Several years ago, in the early days of Reid Miller Apparel, when I was first confronting challenge after challenge making my first garments: suppliers, shipping, sampling, retail, etc. – I came across a section from a brilliant book on running an apparel company: Blue is the New Black. It said that contrary to popular myths about people in the fashion industry – that they are shallow, that they flit about in ridiculous outfits from fancy coffee to fancy coffee with their sketch pads and vision boards while the dollars just roll in (ok so those are my words 🙂 – people in fashion are defined by persistence and toughness. As I got going, I thought to myself, Gosh, this is SO difficult. The industry expert who wrote the forward for the book, Mariette Hoitink, speculated that the fashion industry may be one of the most demanding industries there is. As a result, the book describes a group of people with “extreme persistence”.
I happened to reread this section after a particularly tricky day over the weekend. I was making a blouse out of the hemp organic cotton fabric with the hope that no changes would be necessary and that we could photograph it and move on. Anyone familiar with the apparel production process knows that though possible – often changes are necessary when you move from a cotton muslin sample to the final fabric. The trick is that I am here in Princeton, West Virginia with my full-time job, a sewer in training and a tailoring expert who has another full-time business. Changes, at this point, are on me. So I often hope beyond hope that we will just get lucky and it will just work. But ultimately I realized that I had to follow the process and realized that we can either do this quickly or we can do it right. What will take a full-time apparel operation a few days will unfortunately take us a few weeks at this point.
I revisited Blue is the New Black to remind myself that there are tried and true steps to creating high quality, great fitting apparel products. Though we may be doing so many things differently, there are many steps that are indispensable. When I think about following those steps, with our small team the words “extreme persistence” comes to mind. Ok that’s who I am, that’s what we are doing so it is OK.
I also thought about an advisor back in North Carolina who was negative on my decision to move to a small town to start an apparel operation. The gist of what he said is that it was hard enough to start such an operation with local resources and infrastructure, complimentary businesses like sewing machine repair shops, etc. In a small town in the mountains you would take something that was extremely difficult to start in the best of circumstances and make it many times more challenging.
But here’s the thing – the more I do this work the more I think that though it is tremendously challenging, though it requires more patience than I thought was ever possible, it is doable. It is doable and musters in me tremendous love. And our small towns need extreme persistence and grit.
Shining brightly with these qualities are my neighbors Lori and Rob McKinney and the team who built the RiffRaff Arts Collective that includes a music school for children and adults of all ages, art classes, a music venue, a gallery and more. They began building this enterprise 15 years ago on our main street in Princeton when it was mostly boarded up. Today they have a thriving complex of creative endeavors and partnerships that carry local residence through their days with vital creativity and community. Their creative creations attracted a diversity of business including a local foods grocer, a coffee shop, restaurants, a brewery and more. On the days when it seems so impossibly challenging, I look out the window and see their beautiful brick building lit up with colored lights, music echoing out from their recording studio, artists chatting on the sidewalk and I am inspired. Is this vision for custom fitting womenswear tough? Absolutely. Does it require extreme persistence? Yes. But it is doable. And perhaps everything worth building in this world today will require all these things and the support to show each other what is possible when we preserver.
There is still time to send us a note if you’d like a fun packet of info on the Founder’s Circle and how you can be an early supporter of the 100 Blouses Project and our Custom Tailoring and Apparel Manufacturing Apprenticeship. Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address if you’d like to be included.
Thank you so much for all your support.
Go, fight, win.