Kodiak may have claim to the The Kodiak Coat Company’s name and point of origin, but since owner Bridget Milligan moved here in the late 1990s, Juneau has embraced the business as its own.
News of the store’s recently reestablished presence downtown was greeted with happy relief by locals who’ve come to view Milligan’s coats as necessary bulwarks against Southeast rain and wind — our own, hip version of Carhartt or Helly Hansen.
Since Milligan’s previous store closed in 2008, many of her designs have been unavailable. Beginning last year, some coats have been offered at Shoefly on Seward Street, where they will continue to be sold. At the new store, located above Paradise Cafe on Marine Way, Milligan will feature different designs — longer styles and leather, for example — as well as other specialty items, such as hand-dyed silk and rayon skirts and fleece pants.
Milligan’s daughter Jasmina Allen, who is running the shop, said she and her mom decided reopening a local store would be a good way to showcase items available only in Juneau.
“We thought it would be a good outlet for things that are not wholesale items that are still Bridget’s creations,” Allen said.
Income from the store will support the coat business in the off-season and help the pair expand their wholesale reach down South. Kodiak Coats currently has wholesale accounts in Gustavus, Seattle and Anchorage, and hopes to move into markets in other Pacific Northwest cities such as Portland.
The boutique also provides a venue for debuting new designs; Allen is working on a line of rain skirts and hand-dyed scarves.
Allen, 32, does some of the sewing alongside her mom, but she’s a scientist by trade; she recently obtained her Ph.D in chemistry in San Francisco, and is currently taking additional math classes at UAS. She said she’s happy for the chance to work with her family in the new store, and glad to be back on Alaskan soil.
“Even though I lived in the Bay Area for 15 years I was always an Alaskan,” she said. “It was never a question to me where my center is.”
Milligan’s daughter Rosie is also helping out with the store, and her son Christopher designed and built the production room adjacent to the retail space, and is in the process of setting up a website. Son Isaac, in Kodiak, is also supportive of the business, Milligan said, helping when he can.
Milligan’s kids were all raised in Kodiak but Milligan herself is originally from Hollywood, Calif. She’s always loved to sew and got her first machine as a gift from her grandmother when she was 13. It wasn’t long before she made her first sale.
“I actually sold clothes in junior high to other kids,” she said.
Later her Hollywood customers were a bit more upscale; at one point she was sewing bobcat vests and other designs for Sonny and Cher. In spite of the draw of being seamstress to the stars, Milligan was eventually ready for a change, and made the decision to head to Alaska in the 1970s.
“I always say I escaped,” Milligan said with a laugh.
After building and living in a cabin in Chitna, she moved to Kodiak, where she stayed for 20 years. A commercial fisherman, Milligan began making coats and outerwear for her children and other family members and soon expanded into a full-fledged business.
In Juneau her store has occupied a handful of different locations, including one in the present Harley Davidson spot and, most recently, on the second floor of the Emporium Mall. After closing that store in 2008, the multi-faceted Milligan devoted herself to another love: old boats. Over the past few years she’s restored a 1941 Bristol Bay double-ender, a 29-foot traditional rowing and sailing boat she came across behind a gas station in Gustavus. With help from boatbuilder Gregor Welpton she fixed it up and got it back in the water. Last year, Allen accompanied her mom on the boat’s maiden voyage up around Flynn Cove, between Gustavus and Hoonah.
Milligan has also been busy with other art-forms; she had a show at the Plant People in 2010, showcasing her ceramics and Chinese brush painting, and her line of kids’ recycled wool clothing has been featured at Rainbow Foods.
Milligan’s skirts, blouses and dresses are an art-form in themselves; each one is hand-dyed and unique, making it difficult for them to be offered on wholesale.
“They all have different (seam) breaks, different colors, different lengths, different sizes,” she said.
Allen said the new store may eventually begin carrying some of Milligan’s other art, such as her new line of crocks, an item designed for fermenting food. Other leather products, such as belts and bags, are also a possibility.
“We do want to have other things that are more artsy and fun,” Allen said.
“We’re going to try to have something new for every First Friday.”
Store hours are Tuesday and Thursday, noon to 6 p.m., Friday noon to 7 p.m., Saturday noon to 4 p.m., or by appointment. For more information, call (415) 317-6497.