Manufacturing a Dress in Brooklyn

Kimberly Mckinley led a successful career in management consulting, fashion, and e-commerce before deciding to start her own fashion line. Noting the lack of a timelessly designed, high quality, “made in the USA” women’s clothing collection at an accessible price point, Kimberly decided to channel her entrepreneurial spirit to create one.  Thus, KikiLynn was born. In this post, Kimberly shares her experience using Maker’s Row to bring her dream of re-creating the perfect women’s shirtdress to life.

1. IDEA

Since leaving my position as a buyer of women’s contemporary collections at Bloomingdale’s in the mid-2000s and losing my coveted employee discount, I started paying closer attention to the details and craftsmanship of the clothing I purchased. Why should I pay upwards of $400 for a dress when the fabric was low quality and the overseas “craftsmanship” even worse? I decided not to purchase clothing like this anymore and I set out to create a dress that I would love to wear.

I had been searching for the perfect shirtdress for a long time so I decided to start with this classic silhouette. I am not a designer by trade but I knew what I wanted the dress to look like and how I wanted it to fit. Shirtdresses from the 50s and 60s were instant classics because they fit and flattered most body types. However, most shirtdresses I had seen over the past 10 years fell short. Literally. They had short skirts that became mini when I sat down. My other complaints about modern shirtdresses included: no pockets, attached belts that looked cheap, tight sleeves and ill-fitting around the bust. I sought to create a flattering feminine shirtdress that could take today’s multi-faceted woman from day to evening.

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My shirtdress had to:
1. Have a feminine skirt that stayed put when standing or sitting
2. Have a removable belt, pockets and sleeves that rolled to the elbow
3. Fit comfortably and flatter the female figure
4. Take the Kiki Lynn woman from day to night with a simple change of accessories
5. Offer superior domestic craftsmanship at a competitive contemporary price point ($350-$450).

2. DESIGN

I learned how to take measurements through some online research and bought a tailor’s measuring tape. Then I found some vintage shirtdress patterns and shopped my own closet for inspiration. I designed my shirtdress pattern on my dining room table, created a tech pack with an elementary pencil sketch in Microsoft Excel. I found some New York City factories on Maker’s Row and visited them with my tech pack and ideas.

I finally chose a factory in Brooklyn called Dynotex, now a Preferred Factory on Maker’s Row. Alan at Dynotex looked at my tech pack and gave me some pointers on how to measure. I came back to him a few weeks later with a check, some thread, buttons and fabric to create a sample. After two sampling rounds, we had our pattern.

photo (36)

3. SOURCING

Next I sourced sample quantities of fabric and components that I would use in production. Unfortunately, it is hard for a small business like me to find low minimums on quality shirting fabric that is Made in the USA. Not wanting to source from Asia, I chose to source from Europe. I found an irresistible Italian cotton stretch poplin fabric and a soft Portuguese 100% cotton fabric. I sourced buttons, thread and labels domestically by using Maker’s Row as a primary resource. I took my sample materials to my factory, Dynotex, and a few weeks later I had my shirtdress samples. Alan, the owner of Dynotex, said he thought I was on to something because my dresses were not only beautifully made but they were different. Now I had to find my market. I had friends (read: professional shoppers) come over to my house to try on the dresses and offer me opinions and feedback. Taking their ideas into consideration, I decided to proceed.

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4. SHIRTDRESS PRODUCTION

After writing a business plan and pitch presentation, I raised money from family and friends and created Kiki Lynn LLC. I then purchased bulk quantities of fabric, thread, buttons and labels and my factory began production about six weeks later. Shortly thereafter, I inspected the production run in person at the factory, one of the many benefits of manufacturing domestically. I was thrilled with the final product! We produced six different styles of the shirtdress with my original pattern.

kiki steaming dress

5. PHOTO SHOOT

The last step before officially launching Kiki Lynn was the photo shoot. The incredible team at Elk Studios shot both product shots on a mannequin and editorial shots to showcase the dress details and also the playful attitude of Kiki Lynn. These two days served as an incredible learning experience for me. Now I know how much thought and attention to detail goes into getting the perfect shot!

6. LAUNCHING KIKI LYNN

Kiki Lynn launched exclusively at www.kikilynn.com in late July and I am now carefully opening wholesale accounts with small boutiques. I am pleased that my shirtdresses fit, flatter and provide the functionality that I originally planned at a competitive price point. However, nothing is more rewarding than hearing my customers say, “this is the most comfortable dress I own.” They are my inspiration and the most important part of my business.

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