Sustainable fashion = making lots of new friends
The making of The Dress
Supply Chain verticalization vs decentralization:
After realizing that manufacturing sustainably was going to be considerably slower, the other HUGE learning curve was locally sourcing the nearly 2 dozen different partners / vendors who each have had a part in producing The Dress. In China I would have taken my designs to one factory, and they would make the patterns and sew the samples (sometimes even supplied the material), and have the finished product ready for me to ship to customers within weeks (packaged with tags and labels).
When I moved to New York in February I brought with me all of the patterns and samples that had been made in the U.K. at Fashion Enter. I thought I could take the samples to a new factory and voila, the factory would call me when the first batch of dresses was ready to ship out to eager mamas.
Lol…! Not so fast…!
The factories in New York uniformly told me that they only sewed “cut pieces” of fabric together, they don’t even cut the material on-site! It was up to me as a designer to figure out all the steps in between. Thus began a winter of taking the twins on “adventures to the Garment District” to source my own suppliers. I began by talking to every designer I knew, and getting recommendations from every friend who touched the industry (thank you Brit, Nomi, Dan and Cheryl!!). Over the last 6 months I learned about steps in the garment process I didn’t even know existed!
I pushed the babies up and down 35th & 36th Street to JRP graders, who created the range of sizes using CAD software, and to a cutting room on 36th St, where my fabric was steamed and then rolled out, and then the paper patterns were carefully arranged so that the fabric could be cut with as little waste as possible.
We tracked down label makers who wove the tags and printed care-labels, and Publicide, a super cool print shop in the old DKNY Factory building, that helped me pick out the letterpress and correct paper weight that would brand the dress and hang tags - shout out to Chris for all the support!
We met with Jené Stefaniak at StitchLuxe, another amazing female pattern-maker who made a few revisions to The Dress after I had a focus group of New York moms try it on (we shortened it by an inch!), and we crashed the serene studios of other designers who were kind enough to meet and share their wealth of recommendations and advice for NYC production. The babies loved the trips on the subway, and were intrigued by all the sounds and colors of the factories. They had a “one carrot patience limit,” so meetings were quickly and efficiently wrapped up when Rosie finished nibbling on one baby carrot and then demanded a change of scenery.
My amazing husband took on full-time twin-daddy-duty so I could go to Paris for a weekend for Primiere Vision, and meet with hundreds of fabric and trimming manufacturers. I realized that fabric was impossible to buy on-line or remotely because I needed to touch and feel it, so Premiere Vision turned out to be perhaps the most valuable network of all!
Back in NYC I Skyped our incredible fabric manufacturer in France, emailed our packaging designer in the UK, and made calls to packaging gurus in LA (thanks Bamko for all the advice!). I tracked down locally manufactured cardboard shipping boxes and packing tissue at Prime Packaging in Brooklyn, and I was thrilled to discover that these bulky low cost items are produced in the US because that meant a lower carbon footprint in shipping resources!
I scrolled Instagram while I pumped before bed until I found our an amazing photographer,Christian Carroll, who had experience shooting mothers and babies, and DM’ed hair & makeup artists and models who had babies of their own and might be excited about helping.launch a new brand focused on making other mom’s lives easier (shout out to Evie Rye, Stacy Ann, Lise, Dee, and Hillary!!)
After the babies went to sleep at night (I poured a big glass of wine), we did extra quality control - washing the The Dress over and over to make sure the fabric didn’t shrink or pill, and that the magnets would stay sewn in. I hosted groups of moms in our living room to try on The Dress and give feedback on the fit and functionality, and constantly checked to Nest cam to make sure the twins were still snoozing.
So by the time winter ended and the babies were learning to walk, I finally had all the pieces in place for the factory to start sewing.
It would have taken a fraction of the time to produce The Dress in a 1-stop factory in Asia, but it has been an incredible experience building our own supply chain and establishing strong partnerships for leSolstice. I’m lucky to be based in New York City where the Garment District is a thriving ecosystem of fashion production. The suppliers, specialists and factory owners are talented, resourceful and generally very supportive of working with new brands. It is a tight community that is collaborative, competitive, and built of passionate experts who have been doing this for decades. I’d see a Vera Wang printed makers-mark hanging up at JRP studio, hear about wild photo shoots with Karl Lagerfield at David Wolfson’s studio, and see the new patterns being made for Cushnie at Jené’s studio.
By asking for introductions from pattern makers and other designers I found the awesome factory that is making The Dress, Atelier Amelia, run by ZhuRu, a native Hawaiian and a graduate of F.I.T who is taking up the reigns of Garment District production for cool new designers (and has her own uber-chic swimwear line, Estuaries).
Building our own production supply chain for leSolstice has been a labor of love. Creating a sustainable fashion line takes an investment in time and networking, but the long effect of less-pollution, high living wages, and more local jobs is important to me and all the mamas (and dads!) in our leSolstice community.
I’m excited to be working with so many independently run and locally based factories and studios, and proud that leSolstice is Made in NYC.