Hints of ginger and peach from the steeping tea flood your senses, as the sun paints the exposed brick through the ceiling-to-floor windows. A jazz playlist is the backdrop of the inviting space that allows customers to take a journey into fashion, while enjoying a cup of tea. Located in Portland’s historic Merchant Hotel in Old Town, Barnes & Morgan Tea and Threads is a tea shop that offers a bespoke garment creation experience. In the early 1900’s, this area was known for the diversity among business owners as it allowed owners from all backgrounds to set up shop. Fast forward to 2023, this 2,100-square-foot space is occupied by an individual carrying his family’s legacy, and the essence of the significance of the area.
Originally from North Carolina, owner Amir Morgan has created the reputation within the community as a stylish entrepreneur. His parents were creatives outside of work, they showed him that self-expression can be seen using materials. Amir and his sister, who’s skilled at sewing, were encouraged to look at clothing and art as form of individualism. When first moving out to Portland, Morgan carried that piece of advice with him.
“I looked at clothing as form of self-expression. Whenever I went out, I altered or tapered a part of my clothing to see if there would be a reaction,” Morgan explained.
His passion for footwear and apparel was influenced by his family members and their respective hobbies. Those experiences during his formative years opened his eyes to the possibilities within the sportswear industry. After graduation, Morgan landed a role at Nike working with textiles. His position requires travel; he’s ventured around the world with the purpose of exploring textiles and its uses. Taiwan, Japan, and Korea are just a few of the locations he’s visited and drew inspiration from for his work. Unknowingly, he also discovered the tea culture in each of these locations. Morgan began ideating around blending the concepts together of tea and apparel. This allowed him to honor his family’s legacy, all while creating his own.
Named after the surnames of his parents, Barnes & Morgan officially opened their doors in February of 2023. The combination of his parent’s lives created Amir Morgan, so he pays homage by naming his shop after them. The influence of his parents extends into the menu as well. Tea was used for many purposes in the Morgan household, from welcoming guests to medicinal purposes. Tea is a part of the on-boarding process in their home, and the same applies for his tea shop. In this case, tea can be consumed however you want or need. The tea and fashion house creates a tea experience and bespoke wardrobe session that is tailored to each consumer that walks through the door.
“The front of house is the welcoming to the space. You get a tea and exchange pleasantries. The back of house is more the personal space, it’s like my room”, Morgan explained.
The back of house is the intersection of comfort and self-expression. Furnished with two footwear-inspired couches and a mirror that reaches the ceiling, this fitting room gives customers the opportunity to deep dive into the bespoke fashion world. Guests can sift through the dozens of books dedicated to garment making and thumb through the pre-made unisex suits. Once fully staffed, guests can work with a seamstress to get alterations, and even bespoke one-piece garments. For accessories, hats, and tote bags can be found in the front of house. There’s something for everyone at Barnes & Morgan.
“Clothing is a way to storytell. Every day you walk out, people will perceive you in a way. You have a choice to influence the story by how you dress,” Morgan stated.
Morgan went to a high school that was highly critical of fashion, which developed the thick skin he needs to create a quality product at work and in his space. Although it sharpened the blades he uses to create his pieces, he understands the approach is not meant for all. This informs how he curates experiences.
“In high school, we didn’t have hallways, we had runways. We got our schoolwork done, but it was a fashion show at our school,” Morgan mentioned.
He wanted to create a safe space for people to feel comfortable when trying on new pieces and get feedback from their peers, especially when trying a completely new style of clothing. The design process is meticulous to ensure the client is satisfied with the work.
While the back of house has a different set of tools, the gear in the front of the house is used to craft a different type of experience. Barnes & Morgan works with Tea Freak to source their tea and blends. Their “Mint Family” tea blend is a connection back to a mainstay in his childhood home. For pastries, their assortments include baklava, breakfast bread and lemon cake. The tea can be enjoyed in drinkware from Loveramics, as well as vintage teacups that were sourced from local estate sales. The tea ritual is started by the Fellow EKG electric kettle and the Bunn H5X Element hot water tower.
As intentional as Morgan is with his selection of tea, and each stitch in his clothing, he’s just as intentional with the space he inhabits. Old Town truly has that has a deeper historical significance. Morgan’s track record can be seen through the fabric within the community. As a 10-year vet in this part of town, he’s had his office space in the area, and worked with Pensole Footwear Design Academy. He’s aiming to make Barnes & Morgan another destination spot for Old Town and bringing people back, showing why it’s truly Portland’s cultural hub.
“It’s the opportunity to leave a family legacy, as well as to keep up the legacy of Black businesses that were once here,” Amir Morgan tells me. You feel it in the space, the history, the legacy, and what it means for all this be here now again in 2023. Come for a tea, stay for the clothes, the conversation, and the energy.
Giovanni Fillari is Brand Marketing Specialist at Nike and the publisher of @_coffeefeed. He is the honorable mention Sprudgie Award recipient for Social Media in 2018 and 2021. Read more Giovanni Fillari for Sprudge.