I was born into the last generation that valued making clothes at home and my first sewing memory was at age 5. My great grandmother was a professional seamstress in the late 1800's and my grandmother an accomplished quilter and needle point expert who made cushions for the church altar. Growing up, my mother sewed everything from our Barbie clothes to prom dresses. This was during a time when you could still buy fabric and make things for less than you could buy them new at the mall.
As a teenager, I never considered another degree besides fashion and spent my college summers interning for a local Raleigh children's wear designer, Patsy Aiken. Patsy Aiken Designs was a booming business in the 90's and made embroidered children's clothing. My internship rotated me in the plant and I was able to observe production (the seamstress line), "clip and snip" (cutting threads off), the large embroidery machines, along with the design studio, including pattern making and samples. It was during these summers that I developed a real love and passion for the creation of fashion and vertical manufacturing (design to shipping under one roof).
Fast forward several years later and I started considering the idea of launching a small line. Ironically, Patsy was starting to wind down her manufacturing facility, while I was exploring the concept, allowing me to purchase a small number of machines and equipment that became my first workroom (it has since grown to over a dozen industrial machines). I then started what would become a self imposed internship of visiting mills, learning how to repair industrial sewing machines, perfecting my pattern making and draping skills, and researching everything I could learn about the industry in the US. After visiting several American mills, I placed my first fabric order with a company on the west coast. (Sadly, several of the mills I visited have since closed.) There is a lingo in clothing manufacturing and I quickly got an education in "dye lots", "MOQ", "full production runs" and the brutal reality of the financial investment to be in this business. After making the commitment to multiple custom dyed fabric rolls, I then began visiting cut and sew contractors that could produce my samples. I went home from my first visit deflated. Not only had I waited weeks for an appointment, but drove hours from home to be told that I would need to have a certain number of each style, in each size, and in each color to get started. These "each-es" quickly added up to over 6 figures. Yes, in just labor. The amount of inventory would have to be sold quickly or liquidated. This is the vicious cycle of fashion that creates not only over production and waste, but over consumption due to prices being slashed to quickly put out the next line. The best piece of advice I was given along the way turned into my business blueprint and goal;
"If you want to make it here in the US, you better learn how to do every step yourself from pattern-making to production. Otherwise, if you don't have deep pockets or an investor, you will run out of money, quickly. Find your niche and do it well". This advice became the foundation for ADALÉI.
I have always had a fascination with the "petites mains" (small hands) of Chanel and Dior. These small ateliers and seamstresses bring drawings to life with exceptional skill and tailoring. Many of them have 10 years of expertise in the industry before being hired, with unmatched attention to detail and also a patience in creating clothing that is made well. They don't sit mindlessly in rows of machines making the same tee shirt, but rather create garments from start to finish. Of course, these haute couture pieces end up on the runways of Paris and are purchased only by customers with wealth, but the concept goes back to the origins of how clothing has been made for centuries, especially in small fashion houses and bespoke tailors in Europe. We value this old school method of clothing manufacturing at ADALÉI. Garments start as sketches or draped on the dress form. Samples are sewn and fit. Production takes place in the same workroom. Vertical "boutique" manufacturing under one roof.
Fashion is taught in art school for a reason. Fashion IS art. Five yards of silk draped into an evening gown is similar to an artist creating paintings from a blank canvas. The ideas and skill just come from somewhere within you; some of it learned and other parts innately part of what you were born with. However, fast fashion has stripped the art out of manufacturing, when historically the "craft of fashion" has been an art within itself.
Making clothing in the US is not easy. Sourcing is a challenge, but the biggest problem is our lack of infrastructure in the labor pool. The American "petites mains" of the 80's and 90's have now retired or gone into other industries as the jobs dried up here in the US. The pandemic highlighted how our country gave away so many jobs in the name of fast and cheap fashion. We are not passing on a generational skill that our country was built on and is so desperately needed to bring manufacturing back to the US. I am committed to preserving The Art and Craft of Fashion; the heritage of designing, sewing, and the skill set of pattern making and draping.
The future of ADALÉI (in addition to the collection) will include teaching these skills and educating the next generation.