13 Mar How hard could it be? Harder than you think…
The idea for 12° West has been in my head for a while. A long while, actually. As I gained skill and confidence as a sailor, started racing, and did some charter trips there was one consistent frustration: what to wear. A few years ago I was in Newport with 5 other women. We went to every sailing store in Newport, and tried on every pair of shorts on offer (mens and womens). In the end, we didn’t buy anything, discouraged by the lack of options and unflattering fits. I mean, who would make shorts for women that didn’t have any stretch in them? We said to each other: how hard could it be to make decent sailing gear for women?
As it turns out – a LOT harder than we thought. The apparel industry is a weird place that is not very welcoming to outsiders – it takes a while to learn your way around. Luckily, in NYC we have resources in the Garment District that would be hard to find anywhere else. But to start – you work with a pattern maker to develop the pattern. Then with a fit model to fine tune the fit. Sourcing fabric is a real challenge, especially the kind of performance fabric we wanted to use; that takes a few months. You make a sample, then go back and fine tune the pattern and fit some more. You make another sample. Then you source all the trims – zippers, thread, snaps, D-rings, interfacing. Not to mention labels, hangtags, care instructions and packaging. Then there’s grading the pattern for different sizes. There are dozens of little decisions to be made.
Finally you’re ready to find a factory to make the clothes. It was important to us to make everything in the U.S., and to try and stay in NYC if possible. We met with at least 30 factories. You’d be surprised to know many of these are still in office buildings on 37th and 38th Streets, but some are in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Eventually we found a few that could deliver the level of quality we wanted. It’s definitely more expensive to manufacture in the U.S., and NYC in particular, but we wanted to stay close to the production, and make sure we partnered with legitimate companies with fair labor practices. More decisions.
But the feeling when you hold your first piece off the production line – and it’s amazing (!) – is a really great feeling.
It’s been about a year since we set off on this journey. Yes, it’s been harder (and longer) than we thought. But we’re thrilled that the end result is what we originally set off to Newport to find: functional and stylish women’s sailing gear that works equally well on or off the boat. So you can just enjoy the sailing.