Designing and Making Sustainable Apparel And Giving Back to the Community
Inside a lofty 7,000 square-foot space in Biddeford’s Pepperell Mill, fashion designer Roxi Suger and her talented team create two sustainable, plant-based apparel lines: Angelrox and Suger.
Roxi has built her business one stitch at a time, and she hasn’t let anything stop her from pursuing her dream of comforting women, inspiring joy, and helping others. She embodies the same Maine values that she admires: independence, resilience, honesty, and hard work.
Learning how to sew at the age of eight from her grandmothers in Oklahoma, Roxi’s dream took root. She studied apparel design on a scholarship at the University of Alabama and entered New York City’s fashion world in 1994. Not wasting time, she launched Angelrox in 1999.
Angelrox is now sold to as many as 200 retailers nationwide. Suger, her second line, is more exclusively sold in her two namesake Maine stores, located in Portland and Biddeford, as well as on the company website, angelrox.com. In addition to Roxi’s signature collections, Suger also features an array of lovely and nurturing products, many of which are also made in Maine by other independent makers.
Like many other Maine businesses, Roxi experienced the COVID-19 pandemic’s fallout firsthand. Forced to dramatically reduce her regular apparel business, her team made hospital gowns and helped coordinate the making of masks, in collaboration with the Partners for World Health. They donated more than a thousand headbands to medical facilities and front-line workers in Maine. They also launched a line of masks using her signature plant-based fabrics.
During the stay-at-home order, they were able to keep the Angelrox mill going with a reduced staff, all of whom were required to wear face coverings from the start. The company was fortunate to already have a website in place through which they could continue serving their retail customers (or “angels,” as they are called). These online sales continue to help them stay afloat. Both Suger stores were able to reopen in June, and their full team is back to work at the mill.
“I feel very grateful that, in addition to pivoting to make masks, we were also able to introduce (albeit on a delayed schedule) the new designs we had planned for summer,” Roxi said.
In addition, they have continued to support local causes throughout the pandemic, such as the Welcome Immigrant Center in Portland, the Wildlife Center, a local animal shelter, and the Maine Heritage Coast Trust.
Overcoming challenges with determination, hard work, and imagination is nothing new for Roxi. Her journey to Maine has taken many twists and turns. In 2000, less than a year after launching her line, she opened a retail space on Orchard Street deep in Chinatown, with her own elevated runway in the store and production in the basement. Roxi also lived there with no heat, kitchen, or shower. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she closed the store and next lived in a tiny artist’s loft in Dumbo, at that time a rough Brooklyn neighborhood located underneath the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This space also had no heat nor amenities.
“Those two years resolved in me I would never be cold again,” Roxi said.
Roxi committed to using only plant-based fibers that make her clothing biodegradable and provide more comfort for sensitive skin. She describes her designs and collections as working well for all ages, and especially for “that sweet time of life where many women juggle demands of family, work, and play, hopefully finding their balance along the way.” She adds, “Our designs support and serve every day needs and are also wonderful for active moms, wellness, and outdoor activities.”
The Angelrox collection is playful and extremely versatile with pieces that can be styled in a myriad of ways. The Suger fashion line is more streamlined for women that prefer smooth classics. Both collections share the same comforting fibers in sophisticated but gentle colors inspired by the earth, so they layer together seamlessly.
The essence of both the Angelrox collection and Sugar fashion line is to embrace and support a broad range of body types and sizes, while also inspiring women to recognize their inherent beauty through positive sizing and smart product offerings to suit each individual. The clothing is infused with a spirit of love that is genuinely felt and portrayed on “real” models that celebrate how unique and beautiful every woman is.
Roxi married her love, Julian, in 2005. Their son was born two years later. The financial meltdown that occurred in 2007 also presented Roxi’s small business with tough challenges. She survived by selling her fashions on the streets of NYC, where she met angels who are loyal to this day. When the markets recovered, she started participating in tradeshows to establish wholesale accounts. She did this while also teaching at Parsons, freelancing for other companies, and caring for their young son. At that time, Julian was working full time in the city in advertising. He and Roxi are now business partners.
Julian introduced Roxi to Maine, and when they would visit his dad, who lives in Saco, Maine, would be their haven from New York. They set their sights on moving here, but it took five years before they could realize that dream. By working extremely hard, they advanced the business, and Julian joined Angelrox full-time in 2012.
They purchased a house in Biddeford and moved there that same year, working from their new home. In 2013, they opened their first Suger retail store in Biddeford in the hopes of helping to revitalize the downtown and to introduce their work to the community. They produced their fashions and operated the business within the store and committed right away to giving a portion of sales each month to local charities.
A year later, they moved production, fulfillment, and business operations into their current space inside the Pepperell Mill campus, creating a larger retail experience at Suger. This move aligned with the renaissance happening in the Biddeford and Saco area, as more creative entrepreneurs relocated to the area and saw it as a great place to launch their businesses.
With the goal of giving back and supporting great causes as a cornerstone of Roxi’s dream, the couple also organized three Biddeford Balls, fundraisers intended to bring the community together. These events raised $70,000 for various charities and included lighting the former mill smokestack to create a beautiful nighttime vista for the area.
Once Roxi arrived in Maine, she never looked back. “I felt welcome here.” She identifies with what she describes as “a sense of kindness, hard work, and down-to-earth sensibilities” that Mainers exhibit. She also loves how the people of Maine appreciate the environment, are eager to help one another, and respect their quality of life to achieve a healthy balance.
“There is so much to adore about our exquisite state, but it is the people who live and work in Maine who make it the most extraordinary place.”