Episode 09: Jay Adams | Brass Clothing

Jay Adams of Brass Clothing on building a curated apparel collection and a strong community around it

Jay Adams is co-founder of Brass Clothing, a collection of women’s foundation pieces designed with impeccable style, fit and easy-to-care-for materials. Jay launched Brass with partner, Katie Demo, in 2014 after both being fed up with fast fashion, and closets full of crap. Jay says Brass looks at a woman’s entire life, and how her wardrobe interacts with It, before designing pieces that simplify her wardrobe – so she can focus on things that really matter to her. According to Jay, Brass has built a strong community of smart, successful, strong, and passionate women who’ve been a big part of the brand’s success. Jay and chat about her background, how she, and her partner have built such a strong community – and Brass’ new inclusive sizing. And of course, we dive into the materials she selects and sources for this unique apparel collection.

Jay Adams, Co-Founder of Brass Clothing

Jay’s Interview Transcript

Nancy: Hello, I’m Nancy Fendler and you’re listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers, and other guests about what inspires them to create, why, and how they select the materials they choose, and the relationships they built with their customers, and industry.

My guest today is Jay Adams, co-founder of Brass Clothing, a curated collection of high-quality foundation pieces for women designed with impeccable style, and fit I might add, that she launched with partner Katie Demo in 2014 after being fed up with fast fashion, and closets full of crap. Jay says each Brass item is designed with beauty, quality, versatility, ease, and purpose in mind.

The apparel brand, which is sold online at, and seasonal popup stores around the Boston area, has built a strong community of smart, successful, strong, and passionate women who’ve been a big part of Brass Clothing success.

Jay invited me into her South Boston based studio to take a look at the line, and then chat about her background, how she, and her partner have built such a strong community around the brand, Brass’s new inclusive sizing, and the material she loves, and sources for this unique apparel collection.

Nancy: Hi, Jay.

Jay: Hi there.

Nancy: Thanks so much for having me to your studio today.

Jay: Thanks for inviting me to be on the podcast.

Nancy: And I look forward to our discussion. But before we get into a little bit about you, how did you come up with the name Brass for your apparel line?

Jay: When we were first starting out, my business partner Katie, and I, really our primary goal was to come up with a name that was going to be easily pronounceable and spellable. That was like, ‘Okay, number one’, having seen brands like Bonobos, and Glossier, or you know, these different brands people don’t know how to pass on the brand name.

So, we were like, ‘Let’s make it easy on ourselves’, that was the first thing, and then it’s not an eponymous line, that was never the point of us starting this business. It was really, you know, to be a service to women, and to their wardrobe. So, we really wanted to come up with a word that was going to sort of encapsulate some of the mission of the brand, and at the time we were really focused on the quality of the clothes, and the price point.

So on the one hand, brass looks like gold, but it doesn’t cost as much. So, that was one element of it, and then if you’re brassy, Katie and I like to consider ourselves brassy women, we’re outspoken, we have opinions, so we like to think that that’s also an element of what our customer is about, and it’s so much more about who she is, than it is about the clothes.

Nancy: That’s great, I love that. Brassy. Yeah. So, I have to also say that I just got back from a trip to Munich, or back from Munich last night, and I was fortunate enough to order a few pieces of Brass apparel before I left, and it does pack well, and travels well.

Jay: Yes!

Nancy: Yeah, it felt fun wearing it knowing that I was going to be interviewing you.

Jay: Yeah, that’s so great.

Nancy: So, just would like to ask a little bit about you, and how you got started in the apparel industry, and where you felt that there was a need for Brass?

Jay: Yeah, totally. So actually, I learned how to weave when I was in college. So, my background is really in textiles, and when I got out of college, I went, and worked as a weaver. I worked doing hand looming, high end textiles out in the Berkshire’s, and so that really kind of fed my passion, and my love for textiles.

And then decided that I wanted to get into doing more graphic design, surface design, so I freelanced, and did that work for a while, and then I got into sourcing, and I learned so much about what it takes to manufacture our product, to bring that product to life, and at the time when I was doing that work, I came across one of the factories that we work with today, and I was just so impressed by the work that they were doing, the other brands that they were working with, and I knew that they would be a fabulous partner to work with.

So, after I came across that factory, I came back from that trip, and I was telling Katie, my partner, I was like, ‘You know, I found this amazing factory’, and at the time, she was working in E-commerce, a footwear E-commerce company in marketing, and she was like, ‘Can’t you just make me a more affordable Theory?’, and that was like the nugget, you know

That was like the first, I was like, ‘Wait a second, we could do this’, because at the time, I was seeing brands like Everlane, and more of these direct to consumer brands coming up – and Bonobos, you know, really servicing more of a male customer, and a little bit more of the casual customer, and then also seeing brands like MM LaFleur really servicing a more professional woman, and we were like, we really feel like there’s room here in the market for something that’s business casual, and much more, you know, it takes like an entire woman’s life into consideration. So, that really was kind of the start to Brass.

Nancy: Which company did you work with where you got the experience for sourcing?

Jay: I was working for a very small sourcing company, so it was just me, and at the time, the owner of the company, we were in Waltham, and then we had two women who work for us over in Shenzhen, and one of those women, Abby, is our production manager today for Brass.

Nancy: Okay, great. So how would you describe the Brass customer?

Jay: So, what we like to say, we think so much in terms of psychographics, as opposed to like demographics. Because we really think about Brass as being a values driven brand. So, we like to think about our customer as being aligned with our values around style, substance, and community.

So, she’s a woman who definitely has a busy life, style is important to her, quality is important to her, but she’s also really focused on making an impact within her own community, at her job, with her family. So, that’s why we kind of say we like to help women simplify their wardrobe, so they can focus on things that really matter to them.

Nancy: Yeah, I’m hearing that over, and over again, and as I was in Munich for this big trade show called ISPO, and there are a number of halls where they’re just exhibitors of materials (suppliers to brands), and then they have these trend seminars, and one I attended shared that people want to save time, they want more simplicity, they want fewer choices, because they don’t want to take the time to make all these decisions.

So, I think simplifying apparel is, you know, key. It’s nice to be able to look in your closet, and say, ‘Okay, I have these pieces, and this is what I want to wear’, and Brass seems to do that.

Jay: Yeah. The trend of capsule wardrobing, I’m using quotations cause you know, it can feel a little constrictive for some people, but that trend, also Marie Kondo, I think that it’s become so popular in the last four years since we started Brass, if that was really something that was like starting to trend, and now it’s becoming much more mainstream.

But I think in general, we’re just all very overwhelmed by the plethora of choice that surrounds us at all times. I mean, our phone contains the entire world in it, and that’s great, but it’s also so overwhelming, right? So, that was for us at the time, it was like, I don’t want to spend two hours on Nordstrom’s scrolling through 1500 black dresses, I got better things to do with my time.

Nancy: Absolutely. So, just in doing a little bit of research, and I love this thing that I read about your line, it’s easy basics that are not basics, but we can get into that a little bit later. You mentioned that we’re living in an experience economy. Can you share a little bit more about that?

Jay: Yeah, it’s definitely something that we think about a lot internally, because you know, we are selling clothing, but we are also really promoting, and talking about things that are beyond just apparel, right

So, it’s like how is that clothing interacting with your life? How are you traveling with it? How is it performing in your workplace? We want to address all those other, everything that’s outside of just that piece of clothing.

I think that more, and more millennials in general, this generation is thinking about how it is that we’re spending our money, and there’s a lot of talk of experience economy, and people wanting to put their money towards you know, vacations, or health, and self-improvement, and things like that, and I think that brands, clothing brands need to be really thinking about how it is that they are incorporating their customer in a way that isn’t just about buying, and selling clothing, right?

So, we think about that a lot with Brass, and making opportunities for women to feel connected to the brand outside of just purchasing a piece of clothing. So for example, we have almost a thousand customers in a Facebook group, it’s a private Facebook group. They’re in there, they’re trading style ideas.

They’re showing like, ‘Here’s how I wore this dress, you know, four different ways’, sharing other brands that they really like, but that’s all being facilitated through a community that we’ve built, and so we’re building a lot of brand equity, and emotion on things that are outside of just our clothing.

And those things are actually what make people feel so connected to the brand, because at the end of the day, I mean, we’re selling black pants, right? But we’re selling so much more around that. It’s about a lifestyle, and it’s about values.

Nancy: That’s great. I think with so many options out there, it really helps for a woman, or man to feel that connection to a brand.

Jay: Absolutely.

Nancy: It makes a big difference when they want to purchase something. So, it’s like, ‘Okay, you know, they’re committed to something that I’m committed to, or a value that I align with.’

Jay: It’s interesting, because I think that in some ways, reflecting on what you just said, you know, I don’t connect to luxury brands, and I don’t connect to needing to have like a Chanel this, or a Gucci that, but for a lot of people that’s how they self-identify, right?

It’s like I’m bringing meaning into my life, and I’m saying something about who I am, because I’ve got this luxury bag, or this luxury jacket, or watch, or whatever, but I think that for millennials, maybe just the general population, it’s like you’re also looking to connect with a brand on your values that also says something about you, and in a lot of ways it makes you more proud to talk about that brand.

We see that with our own customer, with the word of mouth, it’s like they’re so excited to talk about Brass, because it’s owned by women, and it’s all about supporting other women, and definitely check out that Facebook group, because it’s like everyone in there is so nice, and you know, so you feel good about spreading the word. It’s less about like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got all this money, and I can afford a Chanel handbag.’

Nancy: Also, I would think that your customers are always looking forward, and anticipating what’s new from you as well.

Jay: Absolutely. It’s a fine line that we walk, because we’re still gaining new customers all the time, and we have certain heritage product like our Ponti Pants that just sell, and sell, and sell, and sell, and we’ve been selling those for three years now, and we will continue to sell them.

But yeah, we also need to keep people involved. We also feel like we still have so much more that we need to offer our customer in areas in her wardrobe that we still can improve her. We’re coming out with a really awesome suiting collection in April that’s really focused around the fabric, and the ability to travel, and the washability of it, and everything like that.

So yeah, there’s a fine line between knowing, bringing something in that’s new, but that has intention, and still keeping her excited.

Nancy: That’s great. Well, you mentioned fabrics, and I’d like to talk about that a little bit. So, where do you turn for your materials, and sourcing?

Jay: So yeah, over the last year, or two we’ve really been trying to control more of our supply chain, so that we can access better quality fabrics, and that so eventually we can be developing more of our own fabrics as well.

So, places that we usually turn to, I find that MAGIC, sourcing at MAGIC has been helpful in the past, and then just a couple of weeks ago, I was down at PV in New York, and I was really impressed by that show. I’d actually never been to it.

Nancy: Première Vision?

Jay: Yes, and you know, it’s a small show, but, it’s a really great place for smaller brands to go, because a lot of those mills actually have smaller minimum order quantities. The fabrics themselves are maybe a little bit on the higher price point, but I was really impressed by it, it was a good show.

Nancy: That’s great. I have not been to that show. So, do you think that a brand name fabric for your apparel line makes a difference to your consumer?

Jay: Hmm, that’s a good question. I mean, so we’ve never used any brand name fabrics really, but we are definitely trying to build up equity around the fabrics we do use, because there are certain fabrics we use that our customers know, and love, and what we’ve found, and had a lot of success with is when we work into that fabric, right?

So, it’s like we start doing more styles in it. Obviously, it makes a mix, and matching a capability of the pieces much easier, but also it’s something that she knows, and being an online company, that’s worth a lot, cause she already knows what that feels like, and how it fits her.

So, that’s definitely something we think about. The customer in general is learning more, and more about fibers. She knows what Tencel is, she knows what Modal is, she knows a lot more than I think, and cares a lot more than in the past.

Nancy: That’s just what I was going to ask you – if you think consumers have become savvier about how about maybe not just the fabrics, but the fibers that go into the fabrics.

Jay: Yes, I do think that she knows, or she at least it least likes to think she does, right? Because we have very smart customers, our women are, you know, reading all the time, they’re very well degreed, so, you know, they’ll come to us, and ask us questions, and sometimes we have to go, and do research in order to answer them.

But yeah, I think she’s learning more, and more. It’s really hard with the sustainability efforts. You know, so much of that is gray. It’s not black, and white, and a lot of customers want it to be black, and white, because they just were like, ‘Well, just tell me that this is a better option’, and you’re like, ‘Well, there are a lot of elements to it’.

You know, like, yes, Tencel is a regenerative fiber, but at the same time it takes a lot energy to produce. Cotton is natural, but it takes a lot of pesticides, and a ton of water. So, it can be really hard to kind of suss through all of that with the customer.

Nancy: Absolutely. You know, it’s just always evolving too. I think sustainability is, you know, we talked earlier, it’s become so important in the textile industry, and become transparent, and developing best practices, but without sacrificing the quality of the textile.

But it is critical, and I think obviously consumers are demanding it. Brands are demanding it from the textile manufacturers. So, it’s good. It’s all good.

Jay: Yeah, it is good. There’s still a lot more work to be done. I feel like for us, you know, we use a lot of polyesters, cause that’s what performs. Wrinkle resistant, and machine washability are huge for our customer. So, in a lot of ways that rules out natural fibers.

So, the wrinkle resistant factor of it in particular, but for us, yeah, it’s like any of the fabrics that we’re using that are 100 % polyester that are made with virgin polyester, there’s no reason why they can’t eventually be recycled polyester, and that’s something that we would like to be able to work towards as we have more money, and are able to invest into that type of work. Nobody’s really doing that in the business casual space. You see it a lot in performance, outdoor, athletic.

Nancy: That would be great.

Jay: Yeah.

Nancy: So, I know you have a great relationship with your factories, but do you have an idea, or can you give me an example of what a good textile partner might be like for you?

Jay: Yeah. We just actually found an amazing mill in Japan, we’re really excited to start working with them, and the reason why they’re great is number one, they have some more flexible minimum order quantity. So, that’s really helpful for us, but they’re also really pushing boundaries in terms of dyeing practices, trying to use less water, you know, trying to be more environmentally friendly around different dye processes, the way that they’re treating fabrics.

They’re also using a lot of Cupro Modal experimenting, and doing really nice applications of natural fibers like some polyesters, so that you still have some of those performance capabilities.

So that’s for us it’s like we’re really looking for real partner when it comes to our mills, or when it comes to cut, and sew, or it comes to our knits is somebody who’s excited about the work that we’re doing, and willing to kind of be flexible with us where we need it, and also are looking towards the future ways that they can improve, and excited to have a partner in us, for someone who’s also bringing to them like, ‘Here’s what our customer wants, here is like what we’re seeing in the marketplace’.

Nancy: So, Brass is sold directly to the consumer via online. Is there a reason why you chose to go this route?

Jay: Yeah, so I mean obviously at the time, that was the means that we had, and you know, it was just, that’s what everybody was doing, you know, that obviously is the way that all commerce is moving in general, and we wanted to be able to make the brand available to as many women as possible.

So, I think nowadays it’s like most brands are going to be digitally native brands at first, right? And then they’ll get into retail, which is what we’ve started to do as well, and it’s the opposite of the way it was before. You have an open air main street shop, and then, ‘I guess I should make a website.’

Nancy: Well, you get lots of feedback. Oh, you just had a pop up store for how many months was it?

Jay: We did, yeah, it was from July, to end of December. So, six months.

Nancy: Whoa.

Jay: Yeah.

Nancy: That’s almost like a retail store. I mean, six months is quite a long time.

Jay: Yes, it was such an amazing opportunity for us. It was with a really cool project here in Boston where it was all women owned businesses, and these little individual popups down in the Seaport, it’s called The Current, and it was such a great opportunity for us to see what retail would be like, and how Brass would do that, and we learned so much, and definitely confirmed that retail, and making sure that we have in person experiences available to our customer is really important to the future of the brand.

Also, we never considered wholesale, because we also just wanted to maintain that contact with the customer, and make sure that we had that connection with her, and was getting that feedback so that we could be constantly improving the product, and serving her better.

Nancy: Is there anything unusual that you found out from your customers, anything that it’s like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to go back to the drawing board’, or, ‘Maybe we gotta keep doing this right’.

Jay: Yeah. I mean, man, we learned so much. Number one, machine washability. You know, you’re thinking ‘Oh, we’re going to have a store, and it’s going to be you’re going to have the opportunity to tell your brand story’, and you do, you have that, but you also just have like the very first impression from a woman walking in the store.

It was like, ‘You mean I can wash all of this at home?’ You’re like, ‘Uh-huh’, you know? You’re like, ‘Wow, that gets you that excited, okay.’ You know, like that’s something we need to talk about more. The quality of the fabrics were really able to stand out in the store. It’s so hard online, you have to really communicate that quality, so that was great for us to see.

Obviously, we were able to identify certain fit issues, or where we were not able, like silhouettes that we were not providing for certain women. You know, it was like, ‘Oh, maybe we need to be working on more styles. We need to be giving her blouses that don’t have buttons’. You know, you get to just see everything.

Nancy: Yeah, yeah. Great consumer research, that’s for sure.

Jay: Yeah.

Nancy: So, I follow you on Instagram, but I know that you’re on other social media, is there one platform that does better for you, or do you find them all necessary?

