When I first set out to develop and launch Najla, an ethical intimate apparel label, my goal was to have as much of the debut collection as possible sourced and made in the United States. This was (and still is) rooted in my personal and professional value system that is informed and inspired by the slow fashion movement (as defined by Kate Fletcher).
By working locally, I could form stronger, more transparent relationships with suppliers and manufacturers, as well as eliminate the extravagant use of resources consumed in long shipping distances. I wanted to be as thoughtful about the making process as I could while still creating beautiful, desirable pieces. This journey has allowed me to participate in an exciting maker’s movement that, in many diverse ways, is challenging outdated models of creation and consumption.
To tackle intimate apparel in this country is certainly not impossible, and many labels have done an extraordinary job of it (the beloved New York City-designed and -made Hanky Panky, for one). Gone are the days, though, when Warner’s and Maidenform reigned as “Made in America” labels with enormous reach. Today’s lingerie landscape, both in this country and elsewhere, is a largely globalized one, in which much of the production of components and final pieces has gone overseas in search of less expensive labor. Underscoring this idea, Cora Harrington, who writes the venerable lingerie blog, The Lingerie Addict, recently tweeted on December 7, 2014, “What’s changed is the labor costs between countries (which is a big reason why underwired bras aren’t made in the US).”
With that in mind, I worked on sourcing materials and pattern and sample making over the course of nearly one year, and Maker’s Row was my first, very helpful entry point into my search process for both needs. For example, I discovered Yale Hook & Eye Company, a New Jersey-based company that has been working in the industry for 100 years, through Maker’s Row.
I was eager to have even the smallest components of the Najla collection produced domestically, and Yale Hook & Eye Company was willing to experiment with a custom organic cotton hook and eye tape for my bras. While we ultimately could not work together, my experience with that company was heartening; I understood that there were wonderful, talented individuals nearby who were willing and excited to work with small designers on seemingly impossible missions!
It took months of a great deal of trial and error, but I was eventually able to source the majority of my first collection’s components from the United States. Najla’s panty elastic is produced in California; bra elastic in Rhode Island; hook and eye tape in North Carolina; custom spacer fabric in California; organic cotton jersey in North Carolina. Even our heat transfer labels are made in New Jersey! Only our metal hardware—the underwires and gold-plated rings and slides used on the bras, organic cotton voile, and organic cotton thread are produced overseas, in France, India, and Holland, respectively. (Side note: the metal on our hook and eye tape is also shipped to the manufacturer in North Carolina from England.)
Marking and grading also occurred in the Garment District, in addition to the production of all of my trimmings. And finally, the production run of our first collection has just been completed by a fantastic team at a small factory in Long Island City, Queens, approximately three miles from the Najla office.
Efforts to be transparent in our sourcing and work with local suppliers and manufacturers are of course just one element of Najla. We also wanted to offer an exceptional product that was gorgeous, timeless, and completely wearable, without sacrificing our ethical standards. To assess interest in the product we created while also raising money for our first production run of lingerie, in July of this year, we launched a thirty-day Kickstarter campaign. Our rewards were pieces from the first collection, and the campaign acted as a presale of these items. After a wild month of hard work that could be equated to an emotional rollercoaster, we successfully raised just over our goal of $25,000 to support our first production run and are so excited that rewards will be shipped out, on schedule, before the end of this month!
Throughout the journey of bringing any idea into fruition, there are numerous hurdles to both leap over and, of course, avoid! It has been extremely helpful to share my story with other entrepreneurs, who, even if producing an entirely different product, share similar experiences of needing to continue moving forward towards the dream, even while confronting uncertainty and adversity. The advice I would give anyone else, and that I continue to give myself, is that there is always a way!