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Repro Vintage Clothing- Musings From The Other Side

I have a confession.  I used to be a vintage snob.  Not only that, but I thought my fashion school training was grounds for me to be a know-it-all.  What a sad, sad, combination that was.

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This was me, nearly 10 years ago

Now, don’t get me wrong- I didn’t care too much what individuals wore.  I also kind of had the “they do their thing, I do my thing” attitude, but for some reason, when it came to ready made clothing, I was extremely critical.  It was stupid.  It was a double standard,  plain and simple.

And you know, it’s funny, looking back, at how little I really knew.  I knew a decent amount about vintage.  But my real world experience was sorely lacking!  Who was I to critique this sort of thing?  Really.

Just because I could sew myself a dress and went to fashion school, didn’t mean I had the know-how to create a clothing line from scratch, let alone survive in the marketplace.  I dabbled at selling vintage on ebay.  I wanted to be a designer, but I didn’t have the business experience that is so crucial to really make a proper go of it.

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Another oldie-  probably 8 or so years ago.

Thankfully, since then, I’ve been self employed for quite a while and my criticism has turned into the utmost respect for any company that can successfully start up a vintage reproduction or vintage inspired clothing brand.  And those brands that have been around for years and years gain even more respect.  Because, besides knowing what people want and need, you’ve got to do a lot of behind the scenes work to keep things moving.

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Me on the Queen Mary, 2006

So here, I’m laying my cards on the table, and telling you why I’ve changed my tune over the years, and why I respect those other reproduction companies so much.

1-  Just because you don’t aesthetically prefer something, doesn’t mean it’s not good.

There’s a reason that clothing makes it to the marketplace, and survives, in the vintage niche, season after season.  If you don’t aesthetically like it, at least respect the fact that someone behind it is working their butt off to make it available.  And you know what, you may change your tune later on, like I did.  I actually like a lot of the repro stuff now that I wouldn’t have cared for at all ten years ago.  There’s a reason it’s still around- because it’s a good product.

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A peek at my brand new studio space.

2-  Starting Up A Clothing  Line Is HARD

Especially in California.  It’s a known fact that it’s harder to start up a legitimate garment company in California than the other states in the USA.  From fictitious business name, to sellers permit, to business liscence, to California Garment Registration, to having an office outside a home (a requirement to be a garment manufacturer in California)- getting all those ducks in a row before you can even think about buying fabric, sourcing contractors, and all those other parts that go into actual sewn garment is tough.  It’s a whole different ball game than when you’re doing it as a hobby and just sewing for yourself.  There’s big time and money commitments up front- you’ll probably see yourself out several grand before you can even start patterning your designs.  And unless you’ve run all those numbers and revised them, and run them over… and over… and over… you really have no clue what you’re getting into.  And then, after you’ve committed to all the legal requirements up front, you’ve got to create a garment that you know you can order enough of to meet the minimums of the contractor you’re working with.  Not only that, but you’ve got to research who you’re working with, and make sure they’re legit with California, too.  Lots and lots and lots of leg work on the front end, and since most vintage repro companies in the USA are based out of California, I know now what a huge undertaking it was for them to just start.

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A few of my fabrics I’ve sourced for my collection.

3-  It’s MUCH easier to find fabric for yourself than to find fabric for a clothing line.

I’ve heard a lot of critiques of fabrics that vintage repro manufacturers use.  I used to be that way, too- UNTIL I suddenly had to source several hundred yards of something for just one style.  Wow.  If you find an amazing fabric from a  jobber in LA, chances are that’s the only bolt- and while the fabric is super cute and may be perfect for your ensemble, and the price point may be right- you’ve got to meet your manufacturer’s minimums of garments to be made, so you’ve got to pass.  It’s so much easier to find a cute fabric you like, buy 4 yards, and make yourself a dress out of it.  And every dollar per yard adds up fast when you’ve got to order 100 yards or more.  And when you’re on a very, very limited budget to source before you can really buy (because your Kickstarter has to be successfully funded before you can get your fabric), it can be a challenge to make sure the fabric you DO find will still be made in a few months from now and isn’t just a seasonal thing.

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Fourteen tries, then I finally got a sleeve I was happy with.  It takes time to perfect designs.

4-  Repro Vintage Isn’t Overpriced.  It’s Actually Priced Just Right.

