Kodiak Coats closing; may remake itself

The designer and creator of the popular line Kodiak Coats is moving on to leather and silks, and leaving Juneau.

Bridget Milligan Portrait

Kodiak Coat Company owner Bridget Milligan in her workshop in downtown Juneau . Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO

After making her trademark coats in Juneau for more than a decade, Bridget Milligan is going to Washington state.

On the first Friday of September in Bellingham, she  will be showing a new line of clothes.

“I’m just going to do a splash,” she says.

For now, Milligan is looking forward to designing and making “leather coats and fancy dresses.  I’ve always had a fantasy of just sewing with natural fabrics some day.”

She will not be showing any Kodiak Coats.

“You know, I just finished a coat for a lady – a waterproof fleece lined coat — and it might be my last waterproof fleece coat that I might ever make,” she says.

A van of sewing machines, fabric, patterns and other stuff has already gone south.   She will sublet her work area, a large cutting table and a couple of sewing machines to Danielle Byers and Iris Benson. Byers has been working with Milligan for a while.

Benson says plans are evolving, but as a commercial fisherman, she’s thinking the two will make clothes that are  “durable Alaskan and heavy duty, but also with flair that’s fun to wear.”

That describes Milligan’s line of coats, but Benson says the new business on Marine Way will not be Kodiak Coats.

Milligan’s Alaskan coat was first created in Kodiak 25 years ago.  She’s originally from the San Francisco area, and first moved to the Bristol Bay region of Alaska.

“I wanted to spend the rest of my life on a camping trip, which I still want to do,” she says.

She traveled to Kodiak to have a boat built and stayed.

Milligan says her first Alaska coats were parkas for her kids made from Army Navy blankets.  Then came the Kodiak Coat.

“Just kind of started in my back yard, so to speak, making coats for people,” she says.

And the dory she had built became the logo for her company.

The exterior fabric of a Kodiak Coat is waterproofed with rubber.  Each coat is lined with warm fleece, has a hood, and zips high around the neck to keep out the wind.  The pockets are big and wrists adjustable – a very practical but stylish coat for the sideways rain in Alaska’s coastal cities.

About 15 years ago, Milligan moved her coat-making business to Juneau.

That’s about the time Michael Kohan of Juneau and a friend bought a coat to share.

“We’ve had a purple fleece Kodiak Coat.  When one of us is out of the country in Southeast Asia or some other places, we are able to use the Kodiak Coat for the person who’s in Alaska and then we trade it, whoever comes back to Alaska gets it again.  It’s worked out well for us,” she says.

With word of the store closing, Kohan was looking at Milligan’s line of summer dresses, tops and skirts. But she says her revenue these days is coming from leather.  Milligan is even dying the leather for the coats herself.

“And I made several wedding dresses this year and bridesmaids dresses with beautiful satins and silks and wonderful fabrics,” she says.

The problem with the Kodiak Coats is the need to make men’s, women’s and children’s styles in all sizes and colors.

“You just have to, you just can’t say ‘Oh I don’t make that size or I don’t have that color,’ you just have to do that. So maybe if you’re really lucky you get an hour a week to design something you’ve been wanting to work on for two months,”  she says.

Milligan started designing and sewing doll clothes by hand as child, so her grandmother bought her a sewing machine.

She says creating the patterns is the exciting part of the process:

But the sewing is so relaxing.  It’s like ‘ah, now I get to sew.’  It’s like what I’m supposed to do.

And she says “happiness is a (sewing) machine that works.”

Milligan says owning a small business requires a different mentality than working for someone else.

“I call small business owners the unemployable,” she says. “We’re just lucky we got something we can do.”

Milligan has tried to close her Juneau business before, but it didn’t last long and she soon started making the practical coats again.  And this time, she admits, her plans are “still evolving.”

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