Fashion with Heart: Q&A with Fair Trade Fashion Designer, Liz Alig

Liz Alig, with some of the women she employs
I am so excited to be able to catch up with Liz and her fair trade fashion line Liz Alig!

We carry her line at Change Boutique, and love her brand! Everything is so unique and carefully crafted using recycled materials or hand woven materials. Read more from our interview:

How did you start Liz Alig? Was it a work trip or vacationing in other countries and seeing the way the locals lived?

Liz Alig: I started Liz Alig just as a very small collection of dresses I made one Summer – to see if it was possible to make a whole collection out of recycled materials.  Then after a local store sold out of them and wanted more – I approached a small not for profit in Honduras I had interned for about producing 100 dresses for me.  Slowly, it has grown from there.

Do you have a background in Fashion Design or Social work?

Liz Alig: I have a background in fashion design.

What was the hardest part of starting Liz Alig? (ex. sourcing vendors who could supply recycled fabric? Securing labor? Importing?)

Liz Alig: I have a background in design and have had to learn everything about owning a business along the way – so that has been a lot of fun and a huge challenge.  I would say that the hardest challenge though about this is being in the middle between fair trade groups and high end boutiques.  These are two completely different worlds and I find myself in the middle a lot!  Things like quality control – the small little group who has never left their village that has no electricity or running water does not understand the kind of quality expected by a high end store in the States.  Also, the stores appreciate the story of the clothing, but it can be difficult if they don’t understand the difference between handmade and factory made clothing.  It can be difficult to help these groups to meet in the middle and understand the challenges of both.  It is a huge learning curb for both ends and it is sometimes overwhelming to be in the middle.

Screen shot 2015-09-03 at 5.21.35 PM

What are your design inspirations?

Liz Alig: I find design inspiration everywhere.  I am currently in Northern Michigan and am getting a lot of inspiration for next Fall – I also get inspiration from traveling in colorful countries like India and Africa.

How do you find ethical and fair trade producers for your line?

Liz Alig: It is a pretty small network of ethical producers of clothing, so after being in it for a few years – I have heard of a lot of different groups.  I try to focus on groups that are not only producing ethical clothing, but are also using that to make a difference in their community and in the lives of their employees.  A lot of the organizations we work with use the profits to give technical training to women who otherwise do not have a lot of help finding a job outside of their homes.

Liz Alig has chosen to follow a few standards as outlined by global fair trade organizations.

How do you ensure that the production is ethical and fairly made?

Liz Alig: Most of the places I work with – I have a friend who either started it or works closely with them – so before we even think about a new partner we have a pretty good relationship with them.  Then, it is super helpful to visit them before we start the production to not only see how they are producing stuff, but to see what fabrics and equipment they have to work with.  One reason we use a lot of recycled and hand-woven fabric in the first place is to ensure the ethics of the clothing.  Each country has textiles, or recycled materials, that we know we can source from that country in an ethical way.

How big is your team/company at Liz Alig?

Liz Alig: Liz Alig is still pretty small – we have about 10 brand reps all over the country.  Myself and a part time wholesale manager.  I also have a whole lot of really great volunteers.

Any suggestions/advice for young designers who want to do their own fair trade fashion line?

Liz Alig:  Honestly, it is really hard!  As I said before you are kind of in the middle between two groups who don’t really understand each other.  I would say it is important to understand it takes time – my rule is it will take about five years for a group to be at a place to produce large orders at a good quality.

What are some fair trade ethical brands that you love that we should also check out?

Liz Alig: I really love Ace and Jig

Love her line?

You can order direct from her website or stop in at Change Boutique <3

 

RAW natural born artists: Milwaukee

After more than a year hiatus RAW natural born artists is back in Wisconsin! While the showcases will no longer be held in Madison, the RAW coordinators have been working behind the scenes to make the showcases returning to Milwaukee bigger and better than before. They will be held every other month at The Rave and will include more artists per showcase than in the past.

The MFN attended the premier showcase on April 9th at The Rave in Milwaukee to help welcome RAW back to Wisconsin and to check out all the talent.

Artist Sara Bott

Artist Sara Bott

There were 34 artists ranging from visual artists, photographers, and filmmakers, to apparel/accessory designers, makeup/hair stylists, musicians and performing artists. The evening was full of great talent and conversation.

The RAVE stage is for more than just touring musicians

The Rave stage is for more than just touring musicians

We had a chance to speak with Sarah Raeke, the Showcase Director for RAW Artists Milwaukee, she excitedly mentioned that the upcoming June 11th Milwaukee Showcase has 42 artists booked, more than ever before! Artists from around Wisconsin are encouraged to apply for the upcoming RAW showcases; it’s not limited to the immediate Milwaukee area.