Yeah, it may seem higher priced than we’re used to, but here’s why… as consumers, we’re used to price points of clothing made overseas.  Now, do we know the working conditions of the people making our clothing overseas when we buy a cute sundress at the mall for $40?  Probably not.  Not only that, but they’re probably producing thousands and thousands of that same dress, which means they can cut down on their fabric and production costs, and don’t have a minimum wage that we do domestically.  Don’t forget, when looking at clothing in your closet, that someone actually had to sit and sew every stitch you see.  There’s no magic machine that you can put in fabric and out pops a garment.  Someone, somewhere, personally sewed your garment.  In fact, multiple people probably sewed each individual garment in your closet.  I want to make sure the hands that touch my garment are compensated, and the contractor’s shop I use is legit, in the USA, and can meet the small minimums that are required for me, as a start up clothing line.  The less you buy, the more expensive, because the more you buy, the more production gets streamlined.  Makes sense, if you’ve ever had to do the same thing over and over… you get faster the more accustomed to it you get.  Same goes with clothing.

And don’t forget, it’s not just the garment itself that goes into the price.  You’ve also got to cover all your legal fees, etc, mentioned above, your rent, your packing and shipping supplies, your utilities like internet, your web site and hosting, your credit card processing fees, your garment labels, you’ve got to make sure you have enough coming in to be able to reorder the fabric you’ll need to buy before the next garments to sell can be made, and hopefully, when all that’s done, you might be able to pay yourself.  So, yeah… after spreadsheets done over, and over, and over… I totally get why vintage reproduction clothing is priced the way it is.  But, in the end, you know you’re supporting small businesses, you’re helping make local jobs, and you know your garment won’t fall apart after a wear or two like real vintage sometimes does.  So there’s a good trade off there, I think.

Untitled-1Nearly 10 years ago, 30’s knit suits like this were getting hard to find. Now, they’re really scarce.qm

5-  It’s getting harder and harder to find real vintage.

When I started collecting, back in the mid 90’s or so, it wasn’t that hard to find vintage.  Granted, I was very slim back then, but clothing was relatively cheap and pretty plentiful.  With the growing popularity of vintage, combined with the ravages of time, finding good, wearable vintage clothing for a reasonable price point is getting pretty darn hard.  Not only that, but as I’m getting a little older I’m finally understanding how much harder it is to find something in a 28″ or larger waist size.  And, usually, when I DO find something I love, it’s either not the size I need, or I’d have to save up for it, and by the time I could justify the cost, it will usually be gone.

Also, as I get older, I realize how much I need more practicality in my clothes.  I need something that will hold up to wear.  And there’s something to be said for being able to buy something in your size, when you need it.  All of those factors give vintage repro a big leg up over original vintage.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love my vintage stuff and I don’t expect everyone to jump ship on vintage or handmade and come over to me when I get my clothing line up and running.  I truly believe that original vintage and newly made vintage clothing can happily co-exist hand in hand.

I do hope you will really love what I do and I can keep on going after my first collection.  The first collection on Kickstarter is really just the momentum I need to put my first collection out there- and all future designs (of which I have many!) will de dependent on how much you love it :)

So I guess that’s about it.  I guess sort of a confessional/up to date post on my happenings.  I hope you all had a fantastic weekend!

Love,

Lauren

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13 thoughts on “Repro Vintage Clothing- Musings From The Other Side”

  1. It’s really interesting getting to read your thoughts on starting up a repro business from the ground up! I love actual vintage pieces but I also love good repro, and items I sew/knit myself. Without repro, I would have some serious holes in my closet (I have no interest/desire to sew jeans, yet I wear them a lot). I’m sure the road you’re on is one part exciting to two parts eye-opening and nerve-wracking. And I applaud you for being willing to share so many intimate details of this adventure! Can’t wait to see more of what you’re cooking up.

  2. Lauren what an undertaking! What a huge number of hurdles California places in front of it business people, so sad! You are so staunch persevering with all of this. I wish you every success, well earned as it will be :)

  3. I mostly just want to wear the cute styles, and I don’t care whether they’re “real” vintage or not. I like my clothes to look new and be sturdy, so I frequently even prefer repro to vintage (*gasp!*). It’s hard to beat the delicious fabrics and workmanship in those pieces though, but they paid a lot more for their clothes than we do now. So in my mind, getting that same vintage quality in a reproduction piece SHOULD cost more than a t-shirt from Target – I’m a firm believer that “You get what you pay for!” :)

  4. I love all these posts. Not only is it a peek into what you’re doing/going through as you attempt to get this company up and running (and, sidebar,I appreciate the transparency), but its also really exciting to watch you develop your product an inch closer to a debut. I’m really excited for this to go to Kickstarter!