Jay: Yeah, I mean, Instagram is huge for us. Instagram, and Facebook are two of our main channels for advertising. They are our number one channels for advertising, but we also, you know, we obviously have our own Instagram that works as a place for us to engage a little bit more with our customer.

We’re trying to think about that a little bit more, and then our online Facebook group, that private Facebook group has been, I think it’s really a magical little place. You know, the internet can be kind of a nasty place, and so we’ve really managed to cultivate, and create this little place with nearly a thousand people in it where women are so supportive of each other.

They’re popping in there, sharing their bathroom selfies, and they’re just like, ‘You look great, you look fabulous’, they’re helping each other with sizing. So, that’s like really where our community shines, and we’re trying to think about ways that we can bring that onto Instagram, and some other social.

Nancy: Oh, that’s great, and speaking of sizing, I heard that you have extended your sizes to, I want to say, is it called inclusive sizing?

Jay: Yeah.

Nancy: Can you talk about that?

Jay: Yeah, yeah. We’re really excited about it. It’s definitely something that’s taken longer than we would’ve liked, but we really wanted to do it well. So we use a fit model, a size eight fit model for our straight, our missy sizes.

So, that’s like a double zero, up to a 14, and then when we added sizes 16, to 26, we went out, and we started working with a fit model, a size 18 20 fit model, and really wanted to make sure that these five of our bestselling styles were designed to fit that woman in particular really, really well.

So, we started on that process last year, and yeah, we just launched last week, and it’s so great, because really at the heart of Brass is like I said, to serve women, make her life easier, and make her wardrobe better, and we weren’t really fulfilling entirely on that mission by stopping our sizes at 14.

So, it has just been such a great feeling, and it’s just the beginning. We’ll be adding more styles in those sizes, and we’ve gotten so much feedback. Now, a lot of women say they want petites. So, it’s like, you open the door, and you hear from everyone. So, we have a lot of room for growth, and improvement, but yeah, we’re really excited to be able to welcome more women to the brand.

Nancy: That’s wonderful. It is, because I think, I don’t know about you, but once you find a brand that fits, you’ll have a loyal customer for a very long time.

Jay: Yeah, totally, and I think in doing this work, it’s been really interesting. The metrics are all out of whack, right? So, they say that the average American woman is a size 14 16, and yet the majority of the industry is manufacturing sizes zero, to 12, right?

So, you’re really leaving out the majority of women, and I think with social media, that’s going to change, because people have a platform through which they can tell brands like, you know, ‘Make my size, this is screwed up, why can’t I buy your stuff?’

And it really seems like within the quote, unquote plus sizing, we’ve heard a lot about the quality isn’t really there, and also there aren’t a lot of brands that are in manufacturing ethically, and responsibly in that space. So yeah, we’re just excited to provide that opportunity for women.

Nancy: Oh, so I’m going to go into a few questions that might be a little bit more personal, nothing too personal, but what are your favorite materials?

Jay: Gosh, I mean, we use a lot of them. I mean, we do use a fair number of synthetics just because, like I was saying, because of the performance quality of them, but I mean, I’m always so impressed. Lately I’ve just been so impressed by all the silkies that they had at PV, it’s unbelievable.

I mean, all the silk lookalikes are so beautiful. I do love the feel of Cupro. That’s a hard one to work with, but I just generally, I like them all.

Nancy: Hard to choose.

Jay: If it’s got a good texture, a good weight to it, a good hand feel, I’m into it, you know?

Nancy: What’s your favorite Brass piece?

Jay: Oh my God, that’s really hard. So, I will say that our scout pants, which is a pair of pants that we worked very, very long, and hard on, it’s a high waisted, wide leg pant that is made with this cotton Tencel spandex blend, and it’s got a sateen finish to it.

So, the fabric is really cool, it’s got a little bit of sueding to it. So, it really looks very different, feels great on, and I love the cut of those pants. So right now, that’s my current favorite.

Nancy: Oh, I’ll have to check those out. Besides your own brand, what apparel brand do you love?

Jay: Oh my God. It’s funny, cause I barely get out to shop that much.

Nancy: You don’t need to.

Jay: I don’t need to really, but I have to say I really love Rag & Bone, because to the point of like quality of materials. I mean, they do a great job, they use a lot of Schoeller fabrics, and you know, their price point isn’t always where I’d like it to be, but that’s a place that I love to go. I know that I can always get a really great quality piece of clothing there.

Nancy: Yeah. What trends do you love?

Jay: Oh my God. I mean, we’re so not trend focused. It’s like the antithesis of our brand really. So, I’m going to have to say, I think the trend right now that I’m really into is just seeing more, and more sustainable fabrics, and just measures within the fashion industry.

Nancy: If you were not a designer, I think you clarified you’re not really a designer, but source, or if you weren’t in the creative apparel industry, what would you be doing?

Jay: Oh, that’s funny. I’d probably still be doing something design related. I also love interiors, so maybe it’d be something like that, designing rugs, I love rugs.

Nancy: Do you remember Susan Sargent? Oh, she was a rug designer. Anyway, I have a couple of her rugs, but I hear you there.

Jay: Yeah, they’re like, can be beautiful paintings on your floor.

Nancy: Yeah. You’re a busy woman. So, what’s keeping you up at night these days?

Jay: I mean everything, and anything. Right now we’re at a place with a brand where it’s like, we know that we have a really strong customer base, and a really great foundation to grow on, and so we’re at a really exciting point where we can also start to think about like, what’s next?

And like I said, more stores, more in person experiences, which was, it’s so fulfilling. That’s the best part is getting to be with, and meet our customers, we love our women, but you know, just trying to think about what’s next for the brand I would say.

Nancy: Yeah, and what do you think that is? That was my last question.

Jay: Well, definitely it was a huge milestone for us to get to launching inclusive sizing, and then like I said, we’ve got some other really great collections that are coming, the suiting collection, which I think is going to be great. Women have been asking us for a blazer for forever, so we’re really excited for that.

And you know, generally building out the collection to a point where it’s even better, like the styling components, and the ability to mix, and match, and really working into her wardrobe is more, and more about what we’re thinking about – and like I said, the in person stuff is really huge for us.

Nancy: How do you get away?

Jay: You don’t. If you’re thinking about starting your own business, or if you have, you know you never get away. You know, it’s funny actually. I think this summer I’m going to try to take a course over at Central Saint Martins, that both is like, you know, in line with the business.

But I’m also just excited to do something once I’m back to being like really creative again, so that it would be like, it’s kind of funny. I’m like, ‘That would be getting away’ in a way where it’s like, oh, you get excited about like, ‘Oh yeah, that would be great’, and still yeah, get back to being creative outside of the business.

Nancy: Well, I really appreciate you spending so much time with me. I really enjoyed our chat, and getting to know more about you, and the company, and I look forward to big things happening for you.

Jay: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Nancy: Take care. Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this podcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes, and our theme music is by Activity Club.

For more information on Material Wise, please visit, and please subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again, and until next time, take care.


Episode 08: Best of 2018

The Best of 2018 – Highlights from our guests

As we are deep in production with our new Material Wise 2019 lineup, we wanted to review a few of last year’s episodes and recap some of the highlights. We had a great year speaking with Jill McGowan with Jill McGowan, Inc., Erin Bornstein with Timberland, Miles Spadone with Spadone Home, Nick Armentrout with Ramblers Way, Rob Naughter with Patagonia, Justin Seale with Architec and Myrand Caputo with Bespoke Branded Fit. We learned that transparency, social responsibility throughout the supply chain has become increasingly important as is designing products with longevity in mind. New body scanning techniques are trending as people are demanding a more custom fit. Among all my discussions, there is one common thread, and that is great products are inspired by great materials. I hope you enjoy!

Episode 07: Myranda Caputo | Bespoke Branded Fit

Myranda Caputo of Bespoke Branded Fit on demystifying brand sizing and the future of fit standard

With her 20 plus years of technical pattern making and product development experience with brands such as Hanes, Dick’s Sporting Goods and L.L. Bean, Myranda Caputo knows a thing or two about how a garment should fit. Upon seeing the recent shift among brands focusing more on developing customized fit standards tailored to their target markets and customers, Myranda realized the growing need for her technical skills and founded Bespoke Branded Fit. In this episode, we talk about how brands go about developing their own fit standards and why there can be such a discrepancy. Myranda shares how function and aesthetic, not to mention materials, are key factors when it comes to fit. She also shares how brands are helping consumers purchase the right size online via interactive fit charts, 3D body scans and more. For more information on Bespoke Branded Fit, visit

Myranda Caputo, Owner of Bespoke Branded Fit

Myranda’s Interview Transcript

Nancy: Hello. I’m Nancy Fendler and you’re listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers, and other guests in the outdoor, fashion, home furnishings, among other industries about what inspires and influences them to create, why and how they select the materials they choose and the relationships they built with their customers and industry.

On this episode, we’re going to talk about fit. Some say that fit is the most important aspect of any garment. Once you find that special item that fits you oh so perfectly, you’ll become a loyal fan of the brand who made it. My guest today is Myranda Caputo, an apparel development consultant and fit specialist with Bespoke Branded Fit. Myranda has 20 plus years of apparel industry experience and has worked with leading brands such as Hanes, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and L.L Bean, to name a few. Her extensive background includes product development, pattern making, process evaluation, and developing standards for technical design. Myranda is going to share with us what she believes goes into developing the perfect fit.

Nancy: Oh, Myranda, thanks so much for joining me on Material Wise.

Myranda: Thanks, Nancy. I’m so glad to be here today.

Nancy: Oh, good. How did you get interested in fit pattern making?

Myranda: Nancy, when I was a young kid, I got involved with 4H and learned how to sew. After that, I decided I wanted to go to college to learn about developing apparel. I had initially gone as a design major, but then ended up in apparel management degree with a design concentration. It guided me to all the technical aspects of apparel, pattern making, grading, draping, tech packs, all the aspects on the back end in order to make the garment happen so you can actually cut it out of the fabric. You can take a design sketch and develop an actual garment.

Nancy: Wow. I know it’s so technical. I’ve seen it … I remember being at the Bobbin Show. It was a trade show eons ago-

Myranda: Yes.

Nancy: And all that equipment that had to plot these patterns and make sure that you’re using as much of the fabric that you can.

Myranda: The Bobbin Show was a great show. I went several times as a college student as well and enjoyed going and seeing the new technology and where it was going. Some of the fun aspects, even back then, were just the initial steps to scanning, at that point, a mold of a foot in order to help develop shoes three-dimensionally.

Nancy: Yeah.

Myranda: In a Gerber system.

Nancy: Wow. Yeah.

Myranda: Times have changed.

Nancy: Yes. Yes. Right off the bat, I have a question that maybe some of our listeners have as well and hoping that you can demystify it. Why am I sometimes a size four in one brand and then a size eight in another?

Myranda: Nancy, this is one of the fun aspects of apparel – that every brand is able to develop sizing the way that they view their brand should be developed and based on their target market. Over the years, though, vanity sizing has really come into play. Some companies have put the numeric size so that even though it fits a larger dimension, the size is smaller numerically on the tag. That way, you’re perceived as buying a smaller size. Some brands, though, over the years, focus on different body types – the body type that they’ve defined for their customer based on such as age, gender clearly, activities the person may be participating in. These all effect our body shape. If you’re more athletic, you’re going to have a different shape than somebody who’s potentially more sedentary. Also, it plays into the brand dynamic and brands wanting to create customer loyalty. They’re looking to stick to their body shape, which is why you may not fit into that brand because you may not be their defined body shape.

Nancy: That’s really interesting. Yeah. That makes sense. Also, what you mentioned about an athletic brand might be a bit different in sizing than a sportswear brand because of the activity that they’re doing. Is that-

Myranda: Exactly, Nancy. That’s exactly true. When you look at athletic body shape, shoulders are squarer, people are more muscular through the thigh area. They’re trimmer through the waistline. We can think of the men’s traditional suit where it’s a little fuller fit, but then you’ve … we’ve all heard of the athletic cut suit for men’s-

Nancy: Yeah.

Myranda: Which is trimmer through the waist and the hips. That holds true to the body shape in general when you’re looking at more athletic brand. Then, on the flip side, when you’re in more sportswear oriented, you … the waist might not be quite as trim as what you would see in athletic brands.

Nancy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Interesting, because I do have my go-to brands. Sometimes they’re the smaller sizes because it just makes me feel so good. In a previous conversation we had, you mentioned that fit needs to be defined in two ways: function and aesthetic. Can you explain?

Myranda: Nancy, as we were talking about how there are different brands for sportswear and athletic wear, so fit has your designer drafting for the design. When the designer’s drafting the design, they have to think of what is the end use of that garment. Are you using it to go fishing, running, biking, hiking, sitting in a desk all day? In general, just comfort wear throughout the day? Or, every day basic activities, whether you’re a mom running after kids or doing a triathlon, they’re thinking about what that garment is going to be worn for. They want it to be designed so that it’s aesthetically appealing to the customer and up with market trends, whether it’s color, the fabric type. They’re keeping in mind the fabric type and what’s available in the market and who they’re directing that to be based on the end-use.

Then, they will work with their technical designer or pattern maker to make sure that that fit is functional for the garment. The pattern maker needs to think about, “Is it a running activity? What kind of movement does this person need to be able to do in this garment so that it is functional?” It’s really difficult to think of putting on a suit jacket to maybe even clean your house or to go out for a walk because it really wasn’t intended for that function. You may not have the movement that you need in the sleeves to be able to lift your arms up over your head or to reach for something as easily.

Nancy: It’s really important for brands to communicate their fit standards, do you think?

Myranda: Absolutely it is. This is one of the biggest challenges brands are having is we’re going to this virtual market where people can’t try on clothing virtually (even though it’s in the works so to speak), to know that that fit is going to work for their body shape or for the activity they are going to be participating in. Frequently, in the past, we’ve gone to a retail establishment and gone to the fitting room and tried on that garment to make sure it works for our body shape and for the activity we’re doing. Going forward, we’re looking at a virtual market where we’re viewing a garment online, potentially either on a person or a form or just sometimes even flat where it’s not even viewed on a person, to gain an understanding of what that garment is. We can read about what the fabric is, but the same time the size chart that’s frequently provided gives measurement, but really not what that body shape is.

To help clarify that, if I tell you to draw an eight-inch line, you can draw it straight. You can draw it in a squiggle with as many curves as you want. You can draw it into a circle. Measurements can be distributed in different ways. You could look at the woman’s chest, for example, and maybe she has a 36 inch circumference on her bust, but it doesn’t tell us what her cup size is. It doesn’t tell us she’s well-endowed or not. If that sports bra is going to fit her properly, she’s guesstimating based on that circumference measurement, but not knowing really where her … the body shape was distributed when they developed the garment.

Nancy: I’ve read that there are companies that are using body scanning. Is that correct? Can they send a picture of your body or scan and send it into the manufacturer and there could be something more custom fit?

Myranda: They can do that. There are manufacturers that are and have done scanning in the past to develop custom fit. I know Levi’s did it for a while out of their New York office. I’m not sure if they’re still doing it or where else. The other big development in the apparel industry is they’re starting to use the 3D scanning to develop avatars within their system to develop a preliminary fit without even fitting a garment. Then, on top of that, they can modify that avatar if they needed to in order to meet a custom body shape potentially so that they can do custom fits virtually on the computer and then also send out an actual garment that should fit more true based on the avatar.

The other interesting thing that I’ve seen recently is people are making smart apparel, where it’s able read your body. I would say it’s a different type of scanning where you put on, most likely in a pair of pants is what I’ve seen, and it understands your body shape and you can download the information and it can suggest to you what jeans may fit you best, what brands may fit you best, and based on also the style details that you might be looking for. If you’re looking for the perfect skinny jean, we’re getting the impression that some of these technologies are coming about that will be able to help you find that jean.

Nancy: That’s great. The tools that make it easier to buy something and not order multiple-

Myranda: Absolutely.

Nancy: Or have … or having to go to the tailor or to …

Myranda: That’s the biggest problem, Nancy, is there is no standard size.

Nancy: Yeah.

Myranda: I know that I’ve seen on some brands, who really work hard to define their shape and how the customer can relate to their product, have worked on that through their interactive size chart. What’s really interesting is one of the companies out there has tailored their size chart online so that you can click through and say, “What type of clothing do I like? Do I like it more relaxed? Do I like it tighter?” Then you can ask what brands you currently use and what sizes you’re currently buying in those brands. Then it can tell you what size they suggest for their brand.

Nancy: Do you know what the name of that company is?

Myranda: It’s The North Face. I’m not trying to-

Nancy: Yeah.

Myranda: Plug anybody, but it’s really … it’s an interesting interactive tool so that you can create a guide versus just based on those measurements.

Nancy: Yeah. That’s fascinating. This podcast is about materials, so how do materials come into play when you’re pattern making or fit or customizing fit?