RAW: SPLENDOR Milwaukee Showcase Thurs 6/11 8pm

RAW: SPLENDOR Milwaukee Showcase
Thurs 6/11 8pm

Check out the upcoming Showcase: SPLENDOR and support your fellow artists on Thursday 6/11, 8pm at The Rave. Tickets are available online and at the door. RAW shows are 18+ with a cash bar available.

The RAW organization is also excited to announce their newest venture: [FOUND] Agency! Found Agency is a creative arts agency that specializes in connecting our cutting-edge RAW community with businesses, corporate projects and marketing.

 

What is Fair Trade?

Thousands of workers and their unions rallied across Bangladesh April 24, the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse that killed more than 1,100 garment workers. The Solidarity Center is training garment worker organizers--many of them women--and supporting their efforts to demand safe factories. Credit: Solidarity Center/Sifat Sharmin Amita

Thousands of workers and their unions rallied across Bangladesh April 24, the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse that killed more than 1,100 garment workers. The Solidarity Center is training garment worker organizers–many of them women–and supporting their efforts to demand safe factories. Credit: Solidarity Center/Sifat Sharmin Amita, CC BY-ND 2.0

Fair Trade Focuses on the Well-Being of People and the Environment

The purpose of any business is to make money. Yes, and especially when that business is a large multi-national corporation legally obligated to make as much money as possible for their shareholders. However, all too often it comes to the detriment of workers and the environment.

The fair trade movement is a reaction to this assault on people and the environment. The goal of this movement is to create a business model where the focus is shifted away from gaining profits for the wealthy few. Instead, the fair trade movement focuses on the well-being of both people who are actually doing the work and the ecosystems that make this planet the only one we know of with life on it.

The Fair Trade Federation, an organization dedicated to promoting the global fair trade movement while building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty, explains further:

Fair trade is an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system.

Fair trade supports farmers and craftspeople in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized. These producers lack economic opportunity and often face steep hurdles in finding markets and customers for their goods.

Fair trade is about making a tremendous impact on artisan and farmer communities while offering great products to the public. Communities are improved; nutritional needs met; health care costs are covered; the poor, especially women, are empowered; the environmental impact of production, sourcing, and transport is mitigated to the fullest extent possible. Such an impact is created because Fair Trade approaches development as a holistic process.

Garment Factories and the Cost of Big Fashion

To understand the goals and the value of fair trade it is important to understand the way big fashion works. As most fashion companies move their production overseas, they are inherently capitalizing and exploiting the built in currency strength of the US dollar in foreign countries. This undermines the major strides unions made in the early to mid 1900’s that built the American middle class. That’s not to say all companies that produce overseas are treating the workers badly or exploiting them. Even in the case of the companies that are exploiting their workers, the jobs they are providing may be better than the alternatives for some. But those workers now find themselves in a situation that American workers in the early 1900’s were in, while the jobs that helped so many Americans climb into the middle class are disappearing.

ILO in Asia and the Pacific., Child labourers work at the small garment factory in Jakarta with tasks, such as sewing, packaging, etc. Photographer: Asrian Mirza.   Go to: creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/igo/deed.en_US

ILO in Asia and the Pacific., Child laborers work at the small garment factory in Jakarta with tasks, such as sewing, packaging, etc. Credit: Asrian Mirza, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Quality of the goods factors in as well because of the fierce competition within the fashion industry. But because of this the quality of the environment is left behind and the lives of the people involved are often conveniently overlooked in the name of profit. Major US apparel corporations generally have an extended network of overseas manufacturers that they have worked with before or are connected to through other corporations. These factories are specialized for particular types of production (e.g. cut and sew knits, leather, denim).

A veteran Production Head, will have a sense of how many styles they are producing for the season. They determine what the cost is to get it produced and will then negotiate on how low the manufacturer can go to meet their needs. Many times when this is done with overseas manufacturers, their desire to keep clients happy and place huge orders means that the factory reps will start seeking other local laborers who can help them meet these orders.

For additional information on the subject, the Human Rights Watch has discussed labor rights abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry in their report “Work Fast or Get Out”.

The Detriments of Overseas Manufacturing

This is where the breakdown in the supply chain happens. USA apparel companies “trust” that their overseas manufacturer sources local labor to help meet their demands. It easy for situations like this to turn corrupt, because the Factory Owners & Merchandiser knows the local laws, and does whatever they need to do to make the order happen. They are not obligated to operate by the same ethical or fair trade standard that a “USA” apparel company does.