  5. I agree 100%. When I used to wear vintage I was a total snob about it and either made my clothes from vintage patterns or bought vintage – never repro. Now it’s no wonder that repro has flourished. The quality is better and the originals are priced so ridiculously. There is no way I’d be able to wear vintage like I used to in the current market.

  6. As a museum professional, and someone who sews, I’m a snob from the other side! I take a very dim view of actually wearing most vintage, especially to events where you are going to be dancing and getting them dirty. And because I sew, I know that most things can be reproduced, and I also know how hard it is to actually make a garment, so I’ve never minded paying for good repro.

    So I fully support what you are doing, am so in awe of the effort you’re putting in to this and your skill in getting it organised, and am EXTREMELY enthusiastic about it! I can’t wait to see what you make. For once it sounds like doing something in NZ would be much easier though! Gosh, the hoops you have to jump through in California!

  7. I like both, but for entirely different purposes. I like vintage pieces for preservation, but I don’t (or at least, very, very rarely) wear them. One 1930’s housedress pattern I bought a while back came with the half-finished dress and enough extra fabric to finish it if I chose. It’s well-preserved and in excellent shape, but I won’t be finishing it or wearing it (it’s even in my size); as soon as I do that, I run the risk of spoiling it. It now lives in an archival box. I found a similar reproduction cotton and will be making a copy of it instead, that I can wear without worrying about it.

  8. I have two angles on your fascinating website. I write historical fiction, which means I have to be interested how clothes were made: what movements were possible as well as what care was needed becomes much clearer if you know how items were constructed. At the moment, I am working on a novel in which a woman will be starting up a magazine at the turn of the last century; what you are dealing with in your business helps me think about what she’ll go through.

    Medieval and Renaissance clothes may not be your passion, but I think you’ll find the Badenberg ladies worth a visit to the blog “It’s About Time.”

  9. I had never thought about how hard it is to start up a clothing line. Good luck to you getting through all these obstacles, and stay positive! I am sure it will be worth it.

    For my part, my current priority for clothing buying is ethics. I don’t buy any new clothing that doesn’t come with some ethical credentials (environmental or social or both if possible). So I accept that this will cost me more. I think more people are coming around to this understanding. The downside, of course, is that I can’t afford to buy all the clothes I want this way, so I mix new-ethical with second-hand and it seems to balance out.

    As I get more interested in vintage-style clothing, seeing reproduction companies that have a strong ethical vision makes me very happy.

  10. I totally agree with everything you wrote.

    I rarely can afford vintage wear. I find it extremely hard to find the true stuff for my size and my wallet (having given birth to 2 kids my waist is not 25″ anymore, I guess it never was…), so I’m happy I can sew my own garments and add vintage jewelry and other accessories I can’t make by myself. My only snobbism is my weak spot for vintage fabrics…

    I wish there was more well-made repro wear, good quality (also when it comes to the production process, so I’m sure that everyone involved in the making of my garment is treated and payed decently) and I am also willing to pay the right price. As vintage clothing gets scarce, prices get high, often too high. I often read stories about vintage buys, where lots of money is spent on soiled rags that can’t be worn. So I’d rather buy a well-made repro garment that is really worth it’s money.

    There’s a lot 50s repro wear, there should definitely be more 40s, more knits, separates (not only dresses) – and shoes. Decent enough to be worn by women beyond 35 (even though still young at heart and mind). :-)

  11. It’s funny I used to feel the same way; that repo wasn’t as ‘good as the real deal’, but two babies later {this is a theme isn’t it?} and over five years of wearing my precious vintage I have changed my mind.

    Every ripped seam, every new spot or toddler snot just tears my heart out. My precious vintage is getting worn out and I just can’t cope! Hence the new, but very real need for gorgeous, authentic reproduction vintage in my wardrobe. I have to be practical. And let’s be realistic, repo is more affordable when you are paying $100-$200 for a dress that will last years and not just months…


    xox,
    bonita of Lavender & Twill

  12. Ms. Lauren,

    Your article is thought-provoking as well as insightful. My respect for designers, entrepreneurs, and sewists has definitely been heightened. What you have written should be an eye-opener for those contemplating the birth of a business.

    As a woman of less than modest means this article speaks to the fact that I must up my sewing skills to produce garments I may be proud of and that will stand the test of time. As I continue to read great sewist divas like yourself it is apparent that continued education is the way to go for me. Actually, I wish somehow I could start from the beginning, relearn Sewing 101. Thank goodness for the likes of You Tube, Gertie’s blog and books, and the old heads that are willing to teach and share.

    Go forth, conquer, sew, oh, and you honey, make that money.

    Cheers,

    Lyric
    http://www.sewcroandquilt.wordpress.com

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