My Ethical Fashion Journey

My Ethical Fashion Journey

March 29, 2019

Allie Olson | Seamly.co

It's been many months coming, but I wanted to formally introduce myself (Allie) to the Seamly community! You can read more about Seamly’s transfer of ownership, but today I'm sharing the story of own ethical fashion journey. About how I ended up here: as the new owner of Seamly, the founder of Indiesew, and a vintage-obsessed clothing junkie. 

 

Growing up in a Fashion Vacuum

I grew up in Great Falls, Montana which is the exact opposite of a fashion metropolis, so it was an odd turn of events that brought me to fashion. Back then, the pickings were slim and fashion inspiration was whatever was on the pages of Seventeen magazine.

But, I have a strong mother who sews and has an impeccable sense of her own personal style. She never pushed any clothing aesthetic on us; we were allowed to wear whatever we wanted. Any while I wouldn't say my oversized Banana Republic t-shirt phase (that lasted well into middle school) had anything to do with fashion, my mom taught us that how we felt in our clothes was far more important than how we looked in them.

My mom taught each of her three daughters to sew, starting us each around age 7. The hobby always surrounded me. Her pins, buttons, and ribbons were always strewn around her workspace. Her inspiration (magazine clippings, color chips, encouraging quotes, etc.) was clearly tacked to her cork board. I didn't realize it then (and I don't think she'd use this label), but I was raised by an artist, which gave me permission to be one too.

 

A Move to Portland, Where Everything's Weird

I moved to Portland, Oregon for undergrad and during my school breaks I started craving creative projects. I would come home for Christmas and my mom and I would sew a dress or a top together. In the end, most of the work done was hers, but I still felt pride wearing my handmade clothing. 

Over the next few years, my confidence in sewing grew. I graduated from college and stayed in Portland, unemployed and totally broke during the 2008 recession. I would thrift vintage sheets and make them into pencil skirts. I was selling thrifted clothing for a profit to vintage stores. I had no money, but I was having a blast with my sewing machine and thrifted fabric. And I started communicating through fashion in a community that fostered anything weird.

 

Nothing New for an Entire Year

A few years later, I moved to Boulder, CO for grad school. During my two years there, I decided to challenge myself. I set forth to spend an entire year not buying a single new thing, except for toiletries.

I thought the challenge would be fun and it fit well into my totally broke, thrifty lifestyle. I didn’t realize that it would completely change the way I consume goods. It eradicated my shopping habit. And I became really resourceful - especially when it came to sourcing clothing. Sewing was now a necessity for me, and I was so grateful to have those skills.

 

Working at an Ethical Fashion Brand

During grad school, I also worked at Red Ants Pants, an ethical fashion company based in Montana. Red Ants Pants was the first company to make work pants for women; even before Carhartt. I was enamored with the Sara Calhoun’s philosophy on slow and sustainable growth. I was impressed with her commitment to ethical production in the USA. 

 

The Birth of Indiesew and Allie Olson Sewing Patterns

Shortly after I graduated, Indiesew was born. Indiesew is an online marketplace for people who sew their own clothes. We’ve been selling supplies (sewing patterns and fabric) to home hobbyists for 5 years. 

Since starting Indiesew, I’ve also started my own line of sewing patterns: Allie Olson Sewing Patterns. This business is fully creative: allowing me to create clothing designs and see them through to the production of a paper sewing pattern. Allie Olson Sewing Patterns are sold on Indiesew and also in indie fabric stores all over the world. It’s surreal to see people in Australia sewing my designs!

 

From Collaborating with Seamly to Buying the Brand

Shortly after starting Indiesew in 2014, I met Kristin Glenn, the previous owner of Seamly through a networking event. We traded tips on deadstock fabric and ethical production and became fast friends. Eventually we started to collaborate, turning Seamly designs into sewing patterns.

I loved what Kristin was doing with Seamly and was inspired to do something similar after Indiesew was on its feet. I distinctly remember thinking, after visiting her in LA, that one day I wanted to have my own ethical fashion line.

It’s funny - when you put a thought like that out into the universe, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before something falls into your lap. In less than a year, Kristin had told me she was ready to move on from Seamly. After many months of reflection, I decided that I wanted to pick up where she left off. 

So here we I am today, with three small businesses in fashion. For me, an ethical fashion line has been the biggest departure from what I had been doing. The up-front costs are huge, the risks are big, and returns are a thing. But I feel up to the challenge. I’m excited to see what resonates with you. I want to bring you better clothing, always produced ethically. 

Perhaps the best part of taking over Seamly has been hearing from long-time Seamly fans. If you have feedback for us, words of encouragement, or just want to chat, feel free to send me an email at hello@seamly.co. We’d love to hear from you! 

And about the vintage clothing obsession? I have dreams of starting a vintage clothing store one day too, but we’ll let that idea marinate a little bit longer, as I have my hands full now.



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