Another common practice for overseas manufacturers, who work strictly with a brand or label is to have your “show” factory or headquarters. When outside NGO’s or quality control auditors make “surprise” inspections factory seems compliant. The overseas manufacturers may hide the extensive network of sub-contracted satellite sewing operations that are not directly associated to USA apparel brand and probably don’t meet the U.S. Apparel companies ethical or labor standards.

Since these satellite operations are only managed by the local manufacturers contact point, it is not surprising that horrific incidents such as the Rana Plaza factory building collapse could happen. Western brands that were getting made in this factory did not comment or reply, because they honestly might not have known the level to which their 1000+ units of orders were getting subcontracted out to. Transparency is hard to trace in the multi-national corporate machine of big fashion and that’s why the transparency promoted by the fair trade movement and the production of traceable small units made locally or by third party certified global organizations or NGO’s is so crucial in protecting the workers.

Meanwhile while public pressure may have some impact it is easy for large companies to slip back into their “profit before all else” ways. Companies may make changes while the pressure is on and then once people have forgotten about the issue, somehow find themselves doing exactly what they had committed not to do.

Back in 2002, H&M for example, promised to ban PVC from all their products, a commendable commitment in response to campaigns on what was back then a hot topic. Fast forward to 2011 and with other environmental issues making headlines H&M have inexplicably backtracked and are using PVC once again.

Garment Workers in Deathtrap_ Taslima Akhter_ Nobody knows who are they, what is the relation between them but the crude reality make them closer and may be they are trying to save each other and the last moment of their life from the death trap of Savar Rana Plaza_. Embrace in Death. Near about 438 workers died as building Collapse at Savar Rana Plaza. Most of them are women. Savar Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24th April 2013

Garment Workers in Deathtrap_ Taslima Akhter_ Nobody knows who are they, what is the relation between them but the crude reality make them closer and may be they are trying to save each other and the last moment of their life from the death trap of Savar Rana Plaza_. Embrace in Death. Near about 438 workers died as building Collapse at Savar Rana Plaza. Most of them are women. Savar Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24th April 2013. Credit: Times Asi, CC BY 2.0

What Do We Do?

We can turn a blind eye and say “it’s just the way it is”.

Or we can raise a ruckus with the media and our representatives in government.   Because of the the over 1 million consumers world wide that have raised their voices and pressured the major fashion brands that were manufactured in the horrific Rana Plaza collapse, we have a great victory today.   But, we can’t stop now.

We must support alternatives business models that are making real impacts on the lives of the workers producing the goods and the environment that is sustaining us all.

Fair trade is making those differences and the more people who become aware and support fair trade with their purchasing choices, the bigger of an impact it will have on workers, the environment, and the businesses currently operating under the classic exploitative model.

Local Entrepreneur: Heather Wentler

Heather Wentler is a local entrepreneur and Executive Director of Doyenne Group. Below she shares with us her insights on building businesses, defining personal success, and the benefits of fostering an entrepreneurial fashion community in Madison.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in Madison’s entrepreneurial community.

I graduated from UW-Whitewater with a degree in Elementary Education. After teaching for about 4 years I was feeling a disconnect between how I wanted to teach my students and how the district wanted me to teach. I felt the schools were focused on teaching to the test and pushing textbooks with outdated examples on students. Whereas, I wanted to make learning experience-based, so students could learn through doing instead of filling in worksheets and taking paper tests.

In 2011 I founded my first business, Fractal. I had never taken a business class and was really hesitant on launching because I didn’t feel as prepared in the role of entrepreneur as I felt in the role of teacher. But I also knew I couldn’t continue to teach in schools. Fractal provides STEAM enrichment workshops and camps for school-aged participants to help bridge what they learn at school to how it applies to every day life. Since founding Fractal I’ve learned a lot and have also founded a community-based micro-granting event called Madison SOUP and co-founded Doyenne Group.

Doyenne Group has been, in my perspective, what’s “put me on the map” and immersed me in the entrepreneurial community in Madison. When I started Doyenne, Madison already had a thriving entrepreneurial scene that worked with a lot with startups in the tech and bio-tech sectors. But there weren’t many resources for entrepreneurs starting small businesses or lifestyle business in other sectors. I also noticed a huge gap in the gender diversity within the entrepreneurial scene as far as who was being represented and showing up to the events. Doyenne works with women entrepreneurs starting and growing businesses. And is also helping reshape the entrepreneurial scene in Madison and across Wisconsin to make sure events and programming are benefiting all entrepreneurs and all types of businesses.

What has been your biggest personal or business success and why?