Myranda: With what I do with materials and pattern making, you really need to keep in mind, “Is it a woven? Is it rigid? What sort of movement is needed in this garment and how do I accomplish that in the shape of my pattern with the body shape I’m trying to fit so that there’s an appropriate amount of ease in order to give somebody that movement?” On the flip side, if I’m doing a high stretch garment for swim or active apparel, I need to think about how compressive does that fabric need to be against the body? Is it true compression? Is it just meant to skim the body? Because it’s so close to the body, have I taken out enough and have I given that person, still, the movement that they need? Because even though something may be next to skin and really form fitting on the body, if you still don’t have the fabric in the right places, you’re not goning to get the movement that you need. It’s important to work with your design team, your fit model, and understand the expectations for that garment so that we’re not tailoring something that you cannot move in.

Nancy: Right. You’re constricted.

Myranda: Exactly.

Nancy: Yeah.

Myranda: We don’t want your clothes wearing you, where you feel like you’re stuck in a a garment.

Nancy: Ugh. No. No. Over time, do you think … have you seen body shapes change, do you think? You’ve been doing this for, what, 20 some odd years?

Myranda: In the time that I’ve been working in pattern making and apparel development, the thing that’s become really apparent and amazing to me is that, initially, the standard for new body measurements was based on a government study where they strictly measured people. It was the challenge of – “Where is the fullness distributed on the body, because you just have a measurement?

Those numbers were crunched and kind of folded into a data table to look at the differences between the sizes. Today, up … I don’t know how long ago it started, but Alvanon has worked with a company in order to scan people and to gain an understanding of where the body fullness is distributed. They’ve compiled measurements, but also compiled shapes so that they were able to gain that understanding. With those differences, I think that we’re seeing an evolution of the body shape because virtually we can now view it, versus prior it was just a measurement that we were viewing on paper.

The other thing is that I know that there’s a more recent study coming out as well where they’re … I believe it’s ….Size North America is doing additional scanning. The thing that’s also interesting with these body scans is they also take into account nationality, activity level, age range, all this data so that you could tailor to your market. If you’re a company that wants to tailor to somebody who is 15 to 25 (years old) and is athletic, you could pull that data and really tailor to that body shape, so that if you’re developing an athletic line, you can really truly focus on that customer. If you’re choosing to go after the 40 to 55 year-old woman who is working in an office and you want to develop sportswear for her everyday life in the office, you can tailor that body shape as well. You can note that you want to mix of athletic and every day. They’re capable to blend that. It’s interesting to see how that evolves.

Nancy: That’s a great tool.

Myranda: It’s a great tool.

Nancy: It really is. It can segment. Brands can really segment their market and tailor to their customer.

Myranda: They can understand their body shape-

Nancy: Yeah.

Myranda: Typically, from my perspective, I think brands are looking at what the design elements are that are out there. They’re chasing after the market and the design aspect. It’s also important, and we are seeing a shift in the market and companies really trying to focus on their fit. I’m interacting with people more on LinkedIn and as I’m working with more and more companies, I’m gaining an understanding that these companies are focusing more on their fit and how they’re tailoring to their market. One of the ways that I’m receiving that information is through block patterns. A company can identify their body shape and they can identify it for men’s, women’s, boys, girls, women’s plus size, so they know their shape. On top of that, they’re capable of developing a block pattern which will give them their base size fit, so that they can have a standard when they’re working with a range of manufacturers.

Because as a retail establishment, when you’re developing, you’re looking for factories that can manufacture based on the fabric you want to use, based on duties, depending on the region that that product is coming from, and cost. We are all clearly chasing after the lowest possible cost. In order to do that, block patterns are a great way for companies to hone their fit, use the block, send it to their vendors. Then they can also, on top of that, put their grading on their block pattern so that they’re able to define all their sizes so that the vendor can understand the visual of what the expectation is in the grading, which is the development of all the sizes.

Nancy: Where do you see the trends in pattern making and fit going?

Myranda: I think that the trend for pattern making is that we’re going to see an influx of a need for people who understand pattern making and fit because we have shifted to more of a technical design role, which kind of builds garment initially off of measurements and the design details and sending that to factories. We’ve lost some of that trade here in the US. There are still pattern makers here, but at the same time, for, I would say, at least 10 years, it’s kind of become one of the dying arts. People have filtered out and we’re starting to see an influx of that needing to come back.

I’ve been, through my research and looking at people’s titles and job descriptions, I’ve seen there’s a greater request for pattern making skills and a true understanding of grading and questions from employers about, “Can you really draft a pattern? How would you do it?” I’ve actually even received pattern tests sometimes when I’ve interviewed where they’ve sent a pattern and then wanted you to develop the design off of the pattern to really test your pattern making skills and then also create it. They want you to see that you can develop all the sizes. It’s one thing to look at numbers on a page. It’s another thing to be able to draw the shapes that work to fit the body.

Nancy: Right. It’s such an integral part in the working in collaboration with a designer. You’re basically taking their sketch and making it happen and then working, obviously, with the fabrics and the factories and all that.

Myranda: I think that’s the fun part – because the designer is worried about fit and wanting to see the product get to market on time, but the job of a pattern maker and a technical designer, you’re really collaborating with all those teams along the way, whether it’s your product manager, even merchandising to an extent to understand what they’re looking for, your designer. Then, to work with the factory to make it happen and understand their capabilities in sewing, what is their equipment? Is this something that they can do that I’m requesting? Can I give them a couple different options in order to achieve the desired garment?

Nancy: It must be interesting being in your head. You must look at … People are wearing clothes every day and you’re like, “Uhmm..that fit isn’t right,” or, “It’s …”

Myranda: Well, Nancy, as you know when you’re passionate about something, it doesn’t escape your mind. I do find myself kind of people watching and trying to understand, “What’s special about that garment or why does it fit so well?” Or, on the opposite, “I know what I would change on that pattern to improve that just a little bit.” Then, sometimes, I start wondering, “Would that consumer even notice those changes? Are they so used to it being that way that it’s okay with them?” Or, would they enjoy the changes that I’d be thinking of to make it fit better? Just think about those things, whether it’s children’s wear, swim, men’s wear – all the time I feel like I’m thinking about it – no matter where I am, whether we’re out skiing or running or at the pool.

Nancy: I can’t escape. There’s nowhere. I was thinking about, as you were talking, when I was a little girl. I lived in a rural place. It was very normal for my mom to pick up patterns and go to the fabric store. We had a seamstress that made my clothes. That was not what I wanted. Of course, I wanted to buy clothes off the rack like other girls that lived in cities or whatever. I was in a museum. The Museum of Modern Art had the costume display. I was following a woman from Europe. She was European. She was saying, “They call this Couture.” I had Couture. I had a seamstress make all my clothes when I was little.

Myranda: I did, too.

Nancy: You just don’t do that as much anymore. I think that you’re right. The fit that we get, we tend to just accept based on what fits us the best. Those who take the time to go to have them tailored, it’s great.

Myranda: I am noticing that there is an influx in custom now, that companies are viewing this as a tool to gain market shares where they can offer a custom product. Sometimes it’s custom to fit the body. Sometimes it’s custom based on the customer wanting a different color or a different fabric, if they’re able to offer that. It is interesting to think about and perceive that, “Is this really where we’re going back to, where people really do want their clothes to fit? They’re interested in maybe paying a higher price for something that is going to provide them longer and fit them better.”

Nancy: Yeah. I think so. Buy things that fit and last and can withstand the test of time and(consumers can) buy fewer (products).

Myranda: Absolutely. I think that’s also noted in fabric and fiber. We want things that are renewable fibers or recycled so that they’re more earth friendly. It’s interesting to think about not just the recycled aspect, but what garments are potentially compostable because they’re out of natural fiber. Are we thinking about that as users?

Nancy: Exactly. I know it’s nice to see the industry really thinking along those lines and I am in touch with a lot of fiber materials companies knowing sustainability is all on their top of mind, you know, “How can we be better stewards to the environment?” My last question for you, which I like to ask everyone, is where do you find your passion?

Myranda: I follow up on my passion for fit and apparel development – and in talking to just-like minded people. I really enjoy reaching out to people who are in the industry and are in a similar aspect of industry where they’re working on honing a fit. I also do enjoy just some market research, whether it’s looking at size charts on The North Face or whatever websites are doing to see what they’re doing and how they’re changing fit. I have also … I do pick up some books periodically or some trade magazines just to see … most of that, I would say, is digitally, whether it’s the Sourcing Journal or Rivet or any of the other trade magazines to see what are coming up.

Nancy: Well, thank you. This has been a real learning/educational process for me. I will now make sure that I pay attention to fit and that I have no gaps in my clothes! Thank you very much, Myranda.

Myranda: Thanks, Nancy. It was great talking to you today.

Nancy: Okay. Take care.

Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this podcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes and our theme music is by Activity Club. For more information on Material Wise, please visit and please subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again, and until next time, take care.

Episode 06: Justin Seale | ArchiTec

Justin Seale on combining his love of design, sourcing and travel to build ArchiTec

After 20 plus years working in retail, product management and design for notable outdoor-related companies, Justin Seale decided that the time was right to create his own brand – but it had to be different. Combining his sage years of experience with his love of travel, design and textiles, Justin founded ArchiTec – a streamlined collection of men’s adventure apparel based on sustainable materials and inspirational places around the world – designed and built in California. Justin talks about how each collection leads with a particular textile and location in mind to create an experience around a product. He also shares how his trip to New Zealand to meet the growers who produce ArchiTec’s merino wool inspired his new fall’18 ‘Farm to Wear’ New Zealand collection. For more information on ArchiTec, please visit

Justin Seale, Founder of ArchiTec

Justin’s Interview Transcript

Nancy: Hello, I’m Nancy Fendler and you’re listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers, and other guests in the outdoor, fashion, home furnishings, among other industries, about what influences them to create, how and why they select the materials they choose, and the relationships they built with their customers and industry.
Nancy Fendler: My guest today is Justin Seale, founder and principal of ArchiTec, an adventure and travel-inspired apparel company based in the San Francisco Bay area. ArchiTec offers a streamlined collection of sustainable, fashionable, and durable pieces based on inspirational locales. Speaking from his Bay Area headquarters, Justin gives us a glimpse into how and why he founded ArchiTec, the significant role materials play in each collection, and the forthcoming Fall ’18 New Zealand collection that will be launched this September.

Nancy: Justin, thanks so much for joining me on Material Wise.

Justin: Yes, thank you very much for having me.

Nancy: Yeah… So I’m, I’m so intrigued with ArchiTec after reviewing a little bit of research on the internet and what I know from Shannon. So, can you share a little bit about your background and how you got into design?

Justin: My path was in the outdoor industry, and the design part of it was not, certainly not traditional or straightforward. I actually started out in retail sales of outdoor products and gear back when I was in school at The University of Colorado Boulder, and then went on to live in Hawaii and work on a dive boat. Then worked in … or actually ran an outdoor gear store in Honolulu of all places. And then, lo and behold I found myself back in Colorado attempting to start graduate school in Computer Science. This was the early, late ’90s, early 2000s and everybody was making money in the first dot com industry. Somewhere along that process, I spotted a Chrome messenger bag on the back of a bike. It was Denver bike messengers, and I was like I gotta have one of these things, because I was a total gear head.

I finally was able to track the guys down after, it took me probably a month or two. Rang the bell on their warehouse and it was like, “What do you want?” and I said, “I want a bag”. They said, “Oh great, come on in”. I started talking to them, and they just had this amazing kind of eclectic warehouse space, a half pipe in the back and just a bunch of designs like driven pattern tables and what not. Anyhow I was like, “Do you guys need any help?” And they were like, “What?” I’m like, “Yeah I’ll just like come and help you guys sell some stuff and what not”, and next thing I knew I had a full time job working for Chrome Industries back when they were based in Colorado, and we later moved the company to San Francisco in 2002. I made the move of course and then somewhere, a year or so later. You know, I’ve always been a very product driven sales person. It was kind of for me just embedded in why we create a product, why we sell a product. We create the product itself, like we led with that experience.

I asked Mark Falvai who was the founder of Chrome, I was like “Chrome at one point had done apparel” and I said, “What’s up with all these old apparel sales you guys aren’t running anymore?” And he’s like, “Well, you know, we just don’t have the time, we’re just focusing on the bags.” And I was like, “Can I go ahead and resurrect this”? He was like, “Sure, be my guest.” So, anyhow I basically took a headlong plunge and just started working in kind of my free time on resuscitating some of their older designs and one thing led to another and I basically morphed over from being in a sales driven role into a product line management role and through that and through mentoring under Mark, I just learned a ton about design and development, sourcing, which in turn carried over to our next company, which was Mission Workshop. I was the apparel director there and kind of responsible for handling all things apparel related.

Nancy: Wow. You know when you’re mentioning Chrome, I used to have a Chrome bag. Don’t they have like the car seat buckle?

Justin: Yep. The reason was that those were actually cut out of old cars at the Denver Salvage Yard.

Nancy: Wow. Tell us a little bit about the positioning of ArchiTec and why you feel there’s a need and who you’re designing for?

Justin: It’s interesting because actually the concept behind ArchiTec was actually, born from my wife and really, by that I mean this, I had been over the course of the last like four years I’ve been working as an independent consultant with a lot of start-up style brands, helping them understand the industry and the design components, managing their whole process and, it was great and it was somewhat rewarding, but of course you’re working on other people’s stuff. I had come to a point where I was like, “Okay, maybe I’m just kind of done with this industry, I’ve been doing it for 20 years now. It’s been a good run. I think maybe I’ll just be a sail boat captain or something.” Well my wife was like, “Why don’t you do a brand?” And I was like, “Really, it’s so much work…”

And, as I began to think about it, I was like, “What can we do differently that I haven’t done in the past or that other people haven’t done?” To me it was about understanding, what do we love to do? My wife and I love to travel, we spend three to four months out of the year out of the country. We’re always looking to hop on a flight somewhere. And, at the same time I love textiles. I love sourcing, like you can get textiles all around the world. So, combining the elements of design, sourcing, and travel together, so that we’re building seasonal collections that are based around particular textiles from different parts of the world. Like in this case, for fall, we were in New Zealand for a month working in conjunction with Global Merino, staying on their sheep station, understanding the whole ‘we’re in the wool farming process’. We built the entire collection based around their fabrics. So first, to me, it’s about giving the people the experience behind the product and not just making more stuff.

Nancy: Wow, that’s really interesting. What a lifestyle! I’m envious!

Justin: Yeah, I mean it’s like, it’s sort of like a brand that has a bad travel habit.

Nancy: So, in looking at your website, you have a work bench. I’m just curious about the sales platform. If I understand it correctly, do you launch a collection and then have certain folks preview it first before sale?
Justin Seale: Right, basically the concept behind Workbench is this: we give people an opportunity to purchase products prior to launch at a 25% discount. So first, for New Zealand, we’re launching our New Zealand collection on September 25th, and there’ll be a 30 day period within that where all the items will be available for pre-sale. So as a result of buying in early, you’re able to actuate a discount. After that 30 day period then everything is moved back up to MSRP and it allows us some visibility, both in terms of obviously what styles are getting traction, and maybe modifying our production based on that, and it also mentalizes that the consumer has to act now.

Right, that’s smart. With regards to materials, like you say you love textiles, so we have something mutual in common. Does a particular textile inspire design, or do you have a product in mind and then find the textile for it?

Justin: Well, I would say that I, from a design standpoint, I usually lead with textiles, in the sense of like if I see something that’s new or something that’s inline, and I’ll just look at it and think to myself “Oh that would make an interesting x.” Where we do redesign items we in turn try to look at appropriate textile.

Nancy: Okay. Does a brand name fabric or a consumer recognized material make a difference, do you think?

Justin: The answer to that is, I think is, is really dependent of the clothes of the consumer. There is certainly a subset of consumers, myself included, that are going to recognize and appreciate branded fabric technologies. Now, how large that customer base is, nobody really knows and obviously some goals of them have done an excellent job of positioning themselves as the gold standard in the respective I mean Gore-Tex of course comes to mind. But, now if you’re talking about the wider customer base at large, I would say “no” because the majority of people are just simply purchasing commodity goods based on what they’ll look and feel.

Nancy: Do you think consumers have become savvier about the materials that go in the products they buy though?

Justin: I mean I would like to think that. Again, I mean that we’re talking about a subset of people who actually follow these types of things, then the answer is yes. I think that the greater population as a whole, the answer is still probably no because you need to look at the Zara’s and H&M’s of the world and that’s not a textile play per se and certainly not a branded fabric technology.

Nancy: You know, maybe one day we can be hopeful. I also noticed on your website that sustainable practices are important to you. Do you require sustainable practices in your supply chain?

Justin: We do not really require sustainable practices as a part of our own internal best practices. With that said however, the departments that we’re fortunate enough to work with, they in themselves work through a sustainable model. For instances, in the New Zealand collection we just launched for fall, we worked closely with the good folks who work down at Merino who are based here in California, but source all of their wool from south island of New Zealand. We were very fortunate to actually travel to New Zealand and actually stay on one of the Merino wool sheep stations, so we were actually able to trace the fiber back to the farm level. My wife definitely refers to the collection as “farm to wear”.

So in that regard, yes. I mean sustainability is extremely important to us in terms of understanding our supply chain. I don’t necessarily believe that sustainability will result in a product that has less overall longevity. That is, you can develop a quote-unquote sustainable product that’s just going to fall apart in a shorter period of time as something that’s not quite as environmentally friendly. So yeah, and I think that from an organic fiber standpoint i.e. wool, sustainability is huge. If you’re talking about sourcing a stretch nylon type fabric, in that case buy with air towards whoever wanted to produce a fabric that’s going to last long and perform the best.

