Why start a clothing company?

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With so many clothing companies out there, and new ones popping up all the time, does it make sense to start another one? Consider the growing amount of textile waste and news coverage of mistreated garment workers overseas. Are we crazy? Well, what about a clothing company that actually reduces textile waste and is working for positive change in the fashion industry? That is exactly what we set out to do. But how? The key to our company is that all our ethically made clothes are upcycled.

Upcycling: the process of reusing or repurposing materials to create new, even higher quality products than the original.

Reusing beautiful fabrics is smart, beautiful, creative and fun (& it also helps to reduce landfill waste). It’s not a new idea; people have been cleverly repurposing clothing forever. Think about your grandparent’s era, when upcycling was a way of life because many families had less money and material resources. It is both smart and sentimental. We’re happy to help bring the movement back.

Melina and I were raised in households where Halloween costumes were hand made, ripped knees were patched and pants were bought a bit too bit with seams taken in to fit, then taken out as we grew. It was a sentiment of respecting what we had, and making it last for as long as possible. And, receiving a bag of hand-me-down clothes from a cool older cousin (thanks, Trish!) was way more exciting than a trip to the mall.

I’ve been in the sustainability world for over a decade, advising governments and private companies on how to amend current practices and future initiatives by considering people, the planet and profit. We aim to bring to life a company that starts off on the right foot, paying workers a fair, living wage and keeping textile waste out of landfills. After 18 months of working on our launch, we still aren’t there. Turns out, it’s more complicated to scale our business idea than we realized, but we are closer than we have ever been and we will continue to strive for our goals, one well constructed, upcycled garment at a time.

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Shopping Matters

Miriam
A classic dress for all seasons, upcycled from grandpa’s shirt. Worn sweetly in both summer and rain showers.

On this journey to create a sustainable childrenswear line, we have learned so much about how clothing is made and the importance of making a positive impact on the fashion industry. It’s great to have all this information, but how do you use it in your everyday life?

Since it’s August, we are thinking about back to school shopping and we know a lot of you are thinking about it as well. Here are 4 questions that are helpful to ask yourself when you head out shopping.

Is this garment made from sustainable textiles?

Ok, kind of a trick question if you read our earlier blog post about sustainable fabric. Spoiler alert: there is no truly sustainable fabric. However, there are some textile options that are a step in the right direction. Organic or responsibly grown fibers reduce pesticide and fertilizer use. Upcycled or gently used clothes from friends, thrift shops and donation organizations (like Little Swappies) are even better.

All the little details
Construction is key. Inspect before you buy. Make sure your children’s clothing doesn’t come apart the first time you wash it!

Is this garment well constructed?

Try to choose clothes that will last through multiple seasons, children and washes without the need to resew buttons or fix ripped seams.

Was this garment ethically manufactured?

Ethical manufacturing means that workers are paid a living wage, no child labor is used and the working spaces are clean and well lit. Shopping locally or buying US brands is a good way to support ethical manufacturers, as well as support your community and economy.

Is this garment timeless/classic?

Choosing clothes with a classic, simple style means that they won’t look dated when passing them on – plus your child will finally have something to wear with that embellished sweater or colorful tights.

So, what about price? Yes, these kinds of clothes usually come with a higher price tag. However, it’s often more expensive to buy cheap clothing because you must buy more often as the clothing wears out quickly.

And don’t forget these tips when shopping for yourself as well!

Learn more about our custom childrenswear here and join our newsletter to gain first access to our upcoming launch!

Fellow Marin fashion entrepreneur shares tips from his meeting with Richard Branson

Jetting off to Richard Branson’s private island this past May, Sitka founder Jonathan Hart finally finds a quiet moment to fill us in on his fashion industry entrepreneurial success tips.

Jonathan is one of my husband’s mountain biking buddies. When he heard I was launching a sustainable children’s clothing line, he immediately offered to help. After all, just ten short years ago, he was learning how to navigate the crazy work of textile manufacturing, pattern making and marketing himself.

Q. You launched Sitka ten years ago. Taking that leap of faith to start a company is hard for many people. How did you know you were ready?

A. It’s like finding the right time to have a kids- there isn’t one, you just do it! I really had full conviction that the product I wanted to make solved a problem. I figured, why wait? If we don’t do it, someone else will, the time is now. There are lots of people with great ideas. There are very very few who actually do anything with those ideas though. That is what sets entrepreneurs apart. They are willing to try.

Q. We? You started out with a partner, but that relationship didn’t last. What advice would you offer new partners looking to start a venture?

A. The power of collaboration with the right person is amazing. You have to be aware of the needs of running a business and who’s going to fill which role; you have to compliment each other’s weaknesses. While having chemistry is critical, you have to be honest about your own skill set. Self awareness is a very powerful asset.

Q. You flew to Richard Branson’s private island with 30 other lucky entrepreneurs for a collaboration retreat. What’s one key takeaway from that event you can share?

Richard Branson's motto
Richard Branson’s motto

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We get by with a little help from…

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We get by with a little help from…our Accelerator Program, Factory45!

“Factory45 was created as my personal way of combating fast fashion. As more and more consumers start to seek out ethically and sustainably made products, it further affirms that there is a need for the companies created through Factory45. It’s my goal to provide alternatives to the apparel products found in the traditionally wasteful and thoughtless fashion industry. With every new crop of entrepreneurs that comes through Factory45, I have hope for a better future for fashion.”

Shannon Whitehead, founder Factory45

Reading about the state of the garment industry through Elizabeth Cline’s Overdressed, we scoured the web for more information on slow fashion, green fashion and eco fashion. Multiple blogs mentioned a Boston-based sustainable fashion guru named Shannon Whitehead. Being born and raised in Massachusetts, I was intrigued. Who was she?

I read that Shannon and her then co-founder, Kristin, had created the highest funded fashion Kickstarter campaign of their time by launching their slow fashion Versalette, a woman’s apparel piece that can be worn multiple different ways. Impressive.

We contacted Shannon for help, and she, thankfully, obliged, and asked if we’d be joining her Factory45 program for sustainable fashion start-ups. Really? No! We’ve been doing this for a year now; we’re well beyond the start-up phase. Why would we spend limited funds to learn how to do what we’re already doing?

Thank goodness we came to our senses a few weeks later, met with a local woman who had participated in the first Factory45 program, and she sold us on it. She already had a wildly successful handbag business (produced overseas), but had joined to learn how to make things ethically, in the US and with sustainable fabrics. We were convinced and applied (and were accepted) into the program. It’s been a game changer.

Shannon had the resources and in-the-trenches knowledge to help us revamp our business. We gained insight from Shannon and the rest of the Factory45 group we joined- full of 31 others starting their own sustainable fashion lines, from sexy lingerie to surf wear to prayer shawls and everything in between. While our customers and final products may vary widely, we are all following very similar paths from idea to market. From creating a business idea that fills a need to sourcing sustainable fabrics (full disclosure- there is no single truly sustainable fiber) and finding ethical sew shops, we received valuable information about fashion, pattern making, fabric production and social media- learning that there was so much more we didn’t know.

Melina and I are grateful to be part of such a great community of supportive entrepreneurs with Shannon as our fearless leader! We’re all striving together to make the fashion world a bit cleaner, greener and more beautiful, one garment at a time.

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