This is a really hard question. I have always been a goal oriented person who set challenges for myself and works really hard to accomplish them. In that way, I’ve had a lot of successes. However, none of them register as my biggest success. I think that by having a hard time answering this question it also shows how our society doesn’t really acknowledge success as much as failure. Any failures I’ve had and how I overcame them are bigger successes to me than the outright success I’ve had.

If I had to pick, I would say seeing the success of others I’ve worked with are my biggest successes. When you see the proverbial lightbulb turn on within a student or see a business owner go for the big goal and reach it – those are the moments that stick with me the most, more so than what I’ve achieved on my own.

What principles and values do you live and work by?

“Nothing comes easy” and “It takes a community”. Everything that is worth having in life takes hardship and struggle to earn. If it doesn’t then was it something you really needed?

I recently met with an entrepreneur who was looking to build a brand. When I told them everything they needed to think about when launching their business they dropped their head in their hands and exclaimed “Oh my God, I didn’t think it was going to be this much work!” But when we worked on taking all of the tasks and breaking them down into smaller more manageable goals, that helped bring down the stress. During this experience the entrepreneur also realized that they couldn’t do it alone and that they would have to bring on others to help. When you start engaging your community around what you’re doing it helps bring in customers, clients, potential partnerships and other resources that you didn’t even know were available.

What kind of impact do you think a strong fashion community will have on Madison?

A strong fashion community will bring talent to Madison and help retain our current talent. Right now we hear a lot about “brain drain” happening from the University. Entrepreneurs and young professionals are feeling like they need to leave the city in order to make it big.

Fashion is a sector that brings many industries and people together. And even if some people don’t want to admit it, fashion is part of our everyday lives. It influences so many aspects. I think there are a lot of people in Madison who are interested in the fashion industry and are looking for ways to get more involved locally.

When people say “Wisconsin is about 3-5 years behind the trends” there is a lot of truth to that statement. Many of the people who would help influence trends and contribute to a fashion-forward culture are leaving, instead of helping keep us up to date. Building a strong fashion community will help talented and creative entrepreneurs stay in Madison and combat the brain drain.

What advice do you have for our readers who may be wanting to start their own fashion business?

Do it! I meet too many people that hold back on their dreams, are waiting for the perfect time, or for the stars to align to follow what their gut is telling them is the right choice. I would guess that you already have people within your network that would be able to help you figure out how to start or who to get in touch with to create a plan to start. Don’t hesitate, you can do it! I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be a scary, up and down roller coaster of a ride. But not matter what, it’s going to be the best ride of your life. Even with all the failures or stressors that come along, there are going to be huge highs and accomplishments that you never thought you would be able to reach.

Finding someone to help you create a plan of action and create a business model is the first step you should take. There are lots of resources in Madison that are able to help. Don’t settle for someone just because they’re there. Find the right people to support and help you along on your journey.

Give us the deets on Doyenne Group! What sorts of things do you have happening and how can we get involved? 

Doyenne is currently fundraising for two years of programming and an Evergreen Fund to start dispersing funds to women-led ventures. There are various ways for anyone to get involved, no matter their experience or level of commitment. I would suggest every woman become a Doyenne member ($100/yr). Membership helps open the door to our network of mentors, investors, corporations and connections to help you on your journey. The next step would be to attend a Retreat, which are held three times a year with the next one being June 25-27. At the retreats we help entrepreneurs develop a plan of action to move you forward with your business and get you down the right path to reach your goals.  There are other ways we work with entrepreneurs throughout the year so continuing to watch our website and joining our mailing list are great ways to stay up to date with what we’re doing.

New, Local Design on Display at cARTel

Madison-based designer Sam Lundsten debuted an exciting first look at his Earl Gray line at cARTel, a spring fashion and art show held at 100state on May 1.

Lundsten’s line featured long lines, sharp corners, and heavy, natural fabrics. The looks were utilitarian and stark, almost Orwellian, especially a square green wool skirt held up by leather suspenders worn over vintage white wool long underwear.

toteskirtfull2

An all-white pants and tunic ensemble would have been at home on a New York City runway, while a denim tunic version of the look would fit perfectly in the closet of any sharply-dressed Northwesterner or Midwesterner.

tunicfull

nightshirtcrop

Perhaps the most intriguing look from the Earl Gray line was a white dress made of sharp lines and deep v’s. The  dress scissored from a central axis point on each side, creating a lot of leg (and butt too). The dress would be a challenge for anyone with curves, but for the flat bodied, it’s beautiful. Paired with boots and socks as Lundsten styled it, the look is strong and tough and almost Nordic in aesthetic.

blanketdressmovement blanketdressfull

The dress is 100 percent wool, cut from a 1940’s Czechoslovakian soldiers blanket that, according to the man who sold the blanket to Lundsten, was used in war time and saw live ammo combat from the protection of a hand-dug foxhole.

