Editor’s Note: There is no shortage of amazing (and tax-free!) shopping in Oregon. Today we bring you the story of a woman who turned her love of swimwear into a successful boutique. An Oregon Dreamer, indeed! Happy Shopping!

A Swimwear Boutique in Portland? Seemed like a crazy idea to many in a state predominately known for rain.

I grew up in the Northwest in Victoria, British Columbia, like many girls I loved to sew and dreamed of being a fashion designer with my own boutique. So I left the Northwest to fashion school in Southern California where I interned in a swimwear shop that custom cut and sized swim suits. I never imagined this experience would ever be put into practice, never the less inspire my future business 25 years later in Portland.

Romance brought me to Portland. While living in Manhattan Beach, California I took a trip to visit a friend in San Francisco for New Years Eve. That fateful evening I met my future husband, who was also visiting San Francisco for the weekend, at a party.

Once moving to Oregon it was as if the Coastal Tides pulled me to design swimsuits. My first job in Portland was working for a Swimwear Fabric company, where on a price driven whim, I bought an industrial cover-stitch sewing machine, used to make swimwear, I didn’t even know how to use it.

Then the defining moment was the Winter of 1997 when we planned a Cancun vacation and I could not find a bathing suit I liked. I wanted a suit with reasonable coverage while still feeling fun, flattering and fashionable. It occurred to me that I had a source for fabric and a swimwear sewing machine – why not make my own? I always loved designs from the 1950’s so I developed a handful of Vintage Inspired Swimsuits that are still in production today. This was the innocent beginning of Popina Swimwear.

Continuing as a hobby, I began to grant requests from friends to make swim suits. I found it rewarding that women were responding positively to my designs, enough so, that in 2004 I decided to Dip My Toe in the market by offering my suits to local boutiques. After two seasons of selling to boutiques, in March 2006 I decided it was time to go Waist Deep, I opened a retail store less than a mile from my house, still working four ten hour days a week at my day job and putting in three days (and most evenings) at my shop. October 2006, I Dove In, quitting the safety net of my corporate day job and January 2008 I tripled my retail store’s size by expanding into an adjacent space.

Portland’s culture supports small businesses; it is not accidental that the Rose City’s neighborhoods are distinctive. Rather than the typical monotonous display of the same ten shops at every corner, Portland has a diverse array of independent, local businesses.

Many women are sensitive about their bodies and how they feel in swimwear. I think Popina is part design, part swimwear therapy. I hope to change the world by helping women feel great in swimsuits and enjoying swimwear shoppping!

-Pamela Levenson, Owner/Designer Popina Swimwear

Popina Swimwear is located at 4831 Northeast 42nd Avenue in Portland.

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