(VIDEO) Our Story

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After finally finding our perfect sew shop to partner with, we were ready to share our story! We had an opportunity to work with an amazing local videographer, Nancy Ericsson, who produced this video for us, showcasing our work and the beautiful landscape that inspired it.  Enjoy the beauty of Marin and lots of baby cuteness!

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Next week: We get by with a little help

A sew shop love story

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We had decided what we didn’t want in a sew shop for our clothing line. Now it was time to find a manufacturer who met our criteria: made in America, workers paid a living wage, and pleasant working conditions as defined by us, not a checklist that doesn’t reflect the actual working conditions.

We knew what we were looking for in a sew shop- but did it exist?

I started googling for an ethical sew shop in America!  I found a few- The Good Clothing Company on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, near my hometown. It seemed like the ideal solution, except that it was no longer close. Massachusetts is 3000 miles away from where we are now. CoSewn was closer- in Colorado. I figured we’d reach out to them if we couldn’t find a place closer.

Searching late at night for how other sustainable fashion designers made it to American Made, by Martha Stewart, I stumbled upon a mention of a sew shop in Northern California called Left in Stitches. With no other online mentions and a bare-bones website to look at, we called them up.

Melina went up north to visit them (helpful that she used to live up there). Immediately different vibe. Open space, lots of light, living wages, care and craftsmanship.

It was love.

The windows had light pouring in, the seamstresses were smiling (okay, they were content), and everyone was making a living wage. It was exactly the place we had been searching for. The owner helped us revamp our patterns to ones suitable for manufacturing. We also simplified them a bit, so we could really reuse existing garments as our source material.  She was also so enamored by our upcycling approach that she was willing to work with us- even though our garments were not made cookie-cutter style from a bolt of fabric. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful and meaningful relationship?!

After a year and a half in business, we finally made a true win.

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How Clothing is Made

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Now that we had a concept, material and patterns for our clothing line, we just needed to find a manufacturer.  Easy, right?  Not quite.

The next part of our adventure was by far the most difficult, as well as the most eye-opening and inspiring part of our journey so far. Both of us have always been environmentally aware. We recycle, we compost, we try to think about the impact of our actions on the planet and the health of our kids. But after learning how clothes are made, how workers are treated, and the actual human and environmental cost of Big Clothing, we realized that we were still blissfully unaware about the impact of many of our purchases. This is information that changes you; you really can’t unlearn it.

Feeling anxious to start using our growing stacks of dress shirts, we set up a tour of several factories in the Bay Area. We knew very little about the fashion industry, but we did know that we wanted to be a part of the growing revival of American manufacturing, which would allow us to oversee every step of the process. It was Made in the USA or bust.

Our first stop was a reputable manufacturer in San Francisco. They took great pride in their facility, and we were excited to finally see a commercial production facility. I’ll say right up front that it was fine. But since it was our first stop, we were still shocked by the noise, smells, and workers endlessly sewing, bent over their machines. If you can envision an early 20th century assembly line at the Ford plant, making Model T’s, you have the right idea.

I don’t mean to knock their process-they were the best of the best, and brands who work with them can know that they follow the law and have humane conditions. When the final product needs to sell for under $20, and the factory gets paid per item, you really need the most bare-bones, streamlined process possible.

A little overwhelmed, and already realizing this wasn’t going to work for us, we somewhat reluctantly continued to the next couple of “quality”, “Made in the USA” garment factories.We saw high-end, organic baby lines you’d recognize being made in dark, windowless basements, filled with dust, smells, noise, and grim employees. It was depressing, claustrophobic, unhealthy, and just really, not what we wanted. When you put a beautiful outfit on your baby, you want to think that well-paid, loving hands helped to create it.

We were coming to the realization that almost all clothes, even stuff that’s expensive and “high quality,” are made in very depressing conditions.

We had made so much progress, and yet, we felt we were going to have to start over again. This isn’t a get rich quick scheme—it’s about taking responsibility for our actions, and the clothes on our backs.

The real kicker was these factories didn’t want to work with us either! They only made clothes that could be cut in bulk from large bolts of fabric. They were unwilling to make a new garment from an existing one. Not enough economy of scale, not enough money in it for them. One said they would do it- at the price of a sample for each garment, or roughly $89 to sew each item. What?!

We needed a different way to make our clothes.

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Next Week: Our Sew Shop Love Story

Up-cycle, You-cycle, We-cycle

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Filled with the rush of entrepreneurship, we used the most obvious source of dress shirts around… Melina and I raided our husbands’ closets.

Realizing this was not a sustainable sourcing model or a way to prevent arguments, we found another source.

The next time I went to our local dry cleaners, I asked about the abandoned shirts they would normally donate. I purchased a couple dozen this way for $2-$3 (to cover the cost of the cleaning).

Next, we scoured dozens of thrift stores in Marin and San Francisco. Jackpot. Burberry, Brooks Brothers, Faconnable; thank you tech boom!

We soon found ourselves with a growing stack of designer shirts.

Really though, most of these shirts would have resold, so we decided to see if there were any socially conscious options available.

After some research, I reached out to the perfect local non-profit, Image for Success. They provide a personal shopping experience and donate entire wardrobes to people transitioning back into the workforce. They have dozens of shirts donated to them per month that they can’t use (shirts with a monogram, or a small tear or blemish that make them unsuitable office attire). The shirts? Still Brooks Brothers, Borrelli, and Boss. It was a huge win-win partnership for us both.

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Next week: manufacturing