fashion. It was also such a dream to take pictures of her shop, where every corner, shelf and table is filled with one-of-a-kind treasures just waiting to be taken home. See for yourself below–this shop is something special.
Tell us about Perican Bing and what you carry in the shop…
Perican Bing offers a thoughtful selection of goods for women and home. We stock women’s lines from emerging and independent designers and look for apparel and accessories that are simple, timeless and make getting dressed easier. Our collection of gifts and housewares are sourced from all over the world and are meant to be special, functional and enhance your living space. We look for items that are uncommon to add a sense of discovery to the shopping experience.
Tell us about you and your mother’s creative backgrounds. What role does creativity play in your family?
I guess you could say we come from a fairly creative family. My great-grandfather was a master furniture maker and my grandfather was a woodworker and crafted furniture, dollhouses and even games when we were kids. My grandmother sewed and crocheted. My mom definitely inherited their creative inclinations. She once painted a giant Mercer Mayer monster for a “pin the tail on the monster” game for my sister’s and my Birthday parties and would sew our Halloween costumes. She also learned stained glass, Ikebana, silversmithing, upholstery and earned her BFA in photography at the age of 50 from California College of the Arts. She’s very detail-oriented and precise, so she’s much better at execution whereas I’m better at conceptual things, which is good because we balance each other out. In my 20s I designed and sold jewelry and a line of t-shirts and did styling work for editorial, runway and red carpet events. Now my 7-year-old daughter is showing an interest in painting and drawing so I’m excited to see what she does with that!
Tell us a little bit about your journey to owning your own store. Was there a spontaneous moment when you decided, “I’m going to do it!” or was this a long-time dream of yours?
Those who know me know I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a teenager. My first “real” job was working stock at Nordstrom the summer I turned 14. I worked there on and off throughout my teens and learned a lot about customer service and suggestive selling. During college, I worked for an independent chain of boutiques in Berkeley and assisted the owner on buying trips. I was beside myself at the opportunity to choose colors and styles and even recommended new lines for her to pick up. Later on, while living in LA, I did some assistant styling work including a pretty big print job for Neiman Marcus. Eventually I got into marketing and PR and had some fashion clients so I worked with a lot of well-known stylists to dress celebrities for red carpet events along with fashion editorial shoots. It was immensely satisfying when one renowned magazine editor asked my opinion and ended up changing a look based on my feedback. I stayed in marketing but my role and roster of clients changed and after moving to Portland, I was so focused on balancing my time as a marketing executive and mom that I abandoned that long-term dream I held in the back of my mind. It really wasn’t until I was nearing 40 when I realized I’d never feel satisfied climbing the corporate ladder and felt a sudden urgency to pursue my dream of opening the shop. I didn’t want to get older and wonder, “what if?” so I was prepared to risk everything to see if I could pull it off.
What is your philosophy on fashion and style for the modern woman?
There is something incredibly empowering about wearing an outfit you love and that feels good on you. There are even studies that support the idea that what we wear can affect how we feel about ourselves and ultimately, how others perceive us—our level of confidence and abilities. I want to help women feel that when they get dressed in clothes from my store, which are simple, flattering styles that can be worn to the office, around town, out to dinner, etc. Overall, my guidelines for getting dressed can best be summarized with my “style tenets” below:
- Less is More
Decision-making is often harder when we’re confronted with too many options. Paring down your wardrobe into seasonal and year-round essentials is to me, the best way to make getting dressed easier. It’s called capsule dressing, and essentially, it’s building your closet from a few key pieces such as black trousers, tunic tops and easy dresses. I also recommend natural fabrics in a fairly neutral palette so you can get more mileage from each item. Add interest or color with some unique accessories.
- Dress for right now
We often shop for and hold on to clothes that don’t work in the present, but fulfill some aspirational idea or hope for a future self. Then, when it’s time to get dressed, we go into our closet and find nothing to wear. Maybe it’s full of those clothes from high school, or pre-baby that no longer fit, or the cocktail dress that was massively on sale yet you have no occasion to wear. Our wardrobe can be fluid, but make sure that when you consider adding something to it that it will realistically work for your lifestyle.
- Fit comes first
Fit is one of the most important factors when buying (or keeping clothes) and tailoring is such an easy and generally inexpensive way to make anything look more polished. I’ve had fast-fashion dresses that look designer once I had the waist and shoulders brought in. The right fit also means ignoring the size on the label and wearing what fits and looks best, even if it’s hard on your ego. I’ve learned from stocking so many different designers that sizes are pretty arbitrary so they shouldn’t define you!
