Tuesday, March 15, 2016

SF Industry Visits: February 19th

This was the last full day trip visiting local shops in San Francisco, and while it's nice to have my weekends back again, I'm going to miss learning about all of the local fashion businesses in the area. I suppose I'll have to get real-world experience, next? Starting with actually putting this post up! ;)

The places we visited during this trip were:

  • Rickshaw Bagworks
  • Dark Garden
  • Amour Vert

Our first stop was Rickshaw, which is a relatively small bag company with a fairly large impact in the local-made scene. We were given a fantastic tour by the founder and owner of the company, Mark Dwight, who used to work for/be a shareholder of Timbuktu, and is also a co-founder of SF Made.

Obviously I was pretty excited to go visit Rickshaw. Despite the lack of Blag-a-bag posts recently, I still am very much something of a bagnoisseur*
*Today's franglais portmanteau brought to you by three pieces of dark chocolate, courtesy of my lovely mother-in-law. 

Rickshaw is doing some super interesting stuff, too, on the manufacturing end. All of their bag pattern pieces are drafted on paper... and then turned into digital files for their large laser cutter. (!)

They've also implemented lean manufacturing principles in their production facility: each person along the line performs a specific set of tasks, and every bag that gets made visits everybody in turn. This works really well, since the bag designs are relatively simple compared to garments, which can be very complex. There's a bit of quality control built-in, too: each step needs to be completed properly in order for the next part of the assembly to be successful.

There's a lot of customization going on at Rickshaw, too, which is successful because of a lot of the technology they've incorporated into their system.

Patches and embroidery mostly seemed to be for companies ordering large quantities of swag, but they also do custom digital prints on-demand, sold through Zazzle.

Fashion industry + bags + modern technology = TOTAL NERD FREAKOUT AMIRITE? At least, that's how I felt while we toured around.

For a complete contrast, we then entered the world of detailed corsets at Dark Garden:

I'm of two minds about corsets–real corsets like these, not just bustiers, which don't do extreme shaping. On one hand, it's a technical sewing marvel to put one of these beauties together. On the other hand, waist shaping is not really for me, unless we're talking about knitting. Still, I can understand that it's definitely for other people, and has always been even before various celebrities started going on about it.

Autumn Adamme, the lady who started and runs Dark Garden, is the primary pattern maker and fitter. Her picturesque shop has corsets of every type, as well as accessories that work for any situation in which you would want or need a corset, including lace crowns (!), fascinators, tights, and jewelry.

As you can imagine, corset making is extremely personalized and labour-intensive. They have some "ready-to-wear" styles, which still require alterations to fit the wearer, and take a minimum of 2 weeks to complete. Bespoke corsets start at US$1000, and take a minimum of 3 months, hundreds of hours, and several fittings. And unlike contracting companies, where fabric is cut in layers, or Rickshaw, where a laser does the cutting, every piece at Dark Garden is cut in a single layer, and painstakingly made by hand.

Wall of tester sizes

Autumn started Dark Garden in 1989, as a small business out of her garage, and evolved through the years into its current space. She spoke briefly about the challenges of being a business owner when you're primarily an artist: managing building permits, HR, and payroll doesn't always come easily. Her advice: be realistic about time management, and when you need to, pay somebody who likes doing the business stuff to take care of the business end of things. Sometimes it's worth finding the right person.

Our day of visits finished with yet another contrast, as we visited Amour Vert, a small clothing company based in San Francisco. These fashions are much simpler, with most of the focus placed on materials than fabrication.

The shop has a lot of modal and silk pieces, and the fabrics use natural dyes. Designs are updated year-round, with new items every 2-3 months, in a limited, single-run collection, which almost sounds like how BetaBrand operates, except these aren't crowdsourced, they're designed by the founder of the company. 

I really liked a lot of the designs; it was Eileen Fisher-esque: a little trendier but around the same price point. If I were to start doing designs for a living (which is not my goal, for a lot of very good reasons), this is what I would probably like. Everything from the fashions to the fiber-nerdiness to the decor of the store was totally up my alley, and I can definitely see myself shopping there once they open their new location at Stanford.

And that about wraps it up! I wish I could take this class again, just to do the industry visits, as tiring as these longs days have been. I feel like I learned a lot through these small inside glimpses, and it has really changed my perspective on the fashion industry, both positively and negatively.

That being said, what better way to wrap up this little series of posts, than to share this little montage of my friend Shawn taking photos during every field trip day? This isn't even all of them, just the better ones! I'm pretty sure I mostly just took photos of her taking photos. <3

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