Last week I gave you the what I do, so this week I wanted to give you the why I do. :) A little statement of belief— I think it’s ever evolving, so I’m calling it my malleable manifesto :) And after, the how I got to where I am, otherwise known as my somewhat unabridged biography. :)
La Vie en Orange’s Malleable Manifesto
I make underwear because it’s something that most people need. It’s not more stuff. Unless they don’t fit well, they’re usually something you buy and then frequently use.
I make underwear out of old tshirts because I believe that we already have more than enough, materially, and I am passionate about finding creative ways to use and reuse materials sustainably. I make underwear out of old tshirts because I think about the impact that fashion has on the environment, our psyches, and future generations. I believe that fashion and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive and that we’ve already been entrusted with everything we need to live full lives, and ensure that our children’s children thrive.
I believe that every woman should have the opportunity to wear high quality clothing that is well made and long lasting. I believe that every woman should be able to find clothes that fit exactly how she wants them to and that make her feel good. I believe the world needs more fashion options that respect and honor the earth and all body shapes and sizes. I believe my customers respect themselves and care about the environment. I believe they want to build community. I believe my customers love to laugh and love bright colors. I believe my customers are amazing, wonderful, bright people who fill those around them with joy.
So what do you think? I’d love to hear your reaction in the comments below, or drop me an email at koriel [dot] jock [at] gmail [dot] com. And read on to learn about how I made it to this perspective :)
I’ve been sewing since I was four, so when it was time to go to college, fashion was the only thing that made sense (despite briefly entertaining the idea of becoming a mechanical engineer). I wanted to be a pattern drafter— I am enamored with how fabric goes from 2D to 3D. It lays flat on a table then turns into sculpture.
My junior year in college I started volunteering with a peace education program, PeaceJam. It’s an organization that inspires youth through the lives and work of Nobel Peace Prize winners, and through my involvement, I found my voice and defined my values. I realized I could work for social justice in every capacity I chose, whether by making small choices every day or taking on big projects and make a difference.
It was then that I started having trouble reconciling my art— my chosen field— with the consumerism and environmental impact traditionally associated with it. I was overwhelmed by the collateral impact of fashion – from being told that products only last three months, to the environmental impact of discarding the same products, the bleaching and disposal of fabrics, to the dependence on cheap labor and unsustainable labor practices – I felt the only thing I could do was to remove myself from the situation. I had planned on moving to New York after college and didn’t. Instead, I started working with young people, both teaching and with after school programs that empowered youth to find their voices and their causes.
But I still loved to sew and design. So I did. One summer, I realized I needed some undies, but didn’t have the extra money to invest, so I got creative with some elastic and a few old tshirts. I made the first ever Upitees (though the name would come later :)). Years later, that first pair is long worn out, but I got excited because I realized that underwear was something that everyone (well, almost everyone :)) needed and wore. For me, that meant that it was further removed from the cycle of consumerism and accumulating “stuff.” I also felt really comfortable with recycling old tshirts for the raw materials: there is an abundance. Also, tshirts from the United States might do harm when donated elsewhere (Click for articles from Time, Freakanomics, Foreign Policy Magazine and AidWatch.). Sidenote: it will be interesting to see what happens with this weekend’s Super Bowl and whether there will be any of the same controversy.
So Upitees were always in my head as a potential business, but I never felt a strong motivation – I was happy as a clam in Kalamazoo, feeling fed and nourished by my work with youth, and creatively satisfied by my own other endeavors.
Everything changed when I fell in love and moved to Seattle. Far from home, and physically removed from my network of friends, I started looking for ways to ground myself, keep myself busy, and prove to myself that I was still me (happy, creative, driven). I knew that it was finally time to get this Upitees thing off the ground. I started to create [grade] underwear patterns making sizes other than my own. I learned how to screen print at the Vera Project and with my now-husband, started building a home screen print studio. I started talking with my girl friends of all shapes and sizes about their underwear needs and realized that there was a lot more going on down in Lady Town than I had ever realized.
I have been blessed with a long and lean physique, great metabolism, amazing health, and a love for running. Depending on the brand, I wear anywhere from a size 2-8.
A rant: At 5’10”, I think it’s utterly ludicrous that I would ever fit into a size 2 anywhere. Really! Anyway, keep an eye out for a future blog post unpacking the sizing mystery!
I learned that my sweet and petite friends sometimes had trouble finding undies that were small enough (this makes perfect sense if I sometimes wear a size 2…). I learned that my beautiful and voluptuous friends had all sorts of trouble, especially finding underwear that fit correctly and maybe even more so finding underwear that was cute.
I was appalled. How could folks [the market] not be serving these ladies? I believe that every woman should have the opportunity to wear clothes that fit well and make her feel good. I believe the world needs more fashion options that respect and honor the earth and all body shapes and sizes. I don’t believe we have to accept the status quo, or feel badly about ourselves. I don’t believe that we have to compare ourselves to conventional models, or what the fashion industry sometimes tells us we should aspire to. And that’s where I hope to come in.
I’ve got lots of ideas about how to move forward: grand visions of expanded sizing charts that take into account whether someone is apple shaped or pear shaped (wouldn’t it be fun to know that you wore a “14 apple”?), and ideas for expanded lines and other products that do respect and honor the earth and all body shapes and sizes.
I look forward to getting to know you, and to growing my business with your support. I know I have a long way to go and a lot to learn, but with such amazing people, like you, around me, I’m looking forward to every step of the way!