- Make your own rules
I believe in creating your own style versus following fashion because we should all have the freedom to wear the silhouettes that suit us regardless of what’s trending. So if you look better in a mid-rise rather than a high-waist, by all means don’t succumb to that trend! The same holds true for the idea of dressing for your age. I think it’s nonsense to assume that one’s sense of style should be dependent on what decade you’re in. I have a lot more confidence now that I’m 41 than I did when I was younger so I’m a lot more confident taking risks. And I think that confidence is reflected in how I look.
- Yoga pants are for Yoga!
As much as I support wearing clothes that feel good, I also feel strongly that workout wear should be relegated to the gym, not daily wear. I love an elastic waistband as much as the next person, but it’s just as easy to wear a tunic over leggings or to layer a t-shirt dress under a long sweater or jean jacket as it is to pull on yoga pants. I stock untraditional-looking sweat pants so you can be comfy without looking sloppy.
How would you describe your personal style? Do you have any major influences or style icons that you look up to?
I won’t lie, I sometimes think of my store as a giant closet so pretty much everything I stock, I like. I tend to prefer a more neutral palette and very few (if any) patterns. I gravitate towards silhouettes from the ‘60s and ‘70s, like high-waisted trousers, tunic tops, pinafores and jumpsuits. My style icons include my Mexican grandma who always wore her hair short with simple jewelry and makeup but would do bold prints . I love Chrissie Hynde, and Patti Smith for their androgynous looks even though I wouldn’t necessarily wear that look head to toe, more like a nod. Also Bianca Jagger for her confidence and of course her ex-husband for his gender-fluid swagger and style.
What advice would you give to other women looking to start their own creative business?
It’s such a personal decision and journey but I would highly recommend finding a mentor. It’s such a big undertaking that I wouldn’t suggest going at it alone. I’m fortunate to have friends and family with an incredible skill set. My brother-in-law is a creative director at Facebook and worked on the Obama campaign so he helped created my brand identity. Another friend had experience in visual merchandising so he helped with store layout and fixture design and another friend is in the printing business so could help source vendors for my store collateral. Also, take advantage of small business resources like SBA and SCORE and put yourself out there to network wherever you can. Think about what you can offer too, so you can trade knowledge. And the most important piece of advice is to trust yourself. Most of the time you have the answer, sometimes it just takes a little meditation to figure out what’s the best move.
You have such a unique selection of handmade homegoods at the shop! How would you describe the value of adding a handmade object or piece of art to a home?
I think any time that someone goes through the effort of making something by hand, the object comes with its own story and history which makes it special. I also love the idea of collecting seemingly disparate objects to serve sort of as modern heirlooms; not delicate or fancy, but something that sparks conversation and makes you happy to look at.
Perican Bing is such an interesting name, what is the meaning behind it?
My daughter came up with the name. She’s 7 now, but when she was 5 she was telling me about a woodpecker that would come to her window at night and keep her awake. She said his name was Perican Bing. I loved that she had this whole story about him and once we started looking into woodpeckers, we found out that they are often symbolize opportunity and discovery which we thought perfectly captured our approach to buying for the store. A local friend of mine who is an amazing artist (Andy Hunsaker) made this gorgeous watercolor of woodpecker holes—the patterns are amazing—so that’s represented in some of our branding, e.g. gift tags.
What do you love about Portland? Is there anything you’d want to change about Portland?
There’s such a strong sense of community here and I really appreciate how willing people are to collaborate with one another. It feels much more inclusive than other areas, especially in this industry. I think people really celebrate small businesses here and root for their success. I don’t know that I’d want to change anything, but perhaps I’d like to help reframe some of the sartorial choices here. Portland is definitely a casual city, and a lot of people dress for comfort which I appreciate, but you can be comfortable without compromising style. Most of the apparel I stock is cotton or raw silk or linen and in relaxed silhouettes. I dress comfortably almost every day but you’ll never see me in yoga pants unless I’m on my way to class. Instead I’ll wear loose dresses with clogs or tunics over tights or leggings. Super easy and still polished.
Who or what keeps you feeling inspired?
My daughter is probably my biggest inspiration because she’s still so unselfconscious and full of big ideas and unabashedly opinionated. I try to make choices that honor the kind of person I want her to be, even though we do not see eye-to-eye style wise. She prefers lots of color, sparkle and tulle and glitter and I am always in neutrals. I’m also very inspired by my customers. I have a lot of regulars and you get to know so much about them in these seemingly brief interactions. Trying on clothes can be a very intimate thing; you’re exposed not just literally but we all have insecurities about our bodies and then of course this common rhetoric about dressing your age which I think is total bullshit! So there’s a certain amount of bonding that happens over this and I really love that.
Go visit Perican Bing and pick up something pretty for yourself or visit them online!