“The blanket did most of the work for me. I just had to not take too much away from it,” Lundsten said.

A second shirt dress, made of linen, carried the same long, simple lines as the other pieces along with fitted half-sleeves. It is both humble and elegant, as well as more wearable for everyday affairs than the white dress.

shirtdressfull

“Humility was at the forefront when I think about the inspiration for this show. I was thinking a lot about a modern day peasant,” Lundsten said.  “Simple refined minimalistic lines and shapes with natural, available fabrics.”

“I want to make pieces for people who like a challenge.”

Photographer: Cory Peterson

Models:

  • Shirtdress: Madeline Elledge
  • Blanket dress/tote skirt: Jess Ploessl
  • Male designs: Alieu Camara

Follow @realearlgray on Instagram to keep up with Lundsten’s latest designs.

Understanding How Fashion Products Are Priced

We all have different motivators to buy a product: price, brand, availability, materials, style, and the list could go on. Regardless of what motivates you to buy, it’s important to know the factors that determine how fashion products are priced and this post is just the tip of the iceberg.

Variables in determining the product pricing:

  1. Where is the product made and who by? Is the product made in the US? Since most manufacturing moved overseas, there aren’t many facilities or skilled people which increases cost, especially as demands for local manufacturing rises. That coupled with the fact that labor/environmental laws in the US are better regulated and higher minimum wages makes US manufacturing costly.
  2. Where are the materials made? Same concept as where the product is being made.
  3. What materials is it made of? A more obvious contributor to higher cost: high quality materials made with care cost more.
  4. In what quantities are they being made and distributed? The more made and distributed, the cheaper the item is and vise versa.

One exception to the rule is when a product is over produced, not made to expectation or made before the buyer removed it from the order and then sold off for much cheaper. Outlet malls are an example of where the product might go, although that’s not the majority of items at an outlet mall. There are a other exceptions, some of which I list below the pricing structure.

So how are products priced? Here’s a basic formula for how they’re calculated: 

calculating retail and wholesale prices for fashion

Another variable which isn’t in the ‘basic’ pricing structure above is an additional markup for a showroom or sales rep which usually takes anywhere from 20-30% of the wholesale price. Also, if you’re selling to a larger retailer/department store, they will most likely want a discount on your wholesale prices because they are ordering a large sum. Every brand had a slightly different markup that works for them.

Another exception, which seems to be a trend now with online sales, is selling direct to consumer. This allows for you to significantly reduce the price as you don’t have to accommodate the retail markup. The hardest part about this is that you have to sell your product online in a competitive marketplace. This also means that you could never sell anything wholesale to retailers. When you work with a retailer, they have their own market which reaches new clients that you likely won’t have access to online. Direct to consumer sales are not easy, but for niche products it may be the way to go.

At the end of the day, the product you’re buying is from a business which hopes to make a profit in order to continue making products for you. When you buy something, you’re choosing to support that business so it is important to be informed.

This thought can be exhausting, I know. No one has time to research and make sure that everything they buy is ‘morally made,’ let alone, have the money to spend, likely on a higher ticket item. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just trust that the company is doing what’s best? This is one reason why buying from a specific company which has the same morals as you is great. They will do the filtering for you, rather than you having to investigate every product you buy. Just like paying an expert in another field, you’re paying a store to know what products you should buy.

So the next time you have ‘sticker shock,’ ask yourself, how was it made, and where was it made? Same thing with a product on the lower end. There is always a reason for why fashion products are priced the way they are.

Related/Recommended readings:

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

More on fashion business: The Fashion Designer Survival Guide, Start and Run Your Own Fashion Business

 

Winter Bike Fashion: A Recap

This year marked the first time I biked through a winter in Madison. It was great for my calves, but showing up to any event looking presentable was definitely more challenging!

I’m not the only one turning to the closet and struggling to find clothes that work for work, play and inclement weather. According to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, Madison is second among large cities for people who bike to work. We have great bike paths in the city and beyond, but there’s no public agency dedicated to helping us traverse our closets.

Posts on bike friendly fashion abound, but few address winter biking. For the most part, I was on my own. The secret, I learned, is one easy word:

LAYERS. They solve everything.

