Christine’s Journey as a Designer and Business Owner
Here’s the story of how Christine Alcalay came to be and how sustainability has been woven into our practices since our inception. Through Christine’s background, both working in the garment industry with her mother and her studies at the High School of Fashion Industries and Parson’s school of design as well as internships and free positions in the fashion industry, she knew that she wanted to pursue fashion design but she didn’t see herself designing for the companies that she and her mom worked for. She didn’t see a path paved for her in the fashion industry, so she carved out her own. She was most fascinated with retail. She wanted to get to know the women who fashion designers actually design for. She worked in retail in order to better understand this and develop her skills in a different way. She then had the opportunity to open a little boutique in Brooklyn with a business partner who became a close friend. Her partner provided the capital and Christine put in the work of making everything from laptop covers to beaded jewelry, before she decided to start making the clothes that she had always dreamed about. That’s when the magic happened and she saw how a garment can really transform someone’s spirit. She made more each season and focused on custom designs. As the shop grew, so did the workload.
Christine tried to sell her clothing wholesale but being pricey and unknown, it was challenging for anyone to take a chance on her brand. She took a break from selling her collection in her shop and focused only on wholesale which didn’t yield great results. She later became the sole owner of her boutique, Kiwi, and open a menswear boutique, Fig. It wasn’t until she invested in hearself as a designer with studio space in the back of Fig that things started to slowly shift. Last year she moved out of the back room of Fig to a larger studio. It’s really given her the space and solitude that she had been craving to focus on her designs.
The pandemic caused her to halt all wholesale production and really focus on what she was designing and why. She made masks out of remnant fabric from her collections for first responders in the first months of lockdown when there were widespread PPE shortages and continued to make masks for customers throughout the course of the pandemic. Christine continued designing and producing her small batch designs with the utmost intentionality. It’s been a long journey to reach this point but we’ve only just begun!
Designing and Manufacturing Garments in New York City
We’d also like to give you some background on how small-scale high quality fashion brands that manufacture in the US like we do, function from the design of a garment to the finished product. Some of our customers ask why our garments are at such a high price point. It’s easy for our conception of the value of clothing to become warped when so much labor is outsourced and the majority of manufacturing is done overseas. We’d like to pose a different question; why are some garments so inexpensive? And at who’s expense? Those who make textiles and fabrics and garment workers who manufacture clothes overseas are not compensated fairly and often have to work in terrible conditions. This is not just a problem in fashion but in all industries where skilled hands are needed. Our educational system in The U.S. is failing to acknowledge and address the trade worker shortage. Skilled trades have taken a backseat to college and university learning and the opportunity for Americans to learn a skilled vocation is disappearing.
Our clothes are at a higher price point because every skilled laborer and creative involved in the chain of production is paid a more fair wage for their skill and artistry than you would see with a mass produced brand. It is also more costly to be a sustainable brand although it is more than worth it. Our fabrics are sourced from small, sustainable