Nancy: Right. I see that, I think that’s so important. It’s a common theme among the folks that I’ve spoken to is to try to manufacture or produce garments with longevity in mind. What do you think makes a good textile partner?

Justin: I think a good textile partner would need, obviously, the innovation and to be driven from the mill level. Now, I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with Schoeller Textiles, Global Merino, you know, premium mills who produce premium fabrics and understand their position within the marketplace. With that said, it’s also a personal relationship with the mill. I can’t speak highly enough of Global Merino and their whole team over there and how supportive they’ve been with ArchiTec. We just got this fall product launched and whatnot, and at the end of the day we’re, from a textiles partner standpoint, you’re going to the people that you feel like you actually have a relationship with, and they get what you’re doing. I mean there are a lot of people out there that you could source materials from obviously and the personal relationship goes a really long way.

Nancy: Yeah, it does. So where do you turn for the latest news on design in textile trends? Do you have any favorite sources?

Justin: Textile Insight Magazine is great. You know for me, I tend to obviously go to major industry trade shows like Outdoor Retailer, ISPO, Première Vision in Paris. I’m kind of like, constantly surrounded by mills and textile innovation, so while I’m looking, it’s never like I need to look on a weekly basis. It’s more to the point where I know that probably six times a year, I’m going to be in front of the mills looking at what’s new.

Nancy: So is ArchiTec made in California?

Justin: It is actually, we’re producing everything in downtown Los Angeles.

Nancy: Wow, that’s great. Have you found that consumers are more conscious of where and how their apparel is made?

Justin: No, and again this speaks back to customers’ reputation and core values and whatnot. I do think “Made in the U.S.A” certainly has a certain panache to it. Really what it is, is it requires, again there’s that subject of customer basis to look at that and say “Oh, I will pay more for that as it’s something that’s made in the U.S.A. [inaudible 00:13:20] made in Southeast Asia. Again, we start styling out to a larger commodity goods based brand, of course the country of origin is of little consequence to the consumer.

Nancy: So you have an interesting e-commerce platform which I mentioned. Where do you think retail’s going in the future?

Justin: Everyone has been predicting the demise of brick and mortar retails in the last ten years, and of course that hasn’t happened. I would say that within out competitive space, obviously brands want to be involved and in control as much as possible their B2C experience. It’s good because I just really like apparel, particularly like premium technical apparel where margins are often times tight. The ability to sell direct allows you a lot more latitude in terms of what you’re designing and how you’re not subject to having to build in wholesale margins, or operating a wholesale calendar and all the other things that come out of that.

With that said I still, this is quite an experience as I’m getting older, actually feel the tactile product in person, so our plan right will probably be opening up about four to six shops, not our own brand shops, but placing product with select retailers for fall and maybe in the spring, just to give people the opportunity to see stuff in person. To answer your question, I think B2C will continue to grow and increase in market share, but I still think there’s a place out there for traditional work that knows what they’re doing and is able to present product in a public context.

Nancy: So, do you have a favorite ArchiTec piece and, if so, why?

Justin: They’re all kind of like my children right. The Merino wool hoodie. It’s just a classic wearable hooded piece, it actually has an asymmetrical cowl-neck style. It has a double-lined hood and a good stash pocket on it. I just don’t ever take it off, so to me that design, meaning utility and hitting that perfect middle of the Venn diagram.

Nancy: That’s the one. Do you think that you will be designing for women in the future?

Justin: Given the pressure of my wife, yes, we have an eye on some womenswear, but I myself will probably not be the one designing it.

Nancy: What professional challenges keep you up at night?

Justin: God, there’s a lot, but it’s mainly, the thing about operating a small brand is the fact that you really do wear a myriad of hats. There are times when it’s incredibly rewarding, when you see how much you get done with a small team, but there’s certainly times when you just simply feel overwhelmed by, “God, there’s just too much stuff to do.”

Nancy: In times of self-doubt, how do you pick yourself back up?

Justin: For me it’s all about getting outside. If I’m too focused on the computer, or just too focused on friend related items, and kind of spinning my focus circle, I need to go out and spend half a day on work, ride my bike or go sailing. Basically just remove myself from the context of “the now” and put myself in a different space.

Nancy: Definitely recharge. What can you say you’re most proud of? This can be within ArchiTec, or in life, whatever.

Justin: It’s an interesting question, and I mean I guess I’m proud of the fact that what was not intended to be a career ended up manifesting into a productive body of work that I’m proud of, and I’m proud of what we’ve launched across Chrome and Workshop, and what we’re currently doing here at ArchiTec. And also the people that I’ve been able to surround myself with, just really passionate designers, developers, factories, mills and whatnot who believe in what they’re doing. This is not an industry where we’re getting rich, or if it is and it’s your number one priority you’re probably in the wrong industry.

Nancy: What’s next for ArchiTec?

Justin: As I mentioned earlier, we are launching our fall winter New Zealand collection later next month, and then following up for Spring18 we’re going to Japan and the Philippines. We’re actually sourcing some Japanese textiles for the spring launch, and then we’re going to Philippines to product test and experience all that.

Nancy: Wow. That sounds so exciting. So, can you leave us with a memorable fabric story?

Justin: Memorable fabric story? You know, I guess my favorite textile style is Merino wool, not to overstate that, but it’s sheer versatility in terms of application and clothing styles, it’s amazing. So, unfortunately I don’t really have a specific kind of stand-out story in itself, it’s more the body of work, and for me that would be just all the things I’ve been able to create over the years using various manner of constructions – and to be able that still on the streets from ten, fifteen years ago is very rewarding.

Nancy: And actually, just even going to New Zealand, and perhaps seeing how it’s sourced and all that too, must be pretty remarkable.

Justin: Yeah, there was a lot of things working on the textiles kinda things, even operating at the mill level either you’re with the mills, it’s hard to adapt to the actual grower side of things in this case, you really get a full breath of insight. There’s a lot of things that I thought I knew that I just did not know.

Nancy: There’s nothing like it, experiencing it firsthand. So where can folks find your products?

Justin: Our website is

We currently have our fall collection product that is winding down, and the New Zealand collection will be launching next month and you can actually hop on the site and click on the look book posted up there for the New Zealand stuff.

Nancy: Great, well thanks so much Justin, I really appreciate your time and I look forward to seeing more of the product and meeting you in person, hopefully someday soon.

Justin: Thank you so much Nancy, and I will hopefully be seeing you soon.

Nancy: Okay, take care thank you.

Justin: Bye-bye.

Nancy: Bye-bye.

Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this broadcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes, and our theme music is by Activity Club. For more information on Material Wise please visit and please subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again, and until next time, take care.

Episode 05: Rob Naughter | Patagonia

Rob Naughter with Patagonia On the Company’s Commitment to Sustainable/Traceable Textiles

With the desire of working on material development with finished goods brands, Rob Naughter came knocking on Patagonia’s door after spending six years as a development engineer with PrimaLoft, a premium insulation for outdoor and home furnishings products. While it took the reputable three interviews, Rob finally landed at Patagonia’s Ventura headquarters as Materials R&D Manager 11 years ago and has moved up the ranks to Patagonia’s Director of Material Innovation and Impact. Rob has pioneered several of the company’ most notable sustainable/traceable material developments such as its 100% Traceable Down Standard and the recent launch of its down-like PlumaFill, which took ten years to come to market. Given that Patagonia fails nearly all materials tested in its labs, we talk about Patagonia’s increased bandwidth on material development and what makes a good material partner. We also discuss the evolution of the Patagonia customer and the company’s love hate relationship with polyester.

Rob Naughter, Director of Material Innovation and Impact at Patagonia

Rob’s Interview Transcript

Nancy: Hello. I’m Nancy Fendler and you’re listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers, and other guests in the outdoor, fashion, home furnishings, among other industries about what influences them to create, how and why they select the materials they choose, and the relationships they built with their customers and industry.

I’m excited to share this episode, featuring Rob Naughter, the director of material innovation and impact at Patagonia. I met Rob years ago when he was a development engineer with PrimaLoft, a former client of mine. Rob spoke to me from his office in Ventura, California to chat about his role at Patagonia, what makes a good material partner, and a few developments he’s most proud of.

Nancy: Rob, thanks so much for joining me on Material Wise.

Rob: Thank you. Thanks, Nancy.

Nancy: Can you tell us how you got into material research and development and how you landed at Patagonia?

Rob: Sure. I started just looking to get into the industry. I was a very passionate outdoor user and started working for a small non-wovens company doing lab testing and learning as much as I could about the non-wovens part of the industry and how it’s used in clothing. And I did that for a number of years at a company called PrimaLoft in Albany, New York.

Nancy: I remember that.

Rob: Yeah. Yeah so I did that for a number of years. I started in the lab just trying to learn as much as I could about the process about how things pass and fail, about what is a good non-woven textile, and what needs improvement on it. And, the more I learned, the more I wanted to definitely go deeper into this. But I got very interested in the textiles that get used in combination with these, which I had a very limited exposure to in that role there. I did spend about six years with that company growing from different roles from basically working in the lab and doing quality assurance to doing product development from the non-woven side and it was great. I got to interact more with the plans. What I found interesting is what and why they were leaning towards certain products versus other products, and it just gave a better glimpse of what was going on in the entire industry.

So after a couple of years with that, I started really wanting to work with finished products so I applied to a few companies – Patagonia actually. When I applied to Patagonia, I think when I got hired it was the third time I’d applied to the organization! And it’s not an uncommon story a lot of folks apply here several times, maybe the first time you apply it’s for a different role, you’re not completely clear on what that role is until you meet with human resources, you meet with one of the hiring managers and you learn a little bit more about what they do here. So, I was hired a little over a decade ago, and now as a material developer. Basically the position was created specifically around my expertise not only in insulation but also about insulation in synthetic wovens, which is the category that insulation was mostly used in. That was great because I’d had some experience with textiles and the testing that was done on that. I was able to work with the mills and broaden my understanding about those textiles in that role.

Nancy: That’s great. So the third time was a charm?

Rob: Yeah.

Nancy: And you moved all the way out to Ventura, California from Albany, New York.

Rob: From Albany, New York. Yep it was a big move so it was a big change in my life and I figured I’d give it a shot and see how everything worked out and you know if you don’t like it you can always try something else. But found that it was a really good fit and people here were really accommodating, really nice, really passionate, very driven company inspired by our fearless leader, Yvon Chouinard. He’s been doing this for a long time and making really high-quality product that lasts for a very long time in the industry. So it was great. I felt lucky to be a part of that team.

I spent six years working in material development before I started managing that category. Our company had seen probably almost double in growth and we needed a much larger group of people to manage the textile developments for the different categories and so I spent about four years managing that category of insulation and wovens as it grew. We have down products, we have synthetic products, we have products with down-proof wovens, we have windbreakers, we have a lot of different items that fall into that category. So, it wasn’t just a single piece material used to go into a garment, it could be a lot of different things that has to be put together to build a product’s performance.

Nancy: I understand. So, how do you think or why do you think that it has grown and evolved so much? That department?

Rob: I think Patagonia’s put a lot of bandwidth behind material expertise, a lot of Patagonia’s initiatives going back to recycled polyester and organic cotton, traceable down, all of these go back to the raw material source and better understanding what’s actually in the product, and so a lot of companies may just buy whoever has the closest relationship to their garment factory and they actually don’t know all of the materials that are in their brands. But for Patagonia, they’ve taken a big stance in not only knowing where it’s coming from, but understanding what goes into those textiles.

Nancy: Right. You know obviously, unless you’re living under a rock, people must know that corporate social environmental responsibility are ingrained in Patagonia’s DNA so I would assume that the materials that you choose and as well as their practices are also very important.

Rob: Yeah. I mean we also have a huge sustainability team and corporate responsibility team now that tries to instill our values into our supply chain just so that we can have a larger impact moreover than even what we buy. So if we buy ten t-shirts worth of stuff, that’s great, we can impact that change. But if we impact the supplier that’s providing those ten t-shirts then we can impact hundreds, thousands, millions of t-shirts and so that’s ultimately our goal. Like we want to have the best product and we want to have the most traceable supply chain, but we are also trying to bring the whole industry along with that change.

Nancy: This might be kind of a silly question based on what you said, but since you’ve been at Patagonia, do you feel that material sourcing has changed over the years?

Rob: The biggest change I think is that years and years ago they (material sourcing managers) took a lot of what the factories were saying at face value. So they didn’t know where their nylon was coming from or where their polyester was coming from, they just knew that it was recycled or not recycled. And that was pretty standard back in the seventies and eighties in the industry. As we’ve gone forward I’d say traceability has become a front factor of that and going as deep as you can into the product. Some levels we’re going all the way back to the chemical that’s making the compound or the chemicals that are used in the dye stuff that’s in the blue jacket that you bought. And that’s something that I think a lot of companies don’t do and haven’t been doing for very long. It’s something that Patagonia’s very passionate about and I think we kind of led the way with that when we took a big stance with organic cotton. I believe it was 1996, that they we decided we were not longer going sell any conventional cotton. There wasn’t necessarily a performance reason behind that. It was because our founders had seen some of the things that they didn’t like within that supply chain and decided that they don’t want to be associated with that anymore.

So they actually dropped hundreds if not thousands of units to accommodate this new structure and they felt so passionately about it and moving forward we only sourced organic cotton.

Nancy: I understand that Patagonia has a new program called Worn Wear where people can drop off used products – I don’t know if they’re Patagonia products, but I would assume Patagonia products either to be resold or recycled. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Rob: Sure, yes I think over the past probably decade, maybe a little bit less, Worn has definitely grown as a huge part of our business as we try to build this market basically for high value second use items, as opposed to things just being sold in the thrift shop. So, we’ve built one of the largest repair centers in the country, in our Reno facility and we’ve worked with a lot of independent contractors to reduce our lead times and turnaround times on repairing garments, whether they’re down jackets, or whether they’re wool sweaters or cotton t-shirts for that matter. Some of them are easier to repair than others, but it’s a huge part of our business and as we go forward, we’re dedicating space in a lot of our stores to have Worn Wear sections where people can bring in their old garments.

We’re finding out that people are really attached to their old garments too and they find value, so people don’t necessarily want to give them up if you can repair them first and reuse them great. If you’re not using them anymore, somebody else may very well want to. Some of those vintage pieces, vintage old Patagonia pieces, actually sell for thousands of dollars on Ebay and it’s amazing because they’re twenty, thirty years old in some cases.

Nancy: Yeah. I know. When I was at OR (Outdoor Retailer Show), an NPD seminar was saying how vintage is so the big thing now. So, I can only imagine that some of those pieces would go for high prices. Do you think that today’s consumer has changed at all? Or that Patagonia’s consumer has changed?

Rob: I do. I think they’ve evolved over time. I think the consumers today want to know more about where just like the consumer in the food industry wants to know more about where they’re food is coming, they want to know more about where their jackets are coming from, where they’re made, how they’re made, sometimes even who’s making their jacket. We have our footprint chronicles on the website that talks more about where the jackets are manufactured, where they move around the world. They talk sometimes about the good and the bad. We try to shed light. I mean we make product, it’s not a perfect system. We’re definitely contributing. What we’re trying to do though is set a precedent to demonstrate that you can do it in a way that’s much better than the way a lot of other companies operate. So, I think the consumer nowadays is asking questions like that. They have their fingers on websites, they can search, they can do research on their phones in a store, you can go to websites where a lot more information can be found than on a hangtag. And people are following some of these brands on social media to find out what are they interested in, what are their values, our values.

I think that those are some of the folks that are really aligning with the Patagonia brand moving forward. And what really leads me to believe that that’s happening is when we run these big campaigns, like when we donate all of Black Friday’s profits (from the purchase of Patagonia gear) to the non-profits that we work with, or our 1% for the Planet program or our Don’t Buy This Jacket program where we tell people, “Hey, you might be able to buy three of these (lower quality/priced) jackets somewhere else, but you really only need one good one. This one Patagonia jacket will last you ten years or twenty years or thirty years. You need to buy something once and love it and give money on it instead of buying something that’s subpar multiple times over and never being quite satisfied.” When we run this program, we can’t sell enough of them (jackets) it’s because people understand what we’re trying to tell them. And I see this happening more and more in our industry.

Nancy: Well Patagonia’s super transparent and has done a really great job with communicating those values and I’ve heard that again and again – buy quality, not quantity and I think that’s kind of, hopefully it’s seeping into people’s brains, there’s a trickle down. So in a previous email that you and I communicated a few years ago, you had mentioned that Patagonia fails over ninety percent of the materials tested in your labs, so what do you think makes a good material supplier? Or maybe a good material?

Rob: If they still want work with us if we’ve failed ninety percent of their product, wow. Honestly, it takes a patient supplier to work with Patagonia, we can be a very high maintenance customer in a lot of cases because we ask a lot of hard questions. We want to know a lot of details and we need somebody who’s willing to walk that walk with us and spend the time with us on that. It’s really easy to be like, “No, you know what, you’re not going buy enough (material).” In some cases we won’t. In some cases, we buy plenty, but a lot of companies will say that you only make up ten percent of our business, why am I going change my entire ethos to revolve around you? But a good supplier understands the value in putting your best foot forward and being the first to market and doing these things that we’re asking them to do whether it’s aligning with their core values and giving us the transparency and the scalability of these new fibers and the new tech or whether it’s recycled or bio-based or more environmentally friendly chemistries or reducing water or reducing energy. They’re working with us to do that because they know that it matters to us and if they do it for us and we’re talking about it, it’s going to matter to a lot of other people down the road.