For those contemplating (or already decided on!) winter biking next season, let’s break it down:

Base layer: Long johns. This might be the most quintessentially midwestern recommendation on a blog that’s supposed to be about moving beyond midwestern stereotypes, but a good set of long johns keeps everything happy. I wore Cuddldud bottoms every day when I biked this winter, and if it was below 10 degrees, I added a Cuddlduds top layer, too. The material is thin, remains unnoticeable under my clothes, and is designed well enough to stay relatively cool during the day while keeping me warm during the commute.

Cuddledud Bottoms

Second layer: Regular clothes. This layer is pretty easy if you’re already comfortable dressing for biking. For me, that means starting with a good pair of straight legged or skinny jeans. My favorites are a pair of True Religion jeans that have loosened up enough to move well but are sturdy enough to take the rub of my bike seat.

Any sturdy pants also work well, and for formal meetings, I’ve worn dresses with pants underneath, quickly stripping the pants and tucking them into my bag when I get there.

True Religion Jeans

On top, my favorite thing to wear is a thin wool sweater or lightweight blazer (depending on the event) for warmth without bulk.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 5.42.31 PM

I also typically wear SmartWool socks meant for cross country skiing because they’re thin enough to fit into my regular boots but warm enough for winter activity. I’ve rocked cuffed rain boots for most of this winter (and through spring) because they keep my feet dry during the slushy days and protect my jeans from salt and grit. At the same time, I do wish I had a better pair of weatherproof tall boots like these sold at Shoo on State Street:

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Third layer: Outer gear. This is where my winter bike fashion took a major hit. I tend to wear my Patagonia puff jacket everywhere I bike in the winter because it’s flexible enough to move in while still being warm. It definitely stands out next to the black wool coats everyone else is wearing, but I hang it up as soon as I arrive. If anyone has recommendations for attractive jackets that work for winter biking, though, let me know!! I’m eyeing sales racks for next season.

In addition to my jacket, I also wear a thin ski cap under my helmet and mittens.

Fourth layer: Backpack or messenger bag. I’m a huge fan of biking with a bag for carrying my things (of course) as well as for stashing my mittens, hat, etc. when I get to a meeting or an event. A waterproof messenger bag is a classic choice, but a good looking backpack is a comfortable, spacious option.

I’m still working with the backpack I used in college, but I’d love either of the following options, both made in Wisconsin!

This black backpack from the Maggie Modena line is classy:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.15.45 PM

 

A Beatnik Rolltop bag from Vessel Workshop in Milwaukee for a more casual vibe:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.20.20 PM

My winter biking wardrobe is still a work in progress, but I’m looking forward to adding more pieces over the years.

I know what I want for work and ordinary days, but I’m looking for more ideas for nights out when I want something more fun than nice jeans and a sweater while staying warm. What have you found that works for you? Are their local designers making any bike-friendly winter wear that I should add to the list?

 

Adventures in Fair Trade Fashion

View from the top! Broadway and Herald Square, June 2012

A view from the top! From my last job, building located on Broadway and overlooking Herald Square, June 2012

After 12 years of apparel industry experience in NY and Philadelphia working for a number of brands from Levis & Dockers to Donna Karan,  fashion has been quite the eye opening experience for me.  Gone is naive idealism of a fashion student erased by the real-life, cut-throat world of the industry.  One of the things that began to bother me about the industry was the rampant inequity of the system.  Although the fair trade movement has been going on since the 1960’s, as far as ethical fashion it has been developing slowly through the past 20 years. I really became more interested in fair trade fashion around 2007 when I was working for Levis Dockers.  I had read about how some of their overseas manufacturers were scrutinized for their labor practices. That’s when I started obsessively researching fair trade fashion brands and what they do, and how they were different.

Lucky Breaks

There were 2 very fortunate incidents that occurred around this time, that helped to solidify this new path in conscious fashion, working at Donna Karan’s private line for the Urban Zen foundation and also volunteering with Sewing Hope, a project of the non-profit Fount of Mercy.

Photo courtesy of Sewing Hope

Photo courtesy of Sewing Hope

The Sewing Hope project was the Sewing and Tailoring training programs of Fount of Mercy that worked with local East African organizations, building their capacity to provide educational and vocational opportunities for their communities’ vulnerable.  One of the the keys to helping countries industrialize begins with the women and the grass roots cottage industry of the garment trade. Teaching women how to sew, so they are able to start their own businesses and earn money to support their children and create clothing for every member of their family.

Left to right: Designer Celestino, Model Jaslene G, Designer Rachel Gregory, Model Kim Tank, Designer Andrey Oshlykov.  Photos by Theodore Samuel

Left to right; Designer: Celestino, Model Jaslene Gonzalez, Designer: Rachel Gregory, Model Kim Tank, Designer: Emmet McCarthy, Model: Irina Roma. Photos by Theodore Samuel

I volunteered to be there event coordinator for their annual fashion show fundraisers, with all the proceeds of the event going directly back to the Sewing and Tailoring program in Uganda.  Everyone involved with the event were all volunteers; designers, models, hair and make-up, DJ’s , sound, lighting and photographers.  In the three years of helping to produce their annual shows, we were able to raise over $22,000.

