When did you first hone in on the value of American-made goods?
A few years ago I got to the point where I wanted to (and could finally afford to) invest in my wardrobe. Given my background in merchandising and sourcing, I understood that quality and price weren’t always related, but I assumed that if I were buying the “best” brands, the products would be of high quality. More often than not, they weren’t. However, my husband’s apparel seemed to last forever (for better or worse!) and when I started to look into the brands that held up from day to day, I noticed that the highest quality products were coming from America, Japan, or Europe.
At the same time, I was shopping smaller boutiques, and falling in love with items because of the stories the sales associates could tell me about the product. I decided to focus on buying products that I could learn about – where they were made, who made them, etc. Doing so helped me to buy less overall, and I found that I was happier with the products I chose to bring into my life.
People are often surprised to find out that I’m not an American made zealot – I do shop American made whenever possible, but in general, I try to buy from smaller brands and to focus on products that are made in high-wage countries. Consumption inherently brings compromise, I simply try to do my best.
Why do you think American manufacturing is important to the future of fashion and design?
To think about the future, we have to look at the past. I can’t imagine where American fashion would be without the likes of Claire McCardell, Diane Von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta, or Marc Jacobs. The iconic designers we cite ad nauseam had the enormous infrastructure of the Garment District behind them – from fabric sources, to skilled seamstresses, to machinery, etc. – and at the industry’s peak, 95% of apparel was made here. Today less than 3% of the apparel we buy is made here and as a result, the extensive infrastructure no longer exists. As more and more factories close and skilled laborers retire without passing on their skills, I have to wonder how new designers will be able to get their start. Mass production overseas is often cheaper, but the initial start up tends to be more expensive, which can be difficult for new designers to manage.
What drew you to start your agency and The American Edit?
I started The American Edit because I knew that I couldn’t be the only person who was looking for a resource of beautiful, thoughtfully made products and who wanted to know the stories behind the product. I read A Continuous Lean and Well Spent daily but really wanted a resource that was aimed at women! I’m an obsessive researcher so it was fun for me to keep looking for and learning about brands, but I assumed other people would be more inclined to shop more thoughtfully if someone did the leg work for them.
I started the TAE Agency because I knew I could use my background in corporate retail to help incredibly creative brands build sustainable and strategic business models. It’s not the easiest way to make a living, but it’s certainly challenging, usually fun, and quite rewarding.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of manufacturing in the US for emerging designers?
The cost. As I mentioned, the infrastructure no longer exists, and many American made brands are actually made in factories that are really set up to create initial samples, not full production runs. After a certain level of volume is achieved, it can be incredibly difficult to ramp up production efficiently… and that’s how you arrive at the frequent issue of a brand becoming well known because of the quality or where and how it is made and then outsourcing production because it can’t keep up with demand.
And the biggest perk?
Speed would be the most logical perk – you can sit with the sewers and tweak your sample as you go as opposed to shipping packages back and forth across the world. Time is really the only true luxury, and you save a lot of if by manufacturing here! But there’s also an enormous amount of pride in knowing you are creating jobs and contributing to the economy – it’s invaluable.
What one possession do you cherish the most?
My husband’s and my wedding bands – my parents gave us some gold jewelry that we melted down and had made into our bands. I’m biased and think they are beautiful, but they also serve a reminder of the importance of family and of the people who came before us. Neither of us wear them while sleeping, so I think they’d be the one sentimental thing I’d grab (assuming I had a moment) if our house were to burn down – everything else would probably be super practical, like my laptop and phone and car keys.
What are your holiday traditions?
I never thought about it, but my family has only celebrated Christmas for one generation! My parents immigrated to Ohio from India and started celebrating when my older sister was born… it was important to them that we were assimilated and we treated Christmas like a fun American holiday – that we happened to celebrate with gifts in addition to the customary delicious meal. That’s probably why we’ve been more willing to eschew unnecessary traditions (and sometimes even gifts altogether!) over the years, but a few things still stand:
- Spritz cookie gun cookies with all of the sprinkles. Bonus points if we have food coloring on hand and can make marbled cookie dough.
- Small white lights vs. anything big or colored – growing up I thought my parents were SO boring for insisting on using only the white twinkle lights and now I understand where they were coming from.
- Opening presents before breakfast or showers and when the youngest family member (which was me for almost 30 years) is ready.
What will you be gifting this holiday season?
That’s a really good question. Instead of giving gifts, my husband and I take vacations. My immediate family also doesn’t really do presents; several years ago we decided that instead of gifts we’d buy great tickets to a basketball or a show, and recently we’ve spent our entire holiday weekends cooking some obscure and involved recipes – from Benjamin Franklin’s rum punch to spun sugar accents for desserts. This year our plan is to cook our way through the Gjelina cookbook and we’ve been plotting for weeks. We do exchange gifts with my husband’s side of the family and I should probably get started on that… but we won’t see them for a while, so we have some time!
My general rule is to listen – people generally mention something they need or want during the year so I just try to listen and remember (or write it down in Evernote) and then just buy that when the holidays (or birthdays) roll around! From books, to apparel, to even a mattress – paying attention (and combining with multiple family members) always leads to the best gifts.
A few good gift ideas from the Kindred Black assortment?
NOBUHO MIYA BOTTLE OPENER $28
Tie a beautiful bottle opener to a six-pack for an easy hostess/housewarming present. Everyone else will bring candles and flowers and an extra bottle opener is never something you mind having on hand.
SALEMTOWN BOARD CO X KINDRED BLACK CRUISER $315
Because we should all play like kids more often… and nothing seems to bring up fun childhood conversations like a skateboard! If the recipient’s balance isn’t what it used to be, this will still look rad mounted to a wall or propped in a corner.
MICAELA GREG PEARL RIPPLE SWEATER $330
This sweater is undeniably beautiful, and American made sweaters are hard to come by. The loose fit makes it an easy purchase for the women in your life, while the ribbing is universally flattering.
AMBER CRYSTAL BUREAU DECANTER $145
ITO BINDERY MEMOBLOCK DRAWING PADS $25-45
Everyone knows someone who used to draw and misses it… or a child who loves art but also appreciates feeling like a “grown up.” This beautiful drawing pad is one of those things that people struggle to buy themselves but will be so happy to have.
F. MILLER BODY OIL $64
Body oil is almost a necessary luxury in the depths of winter (at least for those of us living in the tundra!) but something that can feel unnecessary to buy. This has none of the awful ingredients and will look good in anyone’s bathroom so I’d say it’s a win for any of the women in your life.
MARLOW GOODS SHORT ORIGINAL TOTE $625
LUCK FOR THE NEW YEAR MUSHROOM $25
I’ve honestly never heard of this tradition, but I love it. What a great gift for anyone, but particularly friends or co-workers you don’t normally exchange gifts with.