Nancy: Do you think that a branded name material or a consumer recognized textile makes a difference?

Rob: I think in some cases it does. You hear a lot of instances that people walk in to big brand box shops like Target or Walmart and they ask for specific textiles that they know of. Gore-Tex probably being one of the most famous ones, but in a lot of cases if they’re associating with a brand specifically around Patagonia, I think a lot of the consumers are looking at Patagonia first and those ingredient textiles second. So they’re kind of playing a supporting role as opposed to the leading role. I think that in a lot of cases they can bring a lot to the partnership, but they have to be willing to do a lot of those things that we ask them to do to make a difference and that’s to be sustainable, that’s the traceability part of it, that’s all the things that we talked about earlier that make a good partner. And some are willing to do that and some aren’t and I think that in general though, if they can do all that and your brand has value, then I think it only helps the brand but it depends on where you’re buying these things at.

The more educated the consumer is, the more educated the retailer and wholesaler are, I think. They’re doing a lot of research from the brand’s perspective and at least with Patagonia, they definitely rely on the Patagonia brand first.

Nancy: I understand. A question on my mind is if consumers are becoming more savvy or savvier about the materials that go into products? I mean you and I kind of work and love materials, so we like to think that, but I’m wondering if the average consumer is a little bit more educated about what goes into their products?

Rob: That’s a good question. You know I would say the average Patagonia consumer has definitely become savvier, but I don’t know if the Patagonia consumer’s your average consumer. If that makes any sense to you. There are definitely folks that are willing to spend a little bit more of their money on a product that’s going to last them a long time. I don’t know if that’s the same person everywhere across the entire globe, across all different age brackets and income brackets. I think we have a unique customer regardless of their age. They’re definitely interested in supporting the brand. They definitely want to be a part of the company’s image whether it’s with a t-shirt or with a hat or with a waterproof jacket that costs six or seven hundred dollars.

So, I think our consumer is definitely getting savvier. I think that is going to be the trend regardless of whether everybody’s there or not. I think in general, a lot of general consumers – I mean it’s easy to get swayed by the hype, by the big signs and without a lot of substance because nobody asks them to go deeper than the initial catch phrase . So that’s the part that I’m always hoping that the consumers becoming savvier on that, they’re looking a little deeper than just the catch phrase.

Nancy: Where do you turn to find the latest news on materials and material trends?

Rob: Good question. There’s a decent amount of industry publications, however we work very closely with our suppliers honestly, in general our supply chain provides us a lot of textile trends and it’s amazing the number of things that we pass along that end up in the industry. And the number of things that we get on board with and we end up working with that show up in the industry later on. And sometimes we’re not the first to buy a material from a supplier, we’ll see it and we’ll pass because we don’t think it’s ready yet. Somebody else works the kinks out of it and then we jump on because having high quality product is really important and doing our due diligence is really important. We also have a dedicated material innovation team we house in our material team here at Patagonia and those innovation engineers are working on projects that take anywhere from two to five or even longer years. Things that they are trying to determine like what’s the next best synthetic fiber or how do we work better with blends or how do we deal with end of life of polyester or what’s the deal with micro plastics? Something like that.

Nancy: I was just going to ask you, are there any new cool materials that you’re working on? You probably can’t talk about or that you’ve seen in the market?

Rob: Yeah. That’s a good question. The coolest ones I can’t really talk about just yet.

Nancy: I bet. That’s okay. We’ll wait. We can wait. Three to five years maybe.

Rob: Maybe just two. Who knows?

Nancy: So, what are some of the favorite trade shows that you like to go to for catching new materials? I’m sure Outdoor Retailer, but are there any others that you?

Rob: Yeah. Outdoor Retailer’s kind of a staple. One of the reasons that I like going there is just because you can see what the brands are doing, catch a glimpse as to what everybody’s been looking at and meet with almost your entire supply chain, whether they’re actually displaying booths there or whether they’re just walking the show. So for us, we realized that show was developed as a buying show. People wanted to buy product for their wholesale or retail accounts, but for me and my team, I feel like that’s become a really important part of the show that supplier side of it. ISPO’s a fantastic show as well. That’s basically our European counterparts to Outdoor Retailer and that happens I believe they’re doing that twice a year now. The summer show moved to Munich as well. It’s a great show and it’s huge. If you think Outdoor Retailer is huge, then this show is even bigger.

Nancy: I haven’t been to ISPO in a while, but I think I will this year. And do you go to any of the Asian trade shows like I know that there’s the Intertextile Shanghai show is coming up.

Rob: I have not been to Intertextile, but it’s on my radar. I’ve heard from some of my suppliers that it is a behemoth of a show. It’s just huge and you kind of need to go into a show like that with a plan or a strategy or you just get lost like a deer in headlights. That’s what I’ve heard, but I’ve heard great things about it. Obviously, things like Titus in Taiwan are really popular and there’s a few other ones that are going on but honestly, I like to get a glimpse of the market. I still feel like on true innovation projects it’s better to spend some time with those actual suppliers, meet the people that are more than just the sales rep they send to the convention, and understand how they work, where they work, and what’s important to them. And so visiting these people and building a relationship with them is super important. You just can’t meet with five or six of them a day. You have to be very candid about that and pick the ones that are most important to you.

Nancy: Right and particularly where materials are so important to Patagonia, it’s important to build those relationships.

Rob: Absolutely.

Nancy: So I just have a few other questions here. What’s your favorite Patagonia piece? If you have one?

Rob: Yeah. I’ve got a lot of Patagonia pieces that I feel super passionate about, but one of the ones that I love having year round is my Nano Air Jacket just because it’s got kind of the warmth that you would get out of a traditional Nano garment, but I’ve used this walking around town, to go get coffee or go to a bar and have a beer, I’ve also used it hiking and biking and skinning in the mountains when I’m backcountrying in the middle of winter. So you can use it below freezing, you can use it in the summer in June in California, it’s a really popular piece and second only to probably the down sweater that you see everywhere.

Nancy: Yeah. Everywhere is right. Is there any material that you just love? And one that you just can’t stand?

Rob: Oh gosh. Honestly, I don’t really have one that I love or can’t stand. I think that one of the biggest challenges, it’s the love-hate relationship that everybody has with polyester is you know it changes our lives in so many ways but it’s one of those things that we need to figure out how to, the end of life, beginning of life, it does great things for us. It’s a technical fiber. But, it’s hard, it’s used so much in so many places and it’s tied to oil and we’re always trying to figure out how to make it better.

Nancy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, what are you most proud of, Rob?

Rob: I’d probably say, out of the products that I’ve worked on at Patagonia, the Nano Puff and the Micro Puff have been true testaments to building versatile styles that solve a problem, keep people warm, are last a long time, and are versatile in a lot of different types of situations. Whether it’s layering or stand-alone pieces. And I think I really like the way they look. I think they’re great. I think, as an industry, things like Synchilla has been a staple product for what thirty or forty years? I mean it’s insane that that product has been around for so long. It’s truly withstood the test of time so I’m blown away that it still is one of the most beloved, I mean fleece, people still buy it. They buy it whether it’s from us or somebody else. I think ours is great and I own several of them. But I try not to buy them anymore because I want to wear the ones that I have out.

Nancy: Alright. So what are you looking forward to? What’s coming up?

Rob: Good question. I think we’re trying to. We’re looking at the future and we’re trying to find out what’s next, what is going to be the next performance fiber of the next fifty to a hundred years, how do we continue to build technical performance pieces as sustainable as possible? I think that’s the big question that we’re trying to get to the bottom of and I think that we’re looking at it through all sorts of different lenses. We’re not trying to get stuck on buzz words, just like recycled, I think it’s important but what’s really important is to understand why that’s important. What is it saving you from carbon emissions? What is it saving you in CO2? What’s it saving you in water or energy? How is this making an impact on the world and how can we make that impact bigger than us alone as a brand?

I think that’s kind of our big message. Whatever we’re trying to do, sure we’d love to get exclusivity on it, but we want to drop that pretty quickly just so we can talk about it and blow it out to the whole market. Hopefully the whole clothing market can have a piece of it and change the industry for better.

Nancy: Are you looking at smart fabrics at all? Is that part of, maybe you can’t share, but something that Patagonia’s looking towards?

Rob: I think that we’re always looking. I think it would have to be the right story for us to get behind the smart fabric. It has to be true to the authenticity of the brand and the ethos here. And a lot of the ways that it’s being done today are kind of clunky and don’t really feel authentic to the brand. So that doesn’t mean that we’re not looking at it and we’re not considering it and that in the future we might not find a way to do it, but we need to, if we’re going do it, we need to find a way to do it in a way that’s very Patagonia.

Nancy: Okay. Last question, can you leave us with a memorable fabric story? Have you got any good ones?

Rob: It’s hard to pick one. I think we could easily pick a super fresh one that’s probably out there right now being marketed with the Micro Puff and the fact that that started off as a project to change the way insulation is made. I believe those projects always kind of start off as a way to mimic natural fibers. Everybody wants to mimic down. And some reason down is very beloved, and I get it, it lasts a long time and it has a great feeling to it and it’s extremely warm so those are a lot of the benefits. But with our product, the goal was to say – can we make a product that’s just as light only maybe it’s more versatile? We spent ten years tweaking the product on and off before it was valid for being commercially viable.

Nancy: Wow. Well, it had an incredible launch didn’t it? It really did.

Rob: It did. I mean we can’t make enough of them right now which I guess is a good problem to have, but it’s another challenge.

Nancy: Well Rob, thank you so much for your time and I hope to see you in November.

Rob: Yes.

Nancy: Take care. Thank you.

Rob: Thanks, Nancy.

Nancy: You can find more information on Patagonia’s amazing apparel and gear and it’s outstanding corporate, social, and environmental initiatives at Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this podcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes and our theme music is by Activity Club. For more information on Material Wise, please visit and please subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again and until next time take care.

Episode 04: Nick Armentrout | Ramblers Way

Nick Armentrout on creating an apparel brand from an all-American sustainable supply chain

Nick Armentrout is the supply chain manager of Ramblers Way, a high-quality, sustainable apparel brand founded by Tom and Kate Chappell, founders of the infamous Tom’s of Maine toothpaste and other all-natural products. Nick shares how his background in animal science led him to find and establish relationships with Rambouillet sheep, the knitters, dyers and manufactures that all go into the crafting of Ramblers Way apparel. Nick also dives into Ramblers Way’s Global Organic Textile (GOTS) and Cradle to Cradle certifications and how they influence today’s consumer.

Nick Armentrout, Rambers Way's Supply Chain Leader

Nick’s Interview Transcript

Nancy: Hello, I’m Nancy Fendler and your listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers and other guests in the outdoor fashion, home furnishing, and other industries about what inspires and influences them to create. Why and how they select the materials they choose and the relationships they’ve built with their customers and industry.

My guest today is Nick Armentrout, supply chain director for Rambler’s Way. For those unfamiliar, Rambler’s Way is a sustainable, premium-quality apparel brand founded by Tom and Kate Chappell of Tom’s of Maine fame.

On a hiking trip in Wales in 2008, Tom struggled to find just the right layering shirt to keep him warm and dry and fresh enough to go from the trail to the inn. Upon his return to Maine, Tom set out to create the perfect next to skin shirt inspired by wool. One that absorbs sweat, kept you warm when wet, and allowed body odor to escape. It also had to be American made.

Nick joined Tom in finding just the right wool suppliers and now works with domestic sheep farmers and fabric makers to ensure the manufacturer of every garment follows the company’s strict environmental and sustainability ethos.

Today, Rambler’s Way products for men and women, all sustainably made in the U.S. with natural materials are sold online at and its retail stores located in Portsmouth and Hanover, New Hampshire and Portland, Maine.

Nancy: Hi Nick, thanks so much for allowing me to come to Rambler’s Way.

Nick: Hi, nice to be with you here.

Nancy: How did you begin your career in the supply chain management?

Nick: Well, first of all, I’m a relative newcomer. My career in supply chain management has been solely at Rambler’s Way. I’ve been involved since inception 2009 and I had the opportunity because my father-in-law is Tom Chappell, our company owner. And while he had a product vision and he wanted to make that product source the fiber, in this case wool fiber, and make that product completely within the United States.

He was looking for some help to go and make some of those initial relationships and connections with wool ranchers in the West. I lived and worked on ranches in Wyoming and Montana and Idaho for about six years during college and then before returning back to Maine. He asked me if I wanted to come along.

That’s it. Simple as that.

Nancy: That’s great.

Nick: My understanding of supply chain is from an agricultural production standpoint. Animal agriculture to an extent as well, grains and forages. The idea of a soil or field preparation towards harvesting a crop and that cycle. That’s my point of entry to manufacturing.

Nancy: Wow, well that’s great. Those talents or those skills probably help with the growth. The better the animal, I would think the better the fiber.

Nick: Sure. In some cases it was just having a little bit of an easier conversation with some of the ranchers in far flung corners of the West. Having some understanding about animal agriculture certainly helped.

Nancy: In your experience has material sourcing changed over the years?

Nick: Sure, yeah I mean even within the brief time that I’ve been involved in sourcing, we’ve seen steady uptick and greater transparency for sure. Consumers looking for brands to be more socially and environmentally accountable. Greater concern for agricultural and animal welfare.

So we’ve seen a significant uptick in those sustainability standards, those traceability and transparency. For sure. That’s kind of been how we’ve always operated and certainly with the previous company – Tom’s of Maine – always operated that way as well. It wasn’t new territory for us, but we’ve seen a lot of activity like this in the brief time that our company in existence.

Nancy: Thank you, yeah. So I understand that Tom Chappell created Rambler’s Way with the intention of using an all American supply chain that meets the company’s stringent standards for sustainable agriculture and animal welfare?

Nick: Well again, it helped for me to have a background in animal agriculture. So that when we started the business, we went looking for fiber. We didn’t go looking for an existing yarn or fabric. There was a product vision that for something that was going to be exceptionally soft, 100 percent wool that you could wear next to your skin, frankly year round, not just in the colder months.

Tom had help in researching the type of fiber required, and so we went to find those ranchers, those producers who were raising genetically those kinds of sheep. That was again where I came in to the business having worked and lived in some of the areas where the territory states our West where some of these ranchers and producers are operating.

How did I help with that? Basically carrying those relationships forward and saying, you know, we can be a customer, we can be brand to pull some through some of the exceptionally high quality fiber that you are raising on your ranch to celebrate and honor the good work you’re doing on the land and for your livestock.

Be a home for this end of your fiber production. Formerly a lot of these ranchers, producers would have just bundled up all of their wool and sold it into the commodity market.

Nancy: That’s what I was going to ask. You’ve really created partnerships with these ranchers.

Nick: Yeah, absolutely. When we went out on the road in Montana or Colorado, whatever it may be, saying you know we’re looking for this specific type of wool and we understand that you raise this type of sheep, can we talk about the qualities of your fiber? These producers said to us just, “no brand has ever asked us that information before, we just kind of deal with the wool brokers and sell to the warehouse and go about our business. We’re so excited that there’s this much interest in what we’re doing.”

And then further part of whole Gestalt is to honor and respect and celebrate. Again, celebrate the people we work with. The meaning of those relationship, and so they were pretty excited as well to have a light shed on what they were doing.

Nancy: Yeah. So when I went into this store in Portland, the Rambler’s Way store I saw a beautiful poster of this gorgeous sheep and it’s a Rambouillet sheep?

Nick: Yeah, it’s a Rambouillet sheep.

Nancy: The gal in the store mentioned that this the sheep Rambler’s Way uses to sheer the wool. I’m not sure if I’m saying that, that uses the wool from the sheep. Why Rambouillet sheep?

Nick: Well first of all if you have a product in mind, a wool product that you want to have next to your skin, you have to be specific in the type, the quality of fiber and softness and fineness that you’re looking for. So beyond Rambler’s Way, any brand, pick your industry. It could be outdoor, it could be fashion or lifestyle, whatever it may be. If they’re looking to make a wool product that’s worn next to the skin for softness and no prickle factor, you’re looking for very fine, micron fiber diameters.

If a human hair is about 40 microns, we’re trying to source wool that’s 18 micron and finer. So half the diameter of a human hair. There’s scientific study that says that’s kind of where the prickle factor starts and ends for people.

That focused on a certain quality of fiber and then looking within the United States, we had to find, identify with help the breeds that would produce that kind of wool. The lead breed in the U.S. is Rambouillet, it’s a French sound-

Nancy: Pardon my pronunciation.

Nick: … Nah, none of us say it that way, but here I’m on the mic, so what the heck.

Nancy: Right.

Nick: So Rambouillet is considered a multipurpose breed. They’re great for meat and lamb production and they’re also a fine fiber producer. Merino is the name and the breed that most people know. Rambouillet is actually a close genetic cousin to Merino, and more recently you are finding larger production flocks in the U.S. that are crossing Rambouillet and Merino. That’s where a lot of our wool is coming from. Those ranches.