IMG_1541

Donna’s mission at Urban Zen was to create a “Soulful Economy, which means conscious consumerism, social responsibility and giving back. The Urban Zen Foundation creates, connects and collaborates to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of well-being, preserving cultures and empowering children in mind, body and spirit. ”  I was at a place where all the hard work and long hours meant something more then just a paycheck,  and I worked alongside a fantastically driven team and an icon.

Be the Change

Two years ago I moved to Madison, WI with my husband and was thrilled to pick up a part-time position at a fantastic fair trade fashion boutique on Willy St. When I started working with Nikki at Change Boutique, I was super excited to finally have found a perfect alignment for my fashion background and my philanthropic desires.  In the past year we have been working on developing our own pieces and I have had my first taste of researching and developing products in a fair trade capacity.

I have learned a lot about ethical sourcing and manufacturing through this process and am continuing to learn more about it.  Since I’ve started working directly with fair trade, friends of mine in the NYC industry were quick to ask specifics about what fair trade really means.  It turns out that although there is very clear idealism behind the concept, clearly defining it is not as simple.  In posts in the following months,  I will share what I have learned and my ongoing exploits in producing fair trade & sustainable fashion locally and worldwide.

Prototyping and Production: Lessons in Getting Started

Proto2b

Not all fashion designers are necessarily inventors, however I think some inventors are certainly fashion designers.  I recently read somewhere that for every 3,000 ideas, only 2 will actually “make it” and become actual products.  That’s just 0.06%!!!   And while for many entrepreneurs, coming up with an idea is sometimes the easy part, prototyping and building a MVP (minimum viable product) can be overwhelming.  About a year ago, I started developing my idea for functional underwear for women to wear under yoga pants.  Sounds simple, right?  It turns out, it’s true what they say:  product development often takes longer and costs more than you expect.  In this post, I’ll share a bit about what I’ve learned so far in my journey.

(more…)

Local Look: Change Boutique Internship Program

Change Boutique

Change Boutique is owned and operated by Nikki Anderson.

 

I had an opportunity to chat with Liz Truong – Studio Manager and Creative Director at Change Boutique here in Madison about the Intern Program offered by the local fair trade shop. Currently there are 4 student interns with concentrations in Textile Design, Fashion Design and Retail/Merchandising, the internship lasts one semester with an option to extend to a second if needed. The dedicated interns log 12-15 hours per week in the studio on top of any course load and other jobs they may hold.

Nikki and Liz

Left – Nikki Anderson; Owner and Operator of Change Boutique. Right – Liz Truong; Studio Manager and Creative Director.

What is the core concept of the internship?

The internship program is geared toward design students who are passionate about great style, as well as a great cause. We are looking to develop a custom Made in Madison concept line and to have styles developed with our overseas producer group,  Fair Fashion Vietnam. This is a great opportunity for a student who wants a broad range of educational and real life experiences in preparation for the fashion industry.

What was the driving force behind the internship program?

In May 2013 Change hosted a Design Showcase Competition; teaming up with the Textile & Apparel Design Studies Department at UW-Madison and a fair trade company in Uganda. The students were supplied with handmade fabrics from artisans in East Africa to design a clothing line, with the intent for the winning designs to be produced in Uganda and sold exclusively at Change Boutique. I started consulting with Change in July 2013 and it was clear that the product development process following the competition was missing some vital elements in order to execute the pieces. Nikki and I discussed the process of design and overseas product development and decided it would be an invaluable lesson for any apparel design student to be a part of.

Gandhi’s famous quote: “You must be the change you wish to see in this world” inspired Nikki to open Change and it inspired us to establish an internship to help students learn and change the future.

How does the internship program benefit the students and what’s the impact for the store?

Change Boutique is very unique in that we are small and can provide a hands on experience similar to what you would get in an industry job. They are responsible for all aspects of garment creation: design, pattern, sewing muslin & fitting, grading, final production sewing and costing. Emphasis is placed on target customer analysis, and the functionality of clothes and sewing quality to be factory finished and store ready.

The impact for the store is that we have small run, custom designed pieces that are special for our customers.  The students experience firsthand feedback from customers on something they have worked so hard on. It is a lovely self contained continuous “feed back” loop of local producers, local outlet and retail consumers.

