I am hitting what feels like a new milestone on this wild journey to build Reid Miller Apparel. On Sunday I leave to visit Harris Tweed in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. I’ve come to worship their fabric, have had nothing but great experiences with their company, and dream about their sheep. Now I am going to see where it’s all made and meet the people behind this special product. And somehow I feel the need to take stock of where I’ve been with Reid Miller Apparel leading up to this milestone. Get back to my company’s roots before I head out to see someone else’s.
Almost 2 years ago I was frustrated and negative and feeling stuck in a career that I’d invested a lot in, only to see that it was no longer right. But I began to see the sparkle of light on the horizon. I was born to create something, to draw together my neglected passions, find my courage and put my best work out into the world. Little by little, I began to draw the pieces of the puzzle together starting with biking and entrepreneurship. I too could own a business! The products for women commuting by bike lacked style and thoughtful design. I would buy a shop and put stylish bicycle friendly apparel and goods in it. Only, there wasn’t much in existence to put in it.
Then came the fortuitous meeting with Mick Hogan, career designer for big fashion houses like Donna Karen and Liz Claiborne. The gist of what he said to me was: you don’t need to go back to school, just start designing your own stuff. Learn as you go. The longing that I had long forgotten about, to be a fashion designer, was reignited. I was scared. I was thrilled. I could not turn back.
And I was impatient to prove that I was capable, that I mattered. I worked at breakneck speed to put together the One Outfit in 5 months (Riding Jacket, Riding Denim, and merino sweater), with the help of a wise, seasoned and patient production manager, Alex Fridman. I posted a Kickstarter and ran around the country with an enormous suitcase and my samples. I had imagined that I was going to get a fall line out all in the same year. Not quite.
I learned some hard lessons. Hard, but good. I found that I tended toward creating the best quality available in terms of material and manufacturing. I found that my clothing did not fit in bike shops nor entirely with the biking community. Through talking with women, I found that lots of women, not just biking women, were extremely frustrated by how limited their clothing was: poor quality, poor fit, limiting by design.
I wore the apparel everywhere and talked to more and more women about it. I realized that there is something different here than what I had imagined. This is about completely rethinking women’s clothing. About a creative rebellion to the fashion industry’s conception of women. I can’t speak for all women here but many of us do not fit their image of a woman who wants to pour tons of time and energy into trying to look like something we’re not. Into buying frivolous items that are easily damaged and must be replaced every season. We are tired of the idea that we can’t be beautiful unless we spend 1.5 hours a day getting ready to present ourselves to the world. Dieting, straightening, painting our faces, squeezing into clothing that limits our movement. From where I sit, this has gone on too long. It is 2016 for God’s sake and the world needs us. Time to exit our bathrooms, roll up our sleeves up and get to work.
And as I got to work and surveyed the women’s apparel market, there was just one glaring piece that didn’t fit. Literally. Why in the world are we spending valuable time and resources making a bunch of sizes that fit only a tiny number of women very well? (Miraculously, the Riding Denim has fit many women well, though there will still be many more who’s body type doesn’t fit our sizing.)
I began to investigate the technology for made to fit clothing. And I learned that the technology is there. (Literally in Cary, North Carolina.) The Size Stream as it is called, is a box you stand in that takes your measurements, which can then be converted to a pattern tailored to your body. Very soon this box will be an app you can use in your living room. I learned that the Size Stream is not yet being used for women’s clothing apart from bras. The Fast Company article about menswear companies using this technology, made the following comment about the women’s market in an attempt to explain why Size Stream isn’t being used for womenswear: “The demand for a closet staple like a two-piece suit just isn’t the same.” I disagree. Why in the world would they think a woman wouldn’t value a closet staple like a great fitting pair of pants, blazer or blouse? (See paragraph 6)
So what now? I have gone back and talked to my trusted advisors and many talented people in business, apparel, technology, and marketing about what it would take to use cutting edge technology for made to fit for women. And their support has been overwhelming. Women (and some men) are coming out of the woodworks to help me make this happen. (Thank God, because there is no way I could do something this big alone.) It is not going to be easy, but I believe this is an idea whose time has come.
I will return from Scotland by the end of the month ready for action! The Weekly Letter will resume August 30th.