Nancy: Okay.

Nick: They’re a cross of Rambouillet and Merino.

Nancy: Okay, and sourced or what do you say, do you say sourced or raised? Raised in Montana, Idaho, in that part of-

Nick: Yeah, the territory states. So Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and then Colorado, Nevada. To an extent Utah or New Mexico, you can move around. Texas has a lot of fine wool production as well. We came to work more closely with specific producers in certain areas because we came to know a lot more about the quality of their fiber production.

Nancy: Do you raise any here in Maine?

Nick: We did. You know that’s a great question. Tom and Kate Chappell had a small Rambouillet flock of their own here just outside of Kennebunk, and we had some pretty grand plans to grow that out, but we chose instead to focus more on clothing production and fabric production because we are making our own fabrics with partner mills as well.

We just couldn’t do it all, so he dispersed that flock. I have a small flock of my own outside of Kennebunk as well, but they’re considered long wool breeds. So the fiber diameters not quite the same we use in the Rambler’s Way clothing.

Nancy: So what are some of the performance characteristics of wool that some of our listeners may not know of?

Nick: Yeah. You know first of all, I think it’s important to point out that wool is a dynamic fiber, so it has, it’s comprised of over 20 different amino acids that are linked in polypeptide chains that start to form the keratin, the structure in that.

Some of those amino acids are hydrophilic or water loving, and some are hydrophobic or water repellent, and what happens is that where this comes into play is that wool will change and absorb, or disperse water depending on the humidity, it’s environment. And it really is quite remarkable.

What happens in the process of water being attracted and hydrogen molecules being attracted to some of the hydrophilic amino acids, it actually creates this chemical reaction so it actually creates a little bit of heat. In fact, from zero to 100 percent humidity wool will create over a 760 calories of heat.

That’s why wool has this capacity to keep you warm even when it’s damp. You never feel clammy and cold in wool. The other thing is that it also contains both beta and alpha keratins in that structure. The beta is common, but the alpha is unique to wool.

Alpha is a way to express the fiber in its relaxed state, beta is when it’s under pressure. What the beta keratin wants to do is go back to that relaxed state when pressures removed. So that’s where you get natural elasticity in the wool fiber.

More importantly, a lot of that elasticity comes from the crimp, the natural crimp or the coil in the fiber, and that too is effected genetically. So some of the fine wool that we seek out, that half a human hair or 18 micron and finer, is actually also high crimp wool because that lends to the elasticity.

You see this in stretch and recovery of the fabric. Cotton is kind of dead where you can stretch and wool wants to go back to that form. You don’t have to wash to get it back to its shape like a pair of blue jeans or something. It happens naturally.

Nancy: Yeah, that’s so interesting. It really is. Several traceability and sustainability certification standards have been developed to ensure the responsible sourcing of materials such as down and other textiles. Is there one for wool?

Nick: There is. So you referenced responsible down for instance, the responsible down standard or RDS developed with brands and the organization Textile Exchange. They also developed one for, the Textile Exchange, a standard called the responsible wool standard, RWS.

Similar to the down standard, brands like Patagonia, The North Face, and in fact as well Rambler’s Way, were stakeholders involved in that process. RWS is built around land and livestock management. To be sure that they are humane treatment of the sheep in this case in the process and accountable treatment of the land in the process.

The Rodale Institute has an emerging regenerative organics standard. The Rambler’s Way uses the Global Organic Textile standard called GOTS, G-O-T-S. That’s a standard that is designed to come in where international or let’s speak national in the U.S. GOTS would come in where the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) ends.

The NOP was never designed to create standards for fiber coming off of a farm post- harvest. GOTS does. It comes in and says we’re going to use the NOP farming standards and then we’re going to create similar standards that are in the spirit of organic. No GMOs, no synthetics, there’s a lot of prohibited substances. And we’re going to apply that to every step in the manufacturing process.

And every processor, be it a scouring mill, cleaning wool, a spinner spinning yarns, a knitter, a weaver, a yarn or fabric dyer, they all have to meet those rigorous standards to make an organic textile product.

That speaks a lot to how we go about things. In a very general way, I tell folks that we like to use limited and as little applied chemistry as we can to make our product and GOTS really was the right standard for us.

To that we’ve layered onto that specific for our organic wool clothing line, the Cradle to Cradle certification which is based on Bill McDonough, Michael Braungart’s book Cradle to Cradle which is thinking about the circularity of a product, in our case, clothing. How that fiber and the textile product gets made and where it goes to at the end of its life.

Wool is a great candidate for circularity because it’s a product of the soil and it can go back to the soil. In Cradle to Cradle, the language of the book and now for our brand as well, you’re thinking about the end of life strategy and can the leftovers of your clothing become a technical nutrient, i.e., a piece of another clothing or textile product. Or, can it become a biological nutrient, can it become a soil feedstock?

And wool can do both fantastically. Naturally, it just wants to do that. And then we can make choices of course to optimize the product with the cleanest dyes or no dyes or whatever it may be to be sure that it lends itself even better to either of those applications.

Nancy: Yeah, not to mention that wool lasts so long, apparel made with wool lasts longer thus less need to put in the landfill.

Nick: Yeah, and that’s where you get a little deeper into the natural benefits. I mean it’s natural stain resistance, it wants to be odor absorbing and it’s actually not anti- microbial, formally, it’s bacterial static.

But all these things mean that a wool garment can be long lived in your wardrobe. It also means it lends itself to breaking down back in the hands of nature when it’s done.

Nancy: Yeah. So I’ve been attending a few retail seminars lately and they’ve shared that millennials are more apt to purchase products from socially and environmentally responsible companies. Do you find this is the case with Rambler’s Way?

Nick: Absolutely. We’ve had an uptick for sure in iPhone sales. You can just tell, we have to think of how our website and how our online presence serves itself in a handheld device.

Our online presence has always been a big part of our business for sure. We’re watching Instagram a little bit more these days than Facebook. We have a steady presence on both, but our Instagram is quite active.

Our sales to women seem to be – well, they run the gamete from 35 to 65, I think that’s a nod towards some of our designs and some of our styles. They’re treading lower, actually, over time. We’re increasingly meeting a slightly younger consumer. Which is exciting for us.

Our median age would be the 40s. Men are flat, but I think that’s also, to an extent, either our men’s designs and also the men’s customer. I mean I could wear a shirt that my 78 year old father might wear and feel like I’m rocking it. It’s alright.

But I guess that I should point out that as a company, we’ve always thought more in terms of psychographics. So we’re trying to meet people with whom we share values for environmental responsibility or sustainability. So we think a lot more about psychographics than an age demographic.

Nancy: What do you think the supply chain can do better to educate brands and their consumers about their products and processes?

Nick: I think, you know, the short answer for me would be better proactive story telling about the good work they’re doing and how they’re trying to make a positive impact. I think, unfortunately, that supply chain is by design largely responsive.

And there is manufacturing reluctance to take on much risk or try something new unless there is a customer for that. So brands are the liaison between the chain and the consumer, and the brand comes back and says we want a greener product. And then the manufacturer says okay, well we’ll try to respond to that.

We get most excited, well first of all, in the U.S. we’re working with some highly responsive manufacturers and we get most excited as a brand when we go out and we find there’s a lot of common ground, there’s a lot of those shared values or beliefs around the environment or being good to your people or being good to the animals.

We get very excited when we find that common ground, then we can built that relation out. I think that more manufacturers need to go ahead and step forward. In some cases without that brand driver or that brand consumer ambassador to say, here’s some of the things we’re doing, we’ve converted this much our energy to wind or solar or, you know, we were really concerned about the quality of the water discharge from our plants, so here’s the steps we’ve taken.

And that’s based on their beliefs. It shouldn’t all be brand driven. So that’s what I’d like to see, and I think it’s starting to happen, too.

Nancy: Very interesting. We’ve talked a lot about wool. Are there any new textiles on the horizon for Rambler’s Way?

Nick: We’re still very much a wool centric company, so we have a small, lesser known line of 100 percent U.S. sourced and manufactured cotton knits as well. We’re looking forward to rebooting that program as an organic 100 percent U.S. sourced and manufactured organic cotton program.

That’s only recently become available to do, because there weren’t organic certified cotton spinners in this country. Now there are. So we’re really excited to tap into that potential.

We’re also really excited to develop some different recycled wool products. We began a new partnership last year with the Renewal Workshop in Cascade Lots, Oregon. Their role is to partner with brands like Rambler’s Way and to help us to launder or repair or renew clothing that might be damaged or was a return, but still has life in it.

This is a growing part of that sustainable consumption and sustainable apparel place as well. How do we define first quality, does it have to be fresh out of a bag or can it have a slight flaw and just be still a wonderful garment to wear?

We’re pretty excited to be working with them. They’re also can be a fiber recycling partner for us. Part of that recycling, if something can’t be renewed, it could be ground up and made into a whole new product. There is a whole world of woolen products or felt products that could be outcomes of us recycling our own off quality, returns or flawed fabric or garments that are going to happen and we’d like to be smart about, and creative and innovative about our solutions to those things.

Nancy: Nate, thanks so much for joining me on Material Wise, and listeners you can learn more about Rambler’s Way by visiting Thank you.

Nick: Thank you for having me.

Nancy: Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d also like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this podcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes, and our theme music is by Activity Club. For information on Material Wise, please visit and please subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcast. Thank you again and until next time, take care.

Episode 03: Miles Spadone | Spadone Home

Miles Spadone on working with his sister, design approach and finding the right material to achieve crisp, clean architectural design

Miles and Molly Spadone are the brother/sister duo of Spadone Home, an evocative handmade collection of Art Deco-influenced terrazzo vessels and Brutalist style concrete planters and bookends. Offspring of artistic parents, Miles shares how he and his sister created Spadone Home, what it’s like working with a sibling, and the never-ending quest to find unique materials and methods to create their distinctive designs.

Miles and Molly Spadone, Owners of Spadone Home

Miles’ Interview Transcript

​Nancy: Hello, I’m Nancy Fendler, and you’re listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers, and other guests in the outdoor, fashion, home furnishings and other industries about what inspires and influences them to create, why and how they select the materials they choose, and the relationships they’ve built with their customers and industry.

Today, I’m happy to be speaking with Miles Spadone, part of the brother-sister duo of Spadone Home, in their Kennebunk, Maine studio. Spadone Home is an evocative, handmade collection of Memphis-inspired ceramic tableware, Bauhaus and Art Deco-influenced terrazzo vessels, and Brutalist-style concrete planters and bookends.

Miles, thanks so much for having me in your studio and for joining me on Material Wise.

Miles: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Nancy: My pleasure. I understand your mom is a production potter, and dad a furniture designer and builder. Did you grow up knowing you wanted to be a designer?

Miles: No. Our mom was a production potter in the ’70s. She was kind of a back-to-the-lander hippie that somehow was making a living doing production pottery in the boonies of Maine. My sister and I didn’t really know that until we started doing ceramics at Gould Academy, at which point she decided to tell us that she also was a ceramicist at one point, and got on the wheel and started throwing beautiful pots, and we were kind of shocked.

We’d always known that my dad has been a furniture designer and builder for, oh God, 35 years now, so we grew up kind of messing around in the shop since we were little kids. I don’t think there was really a definite point where we knew that we would be somehow following in either step. There’s part of you that always has some innate attraction to certain things, and we never really could run away from it, so at some point I think I just gave in and said, “You know, I think this is what I want to do.” So here I am.

Nancy: What’s it like working together as siblings, you and Molly?

Miles: It’s hard, but it’s good. It’s rewarding. I mean, it challenges us to be two people at the same time, so brother and sister but business partners. We learn to navigate the limitations of each relationship. I can’t treat Molly as my sister when I need her to be my business partner, and vice versa. We’re growing as people, which is kind of … at the end of the day, that’s certainly what you hope to have happen when you create or start an endeavor like we’re doing. But it’s good.
Miles Spadone: Our dad works downstairs from us, so same laws apply. There’s a lot of challenges, but he’s been such an influence and a guide for us. Whatever distress happens via the family dynamics is certainly outweighed by the value of having someone who’s got 35 years of experience.

Nancy: That’s great. He must be so proud of you too. Do you and your sister complement one another creatively?

Miles: Yeah. We’re very different in the sense that Molly throughout college really studied more. She was much more involved in craft, and craft kind of implies that there’s a rhythm, there’s a very defined process. You don’t deviate too far from what you know and do well and can reproduce really well.

I, on the other hand, got really into design and the exploration of materials. I do a lot of the design. I do a lot of the materials research, the material testing, and Molly then starts to implement it into more rhythmic, manufacturable processes.

Nancy: That’s great. Sounds like you do that and it helps to have different duties.

Miles: Absolutely. Yeah.

Nancy: Tell me a little bit about Spadone Home and who your customers are.

Miles: Right now we have made more of a commitment to being a vessel company. That obviously is a general term that kind of spans into a lot of different forms and functions, but the point being that it started with us using ceramics as our primary material. What we didn’t like about it was that at some point you lose a little bit of control. It’s alchemy. It’s really amazing to take something that’s organic and a couple hours later, it comes out, well, many hours later it comes out of the kiln and it’s completely transformed into a rock-hard, brilliant material.

We now find that there are other materials where we can still express a lot of that form – that hollow, that vessel, which has volume and has function, but using a different material. We envision a lot of this stuff as either some kind of centerpiece, as a vase or a vessel or a bowl. Really creating something unique that people have never seen or appropriated a vessel like that in their daily life. I think we’re doing a pretty good job at it.

Nancy: By the looks of them on the table here, they are certainly unique. I’m sure that they’re taking off. Speaking of materials, you mentioned that you’re using some new materials. Do you feel as though that … Do you have a particular material in mind when you’re creating, or do you have a vessel in mind and then go seek the material?

Miles: The principal way that we work is first we ask ourselves, what do we want to express? What do we want to say? What do we want to make? Then the second question is, what do we want to make it with? That goes through a process of a couple, you need to meet a couple requirements. One is, is it feasible? Is it cost effective? Two, is it going to lend itself to the function that you intend it to? Then do you have the skill to actually produce it? Because we do everything by ourselves, we’re not outsourcing this stuff. We do have our limitations as makers.

The first part of that is what do we want to say? A lot of the stuff we do is very architectural. It’s very crisp. It’s very clean. Certain materials do not want to be any of those things. They’ll warp, they’ll crack, they’ll move, clay being a very good example of that. That’s when we started saying, we feel that if we can’t accurately and acutely express some of these forms with clay, what would be a good substitute? That’s when we started experimenting with Corian, which is a well-known countertop material. We’ve always played with plaster and gypsum products, but we’ve actually just recently developed a product that is kind of blowing our minds, and it’s proprietary, so I’m not going to get too detailed, but it’s basically a mix of alpha plaster, which is a very, very dense plaster that’s used commercially for certain statue replications or architectural replications, and then instead of adding water, we add acrylic.

Acrylic replaces the water and it catalyzes and it binds all of it together. It creates an almost concrete-looking, almost plastic-looking, almost clay-looking kind of finished result. It’s incredibly scratch-proof. It has some incredible high-impact strength, and it’s naturally water-resistant, not waterproof, but then we seal it and that waterproofs it.

Nancy: What is this material here? I know that our listeners can’t see, but it looks like marble.

Miles: Yeah. That’s Corian.

Nancy: Corian. Wow.

Miles: The cool thing about Corian, because it’s a pretty typical home industry product, it comes in a variety of colors and thicknesses. We’ve limited ourselves to, I think, four colors at this point. We have four models that we make in it. We C&C the Corian in these flat sheets in certain profiles, and then we laminate them. Once the laminations are together, this thing is completely watertight. It’s UV-stable, and it creates this faux marble, faux stone, faux jade, but for a fraction of the price.

Nancy: It’s beautiful. Is sustainability a factor when you’re designing, choosing materials that you do?

Miles: It’s something Molly and I have talked a lot about. I don’t think it’s the first factor that we consider, although we are absolutely, 100% dedicated to conservation and environmentalism. One of the things that’s good for our process is within casting there’s almost no waste. There’s no byproduct, whereas a lot of industries have a high, whatever they yield also has a high byproduct. We don’t have that, which is good. Everything we buy gets completely used up into the final product, so very little waste.

We do use concrete. Concrete’s been for a long time considered a very sustainable environmental product, but you know what? I don’t know if I can speak to Corian. I know that it’s aluminum trihydrate with acrylic resin mixed in. I don’t know if it’s water based. I would assume it’s probably not. I don’t know. I don’t know if I can speak to the Corian. Maybe you can do a little research and tell me.

Nancy: Maybe I will! Okay. Where do you turn for your latest news on-trend information and design inspiration?

Miles: We follow several companies out of New York. I mean, I think New York right now is the center, probably always has been for design, New York and LA. There’s one company that we love that we sell a lot of our products with. They’re called Sight Unseen. They’re an online retailer, website, blog in New York. They curate … It’s pretty avant-garde. I mean, it’s not everyone’s taste, but they make a very concerted effort to keep up on the absolute latest, latest designs, materials, interiors, architecture. It spans the gamut from glass to plastics to fiber, whatever. They’re not very prejudiced when it comes to any kind of design or style. They just kind of keep up with the trends. I take a lot of influence from what they post.