Hailee works on a mock-up  for the K-S-R dress designed by the interns

Current intern Hailee works on a mock-up for the K.R.S dress designed by the interns

What is the main focus for the interns and how is that applied to the projects the students work on?

The main focus for the students is to creatively problem solve and envision new designs from upcycled materials (taking old sheets, block printing on them or over dyeing) or reworking any back stock that we have available and is not moving on the sales floor.

With every round of interns, the first project I have them work on is cutting and sewing a pre-existing design (from the previous team of interns). This is important for a few reasons:

First, I want to see how detail oriented they are and the quality of their sewing.

Second, it’s important to have follow through and enthusiasm for your work, especially when it’s not your own. In the industry, you may be working on a project that absolutely drives you nuts, but you have to maintain the drive to finish high quality work on deadlines.

During the second half of the semester, I have the current team of interns collaborate on their own design. For this they will do initial sketch & fabric research to review with Nikki and myself. After approval they will create the initial pattern, and cut a muslin for fitting. They will execute corrections to the pattern and re-sew muslin’s until final approval of construction and fit. The next step is grading the pattern, where the pattern is systematically increased or decreased to create the size range of XS-XL. Then they lay the final graded patterns out on fabric and try to maximize usage of fabric, depending on grain lines and cutting direction. Once we’ve reviewed the cutting layout, the pieces are cut and bundled according to size. These bundles await the following semesters’ newest interns and the cycle continues.

Current Intern Haley works to prep dye-to-match swatches

Current Intern Haley works to prep dye-to-match swatches

How do you see the program evolving in the future?

Ideally we will always want to keep the internship available as an outlet to prepare students for what to expect in the “real world” of fashion. We are unique in that our focus is also on upcycling goods to create new items and that often requires more problem solving and man power. We want to continue to offer an internship where they can create anything from new textile prints to embroidery, knitting and fabric manipulation details.

What do the interns have to say about the program?

Kirstin makes lunch for the team

Kirstin makes lunch for the team

“This internship gave me an excellent understanding of what it would be like to work for a very small design company, as well as insight into the Fair Trade industry.  The highlights of the internship were when we had room to assert our own design preferences, such as altering the Oaxaca skirt pattern and upcycling the design of the black lace shirts.  I also benefited from learning professional skills like making tech packs, doing pattern rubs of pre-existing garments, and grading patterns.  My favorite aspect of the internship was the store atmosphere and the employee dynamic, because Liz and Nikki were so welcoming and made the job extremely enjoyable and comfortable.”

-Kirstin, Intern Summer ’14

Sophie sewing the K-S-R dress to be sold at Change Boutique

Sophie sewing the K.R.S dress to be sold at Change Boutique

“I thought this internship was a great experience. I think because I was part of the first groups of interns, there was a lot of learning and trial and error for both ends. However, I think we worked through any issues that came up well. This program provided a nice range of learning opportunities for the interns and provided training in subjects I knew nothing about coming in, such as grading.  Gaining these skills will be beneficial when entering the industry, so I think, if possible, every intern should have a project in which grading is involved.”

-Sophie, Intern Summer and Fall ’14

Ricki lays a pattern piece for the K-S-R dress developed by the interns

Ricki lays a pattern piece for the K.R.S dress developed by the interns

“First of all, I just want to say that interning at Change Boutique was a very valuable experience for me. I want to thank Liz for being such a great internship supervisor!

I think the best part of interning at Change Boutique is to be able to learn beyond school curriculum. For example, I was never aware of pattern-grading because we mostly do personal projects, making only 1 garment in one size. I wouldn’t have had a chance to learn and practice pattern-grading if I didn’t intern at Change Boutique. I feel that this is something many students might want to experience.

Also, I think that making garments for sale is a very good experience for interns. Although students do consider commercial aspects for school projects, I find a lot of my classmates and myself focusing rather on artistic or creative aspects. Considering ‘what will sell’ over ‘what will look creative’ was definitely a new and fun approach for me when it comes to designing. Throughout the whole process of making “kirstin.ricki.sophie (K.R.S.) dress” I could have better idea on what I would do if I were to work as a designer.”

-Ricki, Intern Fall ’14

Are there pre-requisites the interns must meet to be eligible?

Prospective interns must be currently enrolled in an apparel program. They should have experience in pattern making, machine sewing, hand sewing, cutting paper and fabric. Knowledge of illustration and CAD (Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator) is preferred.

How can those interested in being interns apply for the program?

Every semester, when we have openings for internships we post on the UW BuckyNet, or in the weekly Careers Digest email.

 

Change Boutique is located at 1252 Williamson St.  Madison WI  53703