Burke Residency 22: The General Public

Written by Emma McFarland


Posted on November 16 2022

EMMA: Please introduce yourself to our readers and, if you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear about either your favorite guilty pleasure or a secret talent you possess. 
ALLISON: Hello! Thank you so much for having me, I’m so excited to be popping up at Burke Mercantile. One of my favorite shops!

My name is Allison - I’m the owner/designer of The General Public which is located in Missoula, Montana where I grew up. After spending my childhood in this beautiful place I decided to venture to the west coast and attend design school in Oregon. There I majored in Apparel Design & Merchandising/Management. There I explored a lot of creative avenues like directing the annual fashion show, becoming art director of our campus's fashion publication, and designing small collections for various runway shows we had throughout the years.

Allison Reaves designer of The General Public
After graduating I spent two years in Portland. It was there I started the clothing line, The General Public, and started percolating ideas for a shop I wanted to open back in my hometown some day.
Once I had moved back to Missoula in 2016 I started taking the baby steps that turned into opening The General Public shop. So now here we are - shop and houseline living together in a retail storefront in downtown Missoula.
Hmm…A favorite guilty pleasure of mine is binging Friends while eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream :)
 Allison Reaves designer of The General Public
E: Your clothes resonated with me in such a profound way when I first encountered them at Burke. (In fact—and I may have already told you this—my Decoy Jumpsuit was my first “investment piece” of clothing and remains one of my favorite things to wear to this day!) Every time I put on my jumpsuit I’m reminded that life is fun and that everyday offers the opportunity to be playful. The balance of chic and quirky that your clothes strike is such a particular magic. Could you talk a bit about your approach to your designs and what inspires you?
A: Ah, yes! I’m so honored that the decoy jumpsuit was your first “investment piece.” An all time favorite of mine and so glad you still love it! 
Growing up I didn’t feel particularly attractive in the “classically beautiful” kind of way, so I began to use clothing as a way of standing out and feeling unique. I have always pushed back on some social norms of women being overly sexualized in clothing as a means to make them feel sexy and confident. 
I wanted to create clothing that made women feel confident and sexy without the sexualization factor. That paired with being very inspired by vintage workwear and my dad’s old outdoor gear gave birth the to quirky-cool vibe of The General Public houseline.
Allison Reaves wearing her own designs from The General Public 
E: The General Public is both your clothing line and the name of your brick and mortar in Montana. Could you take us through the evolution of The General Public and how these two iterations relate to one another? I’d also be interested to hear if opening your shop and thinking of The General Public as your house line has shifted your approach to garment design and fabrication. 
A: The clothing line was created when I was in Portland, and focused on creating quirky-cool designs that were inspired by workwear. I designed with the intention of pieces being practical, wearable but also unique and fun. When I opened the shop in Montana I wanted to carry over a similar feel. I strive to connect with designers and artists who create unique objects that have functionality as well. I love the idea of art objects and the joining of functional and non-functional goods.

I don’t think it has shifted my thinking on it too much; if anything the clothing line has taken a pause while I’ve built up the shop. I feel that they live together very well, while each having their own voice.

The General Public shop and studio 
E: I saw on your website that you got started in art and fashion industries in Portland before you returned back to your hometown of Missoula to open your brick and mortar. Would you share what significance place holds for you and how Oregon and Montana have shaped your work? 
While living in Oregon I worked for many super rad women who owned small businesses, mostly in the fashion and design industry. It was really inspiring to see them making anything happen they put their minds to. I was connected to people and resources that lifted my clothing line off the ground and inspired my dream to open a shop/studio combo some day.

The General Public shop and studio 

E: The this pandemic has been such a watershed for all of us and I know that this year of it has been the hardest for many small businesses and independent creatives and entrepreneurs. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share your experience—things that came to the fore for you and if they’ve shaped the direction you’re headed now, challenges you face or continue to face and how you’re meeting them. 
A: I opened the shop in April of 2019, so I feel like the first 3 years of business have not only been hard because I’m new, but also because of the pandemic. It created so much uncertainty and anxiety for what the future would hold. I tried to be really open and flexible to what consumers seemed to be wanting through the roller coaster of 2020 and 2021. As 2022 rolled around I began to realize that I need to be putting more energy into the houseline. Not only were people asking for that, but it also allowed me to be in control of inventory, size availability, price point and overall lower overhead. Buying clothing in a small retail setting is so expensive! Financially it was becoming very daunting to be placing such large orders when I had no idea what was around the corner. This drive to have more control over inventory has really shifted my focus back to the clothing line which I’m really excited about!
The General Public studio fabric rolls
E: Finally, could you give us a peek at what else is on the horizon for all things General Public? 

 A: My goal for The General Public for 2023 is to be getting back into the houseline more! After opening the shop the clothing line has taken a back seat. Now that I have a few years under my belt of running the shop I’m excited to shift focus back to designing new pieces for Summer 2023.

The General Public studio



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