Nancy: You just returned from the Architectural Digest show in New York City. Can you tell me about the show and how you came to exhibit?

Miles: Yeah. The show happens every March around this time. It’s not a huge show, but it’s a very well-curated show. You do have to get asked to be in, in order to show. It’s an amalgamation of industrial kitchen supplies to very small, handmade furniture and vessel manufacturers like Molly and me. We got asked to do that show after the curator saw my sculptural work, and I did that by myself about three years ago. Then right after that is when Molly and I decided to get a little bit more intentional with what we were producing and making and designing. That’s when we decided to curate a line and put it out there. That was last year we did it, and then this is the second year we just did it. It’s fantastic. It’s huge exposure, huge press. A lot of people come and walk through. It was very fruitful for us.

Nancy: Is it trade or consumer, or both?

Miles: It’s both.

Nancy: It is both.

Miles: Yeah, it’s both, which is nice, because you get a reaction from a lot of different people… It’s not a very insular experience. You get reactions from people who would maybe buy one piece and a reaction from someone who might buy 200 of something. You get to really test the waters, which in Maine is often hard to do, especially with the kind of stuff we’re selling. It’s not really something that seems to fit into the Maine design vernacular, as much as we’d like it to. We do find that New York is an incredibly receptive audience for our work.

Nancy: Yeah. That’s great, Miles. As an entrepreneur, what challenges keep you up at night?

Miles: Which one doesn’t? I think the business side of stuff. Design and making and producing and material exploration, that’s all, I mean, we love that. We could do that all day, and we do. We probably do it too much. We should probably be taking about half the time that we spend designing and experimenting with colors and patterns and sit in there dialing in a spreadsheet of some kind, which we do. But I think that’s our biggest challenge, is when you go to art school and you go to craft school, you don’t walk out with a comprehensive understanding of what it means to run a small business.

Molly and I have been learning it the hard way, just doing things wrong and then trying to do them right. The beautiful thing is we try to approach everything without too much insecurity and fear, because that can be paralyzing. Once you’re paralyzed, you never learn. We just go into it head first and learn from the mistakes, and hopefully it pays off. Yeah, the business side of stuff is hard.

Nancy: Yeah, for artists, and sometimes you have to outsource that, perhaps.

Miles: Perhaps.

Nancy: I don’t know. In times of self-doubt, who do you turn to for support?

Miles: My wife. Probably under other circumstances, if my dad wasn’t right downstairs and witnessing the self-doubt all the time, he would be probably someone I’d call, but he’s already too inundated with it. I talk to my sister a lot, and we try to reassure each other. While one is weak, the other certainly tries to feel strong. But then completely removed from all of it is certainly someone like my wife, who’s just an incredible sounding board and good listener. She’s a social worker, so she’s pretty damn good at listening, and I have a lot to say.

Nancy: What are you most proud of, Miles?

Miles: Well, it’s funny. Molly and I were coming back from the show last night. It was a fantastic show and we felt good about our products and our line, and we felt good about how we had really been disciplined about creating a cohesive brand around it and getting the spiel down, which is all kind of ancillary stuff to the design and the making, but certainly important. I think the most important part of, and the best feeling that we had was that we walked away knowing that we had accomplished all this with the incredible support and generosity and kindness from family, friends, community.

The same could be said of all the people we met at the show, all the designers. There’s this support and kindness that I don’t know if you get in a lot of industries. It didn’t feel competitive or jealous. It felt more like – “I really like what you’re doing and good luck”. Molly and I, I think, walked away with this feeling of gratitude, and just feeling thankful that we’ve got a lot of people in our lives that support us and love us and vice versa. Without getting too profound, I think that’s really at the end of the day what Molly and I value more than anything and what we feel proud to be a part of.

Nancy: That’s great. What’s next for Spadone Home?

Miles: Well, I think the next phase of this is developing our business model a little bit more, and that’s going to entail that we start marketing the way that we produce stuff, and then how we also want to sell it. Because we’re just two people, we are starting to move into more of a batch manufacturing process, where basically we take two months and we just produce, produce, produce, produce, produce. We don’t make any sales. We don’t do shows. Once we do about two months of producing, we then start to market and advertise heavily, and say, “This is the inventory that we’ve got.”

We’ll reach out to our wholesalers, say, “You’ve got first go at the inventory, and then we’re going to start putting it publicly up for sale, and what’s there is there. Take it.” Once it’s gone, we’ll produce for another two months. I think that’ll give us some rhythm. It’ll give us a little bit more strategy, and we can kind of compartmentalize our approach instead of trying to do a little bit all at once. We want to focus heavily in phases, and then start to really put time and energy into one phase and then move to the next. I think that’s where we’re at. We feel good about our designs. We feel comfortable with the materials that we’re making them with. Our margins look good. Now it’s just a matter of getting it out there and getting it into people’s hands. Then we’ll start seeing what other things we want to make.

Nancy: It’s always evolving.

Miles: Oh yeah. Yeah, that’s the fun part.

Nancy: Where can folks find you or find out more about your products?

Miles: Well, the most obvious place would be our website. It’s We have everything for sale on our website. Like I said, sometimes there’ll be inventory, sometimes there won’t. When there is inventory, if you sign up for the mailing list, we will let you know when there is inventory. Then we’re in one retailer in Maine called Judith in Portland. Then we are in several throughout New York. We’re in the Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Museum. We’re in a retail shop called Nest in Manhattan. Another one called Coming Soon in Manhattan. Then we’re in a couple in LA, then one in Philadelphia. If you happen to live in any of those cities, you might have a shot at getting something.

Nancy: Miles, thanks so much for spending so much time with me. I look forward to learning more about the vessels. I’m going to take a few pictures, and we’ll put them on the Material Wise website as well.

Miles: Good. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Nancy: Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d also like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this podcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes, and our theme music is by Activity Club. For more information on Material Wise, please visit Please subscribe, rate and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again, and until next time, take care.

Episode 02: Erin Bornstein | Timberland

Erin Bornstein: On developing the first design-lead footwear collection at Timberland

Footwear designer, Erin Bornstein shares how she created the rare opportunity to have full control of the design vision without direct input of other product managers or merchandisers, for a new women’s Timberland collection, which will be available at retail this fall. Erin says her new footwear collection has a kick-ass attitude, just like the woman she’s designing it for. Erin also talks about Timberland’s stand on sourcing sustainable materials and commitment to social initiatives.

Erin Bornstein, Footwear Designer at Timberland

Erin’s Interview Transcript

Nancy: Hello. I’m Nancy Fendler, and you’re listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers, and other guests in the outdoor, fashion, home furnishings, and other industries, about what inspires and influences them to create, why and how they select the materials they choose, and the relationships they’ve built with their customers and industry.

I’m pleased to introduce my guest, Erin Bornstein, women’s footwear designer at Timberland. Erin is working on the company’s first design-led footwear collection for women, a rare opportunity in product development, to have full control of the vision of design without direct input of other product managers or merchandisers. So Erin, thanks so much for visiting me on Material Wise.

Erin: Thanks for having me. This is fantastic.

Nancy: I like to ask all our guests, what did you want to be when you were growing up, and did you dream of being a footwear designer?

Erin: You know, when I was growing up, I was always into fine arts. Even at a young age, it was something that I really loved, and my parents supported me with, but I wasn’t keen on living the starving life of an artist in my parent’s attic, so I decided to go to school for graphic design, to be able to enhance my fine arts with some computer skills. I thought this would lead to a job kind of doing brochures maybe, for a law firm or something, but I actually ended up getting a job as a graphic designer at a footwear company, on their marketing department. From there, that really opened my eyes to the product world, and led to my career in product design.

Nancy: Wow. So mixing art with design, and then footwear. That’s great. So where do you find your design inspiration?

Erin: You know, people-watching is by far the best design inspiration. I really love traveling, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to go to Europe and to Asia with my company, and nothing really compares to seeing people in their own element. I remember traveling to Asia for the first time, and seeing how differently people dress there, and it’s something that I could just sit on a bench and watch people for hours.

Nancy: Do you sketch at all when you see, or …

Erin: Yeah, you know, I do a lot of hand sketching in my current job, but I don’t know that I sit on the bench and draw, but definitely take a lot of inspiration from that.

Nancy: Yeah. So I understand you’re launching your own design-led women’s footwear collection at Timberland. Who is she? Who is this customer, and what do you think she’s craving?

Erin: I’m currently working on this design-led collection, and it’s been extremely empowering to be the decision-maker, and similarly, I really think that’s what this girl is craving. My collection is really about being bold and creating kick-ass product, and I think that is exactly who she is. It’s about women’s empowerment, in this kind of don’t apologize mentality. It’s really about having an attitude and an edge, and I think that’s what this girl has as well.

Nancy: That’s great. Is it more athletic inspired, or fashion, or …

Erin: It’s actually more fashion and high design, and it’s got that kind of boot casual feel to it, so you’ll see that coming out, hopefully, in September.

Nancy: Ah, looking forward. So what do you want your customers to feel when they wear your products?

Erin: You know, I really want the woman wearing our products to feel comfortable first and foremost. I think comfort’s not just a physical attribute, but I think, you know, even style can be considered a level of comfort in what someone chooses to wear. I really want women to feel their most confident in what they choose to wear, so I really hope my footwear offers that perfect option for her, so really offering a range of products that she can pick from if she really wants to stand out, or even that perfect casual boot if she wants to fit in.

Nancy: I’m curious, if a particular material inspires you to design a product in mind, or do you first have a product in mind and then find the material?

Erin: You know, I think inspiration goes both ways. There are many trends occurring in the footwear market, and you really have to analyze those trends when designing the product. Material is definitely one of them, and it can play a key role in designing the product. You know, as consumers are getting more knowledgeable about the products they buy, they’re becoming not just aware of what goes into the products themselves, but what the company’s mission is, and I think the material choice that you choose really can go a long way in supporting that mission.

Nancy: Yeah. Me too. Does a brand name or consumer-recognized material make a difference, do you think?

Erin: I definitely think so. You know, brands that come to mind, such as Gore-Tex or Smartwool are definitely known for delivering on their quality and performance, and I think these are just some brands that make a difference in the consumers … When they look at the shoes and see their labels, recognize them, and trust their quality, and that definitely goes a long way in the footwear business.

Nancy: Do you think customers have become more savvy about the materials that go into the apparel that they buy?

Erin: I definitely think so. Consumers have information at their fingertips, and with the simple touch of a button, they can look up anything they want to know about the products they’re buying. I think millennials and the youth consumer are particularly more conscious about the products they’re purchasing, and do that research before buying any kind of product.

So, you know, some brands have been capitalizing on that right now, and even listing things such as their nutrition facts, is what they like to call them, to be able to have that full transparency with the consumer. I think this is something the consumers are really responding to well, and they’re looking to have that relationship with the company.

Nancy: Yeah. I’m seeing more and more of it as well. Consumers appear to be more conscious of where and how their apparel is made. Do you feel the same, and how are you incorporating these values into your products?

Erin: Yes. I definitely believe products are interested in the materials that make up the products they’re buying, but I also think it’s really about how the product is impacting the environment as well. Consumers really want to be part of something, and if they know that the product they’re purchasing is contributing to the greater good, then it’s something that they can really feel good about. So, I’m always trying to design with these types of values in mind, and I definitely believe it’s a part of my job to design responsibly.

Nancy: I understand Timberland is currently working on minimizing the carbon footprint of its leather goods. Can you share a bit about this?

Erin: Absolutely. You know, at Timberland, we really strive to be Earth keepers in everything we do. We work hard to make our products responsibly and protect the outdoors, and serve the communities around the globe. Timberland has always been making their shoes with this kind of green attitude in mind, and we’ve done it in quiet ways, for example, using recycled rubber content in our boots with rubber outsoles, but we’ve also done this by contributing to our community service, and employees have contributed over a million hours of service to communities around the globe, and have planted over 9.2 million trees worldwide since 2001, in an effort to protect and preserve the outdoors. So it’s really something that’s close to our hearts.

And we additionally make other efforts by doing collaborations, in order to have a greater impact as well, which is really exciting. This includes some of our newest work with Thread. Thread is a Grounds to Good fabric that’s harvested from plastic bottles that litter the streets in landfills of Haiti. So this Thread fabric is not just contributing to a greener planet, but it creates thousands of jobs for developing nations. So the work’s not just important for harvesting the material itself, but for making a difference in the community of Haiti, and I think that’s really important, and things like that really resonate with our consumers, as well as to us. I think we are always striving to have a greater impact on the environment.

Nancy: That’s really interesting. I’ve not heard of Thread before.

Erin: Yeah.

Nancy: So, that’s fabulous.

Erin: That’s a new material that came out last spring, and we continue to work with them into the next upcoming seasons.

Nancy: So, what do you think makes a good material partner?

Erin: You know, we have great relationships with our suppliers, and this is built from working with them over the years. We really trust the quality that they bring. They meet our deliverables. They know our capabilities, and they know our standards for our materials. These, I think, are all really important to having a great textile partner. You know, if we have special requests, our best suppliers are able to work with us and customize for our needs and meet our demands on time.

Nancy: Where do you turn to for the latest design trends?

Erin: WGSN is my main source for the latest news in product design. They do a great job in highlighting macro trends, and they also offer reports on more focused trends, such as materials, colors, and footwear silhouettes, so I love looking at the latest catwalks on their site as well, and seeing what the designers are doing on the runway. And other sites that I love are Trendstop and HYPEBEAST, to just keep up with the latest street wear and trends in that regard.

Nancy: Ah, not aware of those. I’ve got to check those out.

Erin: They’re great sites.

Nancy: Yeah. So, what is your favorite Timberland product?

Erin: Right now, I’m loving the Sutherlin Bay boot collection. It’s a new collection that will release this fall, and it’s actually a low-heel boot that offers comfort technology, and it feels like you’re not even wearing a boot. It’s great. It’s super casual, and I practically wear it every day, especially because I’m not usually a heel-wearer. So, it’ll be coming out this fall, so keep an eye out for it.

Nancy: I will. I will. So, is there a product that you may have loved, but just bombed?

Erin: Well, I definitely have had a couple of those, and one of them has been a mid-heel boot collection. And it was really progressive for Timberland at the time. This collection was leveraging some new technology, and it was a lightweight casual boot, that kind of used some sneaker cues into it, to make a kind of sneaker-boot, I would call it.

Nancy: It’s like never get rid of your castaways. I think that’s it. Never get rid of your castaways.

Erin: Some of the best ideas are reinvented-

Nancy: Exactly.

Erin: … out of old ones.

Nancy: That’s right. So, what professional challenges keep you up at night?

Erin: Oh, that’s a good question. Throughout my career, I’ve been working on finding my voice, and I think that’s something that makes for a really strong designer. I’ve personally been trying to find my voice through not just my design work, but also within the office. It’s something that comes, I think, with a lot of time and practice, and you know, sometimes I’ll be up at night, thinking about things I might have said or didn’t say, and it’s hard to turn off that voice, especially when you’re passionate about your work. So, it’s been a challenge, but it’s something that I’m continuously learning from and working on every day.

Nancy: Always works in progress. Always learning. So, in times of self-doubt, how do you build yourself back up?

Erin: In particularly hard times, I always turn to family. I think they’re such a great support system, and I’m extremely lucky to have them. My husband and my father are always focusing on the silver linings, and that really helps me to see things a lot more clearly.

Nancy: Thank goodness for family.

Erin: Thank goodness.

Nancy: Yeah. So what are you most proud of?

Erin: You know, my latest design collection is something that I’m extremely proud of. This is a new approach to design that Timberland is piloting for the very first time, and it feels so amazing to be part of such a big initiative. And in order to get picked for this project, I had to pitch my idea to a panel of VPs, and the best way to describe it was like an episode of Shark Tank. It was extremely intimidating, but it was one of the biggest challenges that I’ve been able to overcome today.

Nancy: Oh boy. That sounds like it, but again, you were using your voice, and it allowed you to express something that you were really passionate about, and confident in.

Erin: Absolutely.

Nancy: So congratulations.

Erin: Thank you so much.

Nancy: Yeah. So, what’s next for you?

Erin: You know, I’m always up for a new challenge and new opportunities, and this season, I’ve actually had the opportunity to start designing some sport leisure product. When I normally work on casual product, I’ll be working on some sneakers for the first time, so it’s been really exciting. It’s a brand-new category for me, and it’s something that’s been really fun to work on. So I’m looking forward to learning more of the nuances of the sport leisure product, and kind of gaining some new momentum in this category.

Nancy: Just thanks so much, Erin. I look forward to seeing all your products in the market, and thank you so much for coming on Material Wise.

Erin: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a real pleasure.

Nancy: Okay. Take care. Bye.

Erin: Thank you.

Nancy: Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d also like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this podcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes, and our theme music is by Activity Club. For more information on Material Wise, please visit, and please subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again, and until next time, take care.

Episode 01: Jill McGowan | Jill McGowan, Inc.

