There are so many clothing companies in the world that as an entrepreneur I often ask myself: why am I doing this? What makes my clothing special?
This question has a lot of possible answers: the fabric (from The New Denim Project) is made from recycled materials, the clothing is sewn by a woman who started her own business out of her home and is now able to provide for herself, or that Line + Tow is a woman owned, woman operated company that takes it's time. However - there are lots of other companies that use our fabric, and there are even other companies that use our seamstress. So, when I really think about it, our clothing at Line + Tow is special for a different reason altogether: our design process.
As the principal designer, I was really struck by a quote I read in a Fashion Revolution zine: "Waste is a design flaw". Previously, I had designed based on what I thought would look good - the trendiest silhouettes, the prettiest fabrics. However, after my time at NC State's College of Textiles, I really began to look at clothing differently - primarily as the product of an industry that created waste. I actually went through a period of time where I hated fashion. I was frustrated by the capitalist aspect to it and the pure disregard for the planet. This is when I went back to that quote and thought: if waste really is a design flaw, then what are we doing wrong? How can we fix the process to really make it about reducing waste first and foremost, and then go back and figure out how to make that new process look good.
We checked one box by using recycled fabric (more on that here), but the process of actually designing the clothing would be the most difficult challenge. Anyone who has any experience with sewing or pattern making will know that almost every garment has curved lines in it's pattern pieces so that the garments fit to the shape of the body. Sleeves and pants legs are typically the worst offenders due to the need to go around the shoulder, and the hips. However, what if the pieces didn't hug all of the curves of the female body? How does fitting the curves of the female body even make sense anyway since we are all different shapes and sizes? Once we established this was part of the problem - and then went about fixing it - we realized we hadn't just stumbled up one problem, we had stumbled upon THE problem.
We started with the sleeves - we just reduced all the curves and made all of our sleeves rectangles. The 90 degree angles allow for pieces to be cut out right next to each other with no cookie-cutter scraps in between. Turns out, when you sew this sleeve in, you end up with a dolman style sleeve that actually has a drop shoulder, putting the fabric much lower than a normal inset curved sleeve. This means that the sleeves on our clothing don't spend all day hanging out in your armpit. This keeps tops and dresses from getting deodorant and sweat stained which means they don't need to be laundered as often. The loose fit of the garment also means that there is less tension on the seams and the fabric which helps the garment last longer. Finally - looser garments mean less sizes. If we can reduce our size run from 10 sizes (00, 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16) to 3 sizes (S, M, L) we don't need to order as many units. This means that we wont have to guess at which sizes will be the most popular and risk being wrong - leaving us with more clothes than we are able to sell (AKA waste). Also, our bodies are constantly changing and tailored, close-to-the-body styles wont allow for your body to change. Our clothes will still be there for you whether you're smaller, larger or even pregnant (obviously this depends a little bit on the style and how pregnant you are). Worried about the clothes seeming too baggy? No worries - we love ties and drawstrings and most of our styles come with them! Our tops also look great french tucked into your favorite pair of jeans.
Through making these changes, we are now able to get clothing to our customers that produces less waste during the beginning and middle of it's life (creation of the garment and the time during which you own the garment), but that still leaves us to tackle the end of it's life (or rather what happens to it when you're done with it). The fact that our garments are cotton definitely helps, as cotton - being a natural fiber - will break down much quicker in a landfill. However, what if we focused on prolonging the middle of it's life - putting off the garbage bin all together (or at least for a while longer)? We have already made sure that the garment will continue to fit over time, reduced the need for excessive washing, and we have helped prevent tears by reducing the tension on the seams so what else is there? By thinking about my own consumer experience and the reasons which myself and my family throw garments away, I realized that a large problem is the presence of zippers and elastic. Both of these things ARE fixable, but they can be quite complicated, and I am not even likely to fix them as an experienced seamstress so why would anyone else? The answer to this question was surprisingly simple: no zippers and no elastic. This means that every Line + Tow garment uses only buttons, ties, or drawstrings to fasten and fit them to your body.
While our first collection does have a few curved pattern pieces, we are definitely moving in the right direction. Our next collection is in the works right now and our goal is to make the patterning completely zero waste (i.e. all rectangles)!
Questions? As usual, I would love to hear from you - you can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org