Yesterday I picked up my entire fall collection. I got in my car and headed to Jian’s house, a local seamstress whom I have grown to know and love.
Jian had just finished sewing and we were both thrilled with the way everything had turned out. I had forgotten my checkbook (a result of my still-recovering pregnancy brain) but fortunately Jian's son, Vincent was home to help her figure out "Zelle" for the first time.
As I transferred money from my account to hers, I held my breath a bit knowing my bank account was about to take a hit from this large sewing order. Fortunately, I reminded myself that as soon as I drop these coats off at a few local shops next week, my bank account would be back up again (even if only momentarily). Thus is the life of small local coat designer, shuffling goods around Chicago hoping that things will eventually end up on top at the end of the season.
The reality of a clothing designer's life is not as glamorous as it may appear in magazines or even on instagram. On an average week, I'm not drawing, sewing or dressing beautiful models (although I do those things occasionally). Most weeks I'm driving.
I drive to Pastor's house, my cutter who has a mini work-room in his basement with one employee. He cuts most of the local designer's goods. I'm always greeted by his two dogs who escort me to and from his shop and I usually have a kid or two with me in tow pulling on my sleeve saying "Mom- are you done yet?" as I unload fabric and reload cut goods into my car.
Some days I drive to Kelsey's office in the West Loop. Kelsey is a wiz with technology. She takes my hand drawn patterns, imports them into a computer program, creates my size runs, and figures out ways for me to reduce fabric utilization through her program.
Other days I'm visiting Mari-Rose a local clothing shop owner in Wilmette to drop off some new designs, check in to see how my coats are doing, and spend a minute talking chatting about what our mutual love for vintage clothing. And once in a while I have the highly creative task of picking out the perfect lining color to match my fabric from a local fabric rep, Diana an industry veteran who knows everyone in town.
And yet, there are still many components to my line that are still very much "unseen.” For example, since my fabrics are all imported I am not in touch with the farmers who care for the sheep that provide my wool. I have no idea what the dye facility looks like that transforms the wool into marvelous colors, and I do not know the how much the weavers are paid or what their facility looks like. I'd love to know all of this but I'm not there yet. I'm working on it, but it's taking time.
I do know that my designs are my own since I drape and pattern everything myself. I search for inspiration from fashion history and modern architecture but I never copy anything that is already being produced.
So here is my heavy dose of transparency. There are many things I could do better. I could know more about my materials, not just my fabrics but my buttons, linings and trims...where they came from and how they are made. I’d love to claim that I have insights into all of this but I still have a way to go.
In the mean time, I'm happy with the success I’ve found in uncovering a still-thriving clothing manufacturing sector right here in Chicago during a time when over 90% of our clothing is made overseas. I’m glad to know who made my clothes, because its more then just a trendy hashtag, it refers to my community and my friends.
Update 6/8/21 - I am so thrilled to update this post that as of June 8th, 2021, I have made some big strides toward obtaining some beautiful fabric from American Woolen. It has been a dream of mine to obtain American-Made fabric, but the reality is that most of our country's wool mills have been closed for some time. American Woolen is one of the four remaining wool mils in the United States. As I update this today, the US economy is recovering from the COVID 19 Pandemic. Now more than ever, I am so thrilled to be able to work with a company providing jobs to Americans in need. Additionally I'm excited to reduce the carbon footprint of this brand by working with a mill so close to home. American Woolen sources ethical/ non-mulesed wool from farms across the United States and South America. Thank you for staying with me and following my journey.