Designer of the Great White Shirt: on timeless style, finding just the right fabric and what keeps her up at night

While working as a pattern maker at the Hathaway shirt company – a famed menswear manufacturer, Jill McGowan discovered that there was a big gap between the way men’s and women’s apparel of equal value was made. In 1994, Jill set out to improve the standard of women’s clothing and launched a signature line of shirts under the Jill McGowan brand. Today Jill McGowan products can be found in over 300 specialty shops across the country, its flagship store in Freeport, ME and on its e-commerce site. Jill shares her views on what makes a great shirt, finding the right materials that provide comfort and style and how she partners with suppliers. We also discuss the state of retail, fast fashion and the ever-evolving consumer.

Jill McGowan, Owner of Jill McGowan Inc.

Jill’s Interview Transcript

Nancy: Hello, I’m Nancy Fendler and you’re listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers, and other guests in the outdoor fashion, home furnishings, and other industries about what inspires and influences them to create, why and how they select the materials they choose, and the relationships they’ve built with their customers in industry.

I’m very excited to have Jill McGowan as my guest today on Material Wise. Jill McGowan is the owner of Jill McGowan Inc., which was launched in 1994 with a signature line of women’s white shirts inspired by Jill’s work as a pattern maker for the Hathaway Shirt Company, the famous menswear manufacturer. After comparing her work on men’s shirts to women’s clothing of equal price, she realized the genuine need to improve the standard of women’s clothing. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Free University in Berlin, Germany, the University of Maine in Orono, and the University of Salzburg at Austria.

Jill shirts and seasonal collections are now available in over 300 specialty stores around the country, her flagship store in Freeport, Maine, and online at Her work has been featured in publications such as Women’s Wear Daily, Harper’s Bazaar, the New York Times, More, Real Simple, and – not to mention – an appearance on the Martha Stewart Show.

Jill’s and my family grew up together in Maine and while we’ve been in and out of each other’s lives over the years, I’ve always admired her accomplishments as a successful designer and business woman.

Nancy: Oh Jill, I’m so happy to have you here and be my first guest on Material Wise.

Jill: Thank you, thanks for inviting me.

Nancy: Yeah. So what did you want to be when you were growing up? Did you dream of being a designer?

Jill: I didn’t dream of being a clothing designer, but I thought I wanted to be an architect. I think that was from the Brady Bunch. I wanted to be Mr. Brady. So then I realized that I had no real interest or passion in building materials and so it really wasn’t the best direction for me to go.

Nancy: So you decided to be a clothing designer.

Jill: Yeah, that came late in my 20s. I had … went through a traditional liberal arts education and just was drawn to the process. I worked on some theater projects and then I worked on a film project in costume design and I just wanted to know more about it so that’s when I applied to design school and went back and got my degree in pattern making technology and then started my business.

Nancy: Wow. In doing some research prior to interviewing you, you mentioned your love of the detail that goes into men’s design or men’s apparel. And you noticed a gap in women’s design. Can you elaborate on this?

Jill: Sure. In design school, we were told to just hit the streets and start comparing and critiquing apparel. And so we would go into stores and I would notice that the men’s departments weren’t as interesting, but they were always, they always had better more consistent quality. And then I ended up landing a job in men’s apparel. I worked for a men’s shirt company, Hathaway Shirt Company. And right away, compared to what we were doing in women’s wear and in design with women’s apparel, there was a distinct difference of attention to fabric, attention to quality, attention to construction of the fabric, the durability of the fabric. And I just was so fascinated by all of that. This is a giant factory that was cranking out 3000 dozen units a week and so I would just go watch the process. And then I thought, “Well, I think women really deserve this kind of attention to detail. And there really isn’t anything on the market that’s close to this kind of quality and quality fabric and detail.”

Nancy: That’s where you found your niche.

Jill: Yeah.

Nancy: Yeah.

Jill: And started my company.

Nancy: I also read that you feel Jill McGowan is timeless rather than classic. What do you feel the difference is? And do you think your customers feel the same way?

Jill: I think they do. I hope they do. The comments, the customer feedback that we get is that they pull these garments out of their closet for upwards of 10, 15 years sometimes. And sometimes it’s just a special occasion piece or it’s everyday wear, and that just warms my heart. To know that these are favorite items, they … the fabrics are so wonderful that they get softer over time. And as far as the timelessness, I’ve always thought … I don’t know why, but I just have an association with classic being boring where there’s no real design put into it. And so we really tried to add our own touch. And so each shirt, each product of ours is designed in our studio, it’s original. And it has our hand on it and there’s a lot of attention to detail. There’s subtle attention where seaming and maybe the drape, the length, the collars might look unique. So we try to put our signature look and that’s the other feedback I get from our customers, that they can spot a Jill McGowan. It’s distinctive enough on the markets and that’s another thing that makes me very happy.

Nancy: Yeah, very flattering.

Jill: Yeah.

Nancy: So I’m curious, if it’s a particular textile that inspires you to design a product that you might have in mind or if it’s the other way around, like maybe you have a product in mind and then you go search for the fabric.

Jill: Yeah, it is, it’s a combination and we … sometimes I’ll see a fabric and I’ll be so inspired by it that I’ll try to figure out how to, or what I’m going to design around that. And a lot of times we just have core silhouettes in mind and then we find gorgeous fabrics and plug them into our silhouettes. So it’s a … It definitely is a mix of the two. But what really drives me and inspires me is finding new fabrications.

Nancy: Well, it also shows in your work. Does a brand name or a consumer recognized material make a difference in your products?

Jill: I think our customers pretty sophisticated as far as fabrics go. We’ll get the question, “Why is this $160 shirt when I can go get my $49.99 white shirt at a chain store or whatever or fast fashion store?” And we try to give as much product knowledge to our customer and explain that these are cottons that are sourced and they’re pricey because there’s attention to detail in the fiber. It’s a longer filament yarn, which means that it’s going to hold up longer, so much longer, and it’s just going to get softer and softer rather than wear down and break down. Sometimes you’ll even see cotton pilling and that’s because it’s a lesser quality fiber that they’ve started with.

And the same case with our linens. There are a lot of linens on the market, but we buy and source the best quality linen and that’s because it’s grown, it’s just been cultivated for over 100 years and they just do it right. They … It’s a finer filament, a longer filament, and it’s a better quality.

Nancy: So Jill McGowan is made in Maine just like the namesake. Do you think consumers appear to be more conscious of where and how their apparel is made?

Jill: Yes, I think it’s definitely … There’s a movement now that is on the rise. I think that’s it’s very … You can compare it a lot to the food movement where there in the past 10 to 15 years there’s just been so much more awareness about where our food source is from. I think more and more people are really looking for less is more and they’re looking for quality products. And they’re looking to purchase investment pieces. And from all the trade publications that I’m reading now, you know the apparel industry is definitely up in a turmoil of sorts with brick and mortar being in jeopardy and online taking over and Amazon making apparel and all of these things. But when it comes down to the millennials, they’re measuring and the baby boomers are all seeking quality. Not all of them, but I think that more and more are seeking quality product and fewer items in their household, in their closet, and they’re looking for better quality. And also they want to know the story behind the company, they want to know that the company is ethically managed and the products are ethically sourced. So we’re trying to put more and more of that information out to the customer. That’s something that we’d really kept a little closer to the vest and I think we need to really promote it a little bit better.

Nancy: Are sustainable practices required in your supply chain? Meaning do you look for companies that you buy textiles from to be ethically and responsibly sourced?

Jill: Almost by default we … When I first started sourcing fabric, I was really looking for some of the best fabric on the planet. I thought that I’d be able to find it in the United States and I ended up having to source Europe and other parts of the world where there was just time, attention, more money, more resources put into the product. And most of my fabrics are … I think all of my fabrics are milled in countries where there are environmental laws in place. So I feel really good about all the fabrics that I purchase and I love dealing with the companies that I work with….I’m working with the cream of the crop in the industry. So it’s really nice.

Nancy: That’s great. So it sounds like that’s what makes a good textile partner.

Jill: Yes.

Nancy: I was going to ask.

Jill: It’s so true. And it is, I’d say by default, I think we’re all in the same page as far as making and marketing quality product. So it’s nice to partner with them.

Nancy: Yeah. So where do you find your design inspiration?

Jill: Oh, I find it in lots of places. I’m a people watcher at airports and I love going in to cities and seeing what’s on the street. I do dig into history. I’m a big fan of some American designers from the 1950s and 60s and so I dig deep into their archives. And I try to move forward. So it’s kind of looking back, seeing what’s on the street, seeing what’s at trade shows, and then moving product forward. I try to just think what is going to be relevant in the next four years, five years, 10 years.

Nancy: Where do you turn to for the latest news on design and textile trends?

Jill: I love the New York Times style section. I read that every Sunday. Wall Street Journal, Saturday Weekend, I love that. And then my trade, my go to trade publication is The Business of Fashion, which is a London based publication and I really respect the way that they’re covering apparel and industry news.

Nancy: What’s your favorite most successful Jill McGowan product?

Jill: Oh, my favorite and most successful? They’re too different.

Nancy: Okay.

Jill: Because I … My most successful is this one silhouette and we just keep selling it. It’s just one of these things that’s a universal fit and it just caught us completely by surprise. I put it on the line in 2005. It’s still the item we cut the most. It’s a style called Astrid. But … It’s not my go-to. It’s just it’s a really great piece. I do have a few of them, but one of my favorites now is what we call a hybrid where I’m integrating this wonderful Swiss cotton and Lycra, it’s a knit fabric, combined with beautiful wovens. So we’re taking these really premium designed whites that are embellished or embroidered or they’re eyelets, and we’re integrating them in with this knit. So if it helps bring the price point down but it’s also an item where you feel dressed for work or business meeting or going out to eat, but you’re as comfortable as you would be in a t-shirt. So that’s my favorite, and that style is Erin.

And so, I just feel really comfortable in that piece and I’m trying to really bring that into the ‘Best Ofs’ because I just believe in it. And I believe that that’s the go to item for the customer that doesn’t want to iron a shirt, that doesn’t want that feeling of a woven. Somehow they’ve never really taken to wovens, but it’s just an alternative to a t-shirt. Because I just think we need, some of us just need to get ouy of knits now and again and get into really nice, crisp wovens. And they just hold up so much longer.

Nancy: So it’s like a blend of comfort and performance and the timelessness.

Jill: Yeah. And it was inspired by athletic wear because it was … You’re just watching how they’re working these tech fabrics into elastic and they fit right and they’re comfortable and you can move and you can breathe and you can live out a busy life with it.

Nancy: Yeah. It’s so interesting to see the crossover markets. Having my roots in the outdoor industry and then how some of that spills over to fashion and how home (textiles) are going into technical.

Jill: Yeah. There is just a big crossover and … But should we show up at work in athleisure? I don’t know. I still feel that there’s … It’s really important to … when you’re professional you just need to look the part. I think that to see some of these tech people showing up with shirts and ties says something. They’re kind of growing up a little bit and it’s not a bad thing.

Nancy: No. It’s not a bad thing. There’s nothing like a nice, crisp shirt. So do you have one that you designed but it bombed?

Jill: Let’s see. One that bombed. Well, sometimes things are just very short-lived. We’ll put it on the line for one season and if it doesn’t get traction … and sometimes I think it just needed a second or third season and it was just maybe too soon or just didn’t quite fit into the line that we were showing. Like there’s nothing like where we got high returns of one item that was just a poor fit. I think I remember grading my first extra-large because we expanded to extra- small to extra-large and I just made these ginormous sleeve lengths that were ridiculous, and I just scaled it back. I realized okay, that there’s a little different proportion in grading, which was new to me.

Nancy: Yeah.

Jill: But I’m trying to think of a bomb, bomb, bomb.

Nancy: Of course there hasn’t been. I’m sure.

Jill: Maybe we pulled it fast enough. So, we would pull a product off the line fast enough so that we didn’t get these … But the fear is getting a return of one … I did have a linen and I pulled it from … It was from the (fabric supplier’s) home division and I just ended up falling in love with this fabric. It was an iridescent blue-gray, it was just gorgeous. And I said, “I want that fabric.” And they were like, “Well, it is home.” And I said, “I don’t care. I’m going to make shirts.” And the seams all split. So that was a recall shirt, definitely a recall shirt. So my bad for pushing.

Nancy: Oh well. A risk. No, you just had to get it out of your system.

Jill: Right. Right. Right.

Nancy: So these are difficult times, you said, in retail and wholesale. Are there any other professional challenges that keep you up at night?

Jill: Yeah, there are lots of challenges and I just … I see … The way that I see the future of apparel, I hope, is what the trends will be for this country. And I’m more in the waiting game for that. And I … We have this beautiful store in Freeport and traffic, to be honest, has been down because the traffic in general has been down for brick and mortar. We still have sales and there’s still some momentum, but the growth that we anticipated isn’t there and we just think there’s just not the foot traffic. But I do think that people will swing back to wanting to go into a store, wanting to walk in and try something on, especially with apparel because it’s so uncertain when you’re buying something online whether it’s going to fit. And so I think that this has been a big trend, an online trend. And my argument is do you want to go to the UPS store or want to come to the retail store and try it (a garment) on? It’s just that you’ve got some good choices out there. And I think that finding the niche market in the specialty stores will thrive in time because they’ll offer unique product to the customer and that’s what we’re doing.

Nancy: In times of self-doubt, how do you build yourself back up?

Jill: In times of self-doubt, I think our customers really help drive that. When we hear from our customers and when there’s demand from our customers it’s just really reassuring that we are doing something right. But I do … Sometimes I think that people will just buy cheap and deep in that they’ll be this throwaway economy. Sometimes I get really … The despair is there where are they not hearing and knowing that this isn’t really … All this waste, all this … you’re probably spending as much money on multiple products that aren’t even going to hold up more than one season. And it’s not really what you want. And I think in time, a consumer will become more aware, and if it’s not in their budget they can’t buy it. But if you could source it at a thrift store and it’s a Jill McGowan, that makes me happy.

There was another report that just came out from Business of Fashion that said that by … I think it’s by 2027, there will be more resale stores than fashion stores. There’ll be more growth in resale, which I think is really interesting. And so that means that the chain for resale will have to be quality. And so we can be in line for that.

Nancy: That’s great. That’s very interesting. I was at a seminar a while back where they were saying that millennials like to share things or go to places to rent equipment. Say, if they’re going on a hike, rather than buying a new pack or buying whatever to go hiking, they go to the secondhand store, either to buy it or rent it.

Jill: Yeah, yeah. I think … And they’re less attached to the things maybe that our baby boomer generation is buying a home. I don’t think they’re on a mission to own a home and they’re not on a mission to stay in fancy hotels – so Airbnb has gotten such great traction. And the car rental, the Uber, Lyft, and renting a car for a weekend and the car shares, the bike shares that you see in the cities. Yeah, I think there is definitely a movement. And that’s an age range. And who knows, the millennials when they reach their late 20s, early 30s, there could be a shift in consumer purchasing too.

Nancy: What are you most proud of, Jill?

Jill: I’m proud of my product. I’m proud of the quality that we put in our product and the process. I’m really proud of my team. I love my team, I love coming to work. Everyone’s engaged and everyone works really hard. I’m proud of my son right now who just got an award.

Nancy: Yeah, something else.

Jill: Yeah.

Nancy:Yeah. What’s next for Jill McGowan?

Jill: We hope to increase sales at our retail store. We really love having and owning a retail store and driving more customers there. We’re working on getting more of the local customers there. We get a really great tourist base every summer. The traffic is phenomenal in Freeport and we get people from all over the country and all over the world who discover our product, which is great. But we’re really trying to reach out to more local customers.

And then building our online base. We have to really get a better handle on how to draw that customer into our website and make it a really, really good experience.

Nancy: Can you leave us with a memorable fabric story?

Jill: A memorable fabric story. Well I think the Hathaway shirt product, I remember having a Hathaway shirt, or it might have been my sister’s and I borrowed it, but I just remembered that fabric and the quality of that fabric and the longevity of it. And then I had another … It was a cotton shirt from Sweden of all places. I think I found at a thrift store when I was living in Berlin in the 80s. And that thing, I wore until it turned into fiber molecules. It was just this cotton that just got softer and softer and it was just … It was effortless to wear and you just felt secure in it and so I think that that’s really what drives my design and building those memories for other people. I keep telling people, “I know you have that favorite shirt you go to or that favorite t-shirt. And why is that?” And it’s really … The answer is always either the … Well, it’s often the cut or the fabric. And so I think those two things if you can stay on top of that, it’s a great thing.

Nancy: Well it sounds like you have.

Jill: Just trying to. Yeah.

Nancy: Yeah. Thank you so much, Jill.

Jill: Thank you.

Nancy: Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this podcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes and our theme music is by Activity Club. For more information on Material Wise, please visit and please subscribe, rate and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again and until next time, take care.

Episode 00: Welcome to Material Wise

Your Podcast on Material Matters

Material Wise is a new podcast created for those involved with or interested in the textiles and materials market hosted by Nancy Fendler, principal of Fendler PR, a communications firm specializing in materials and ingredient marketing. Driven by her deep curiosity, Nancy sets out to speak with designers, product developers and guests in the outdoor, fashion, home furnishings and other industries about what inspires and influences them to create, why and how they select the materials they choose and the relationships they’ve built with their customers and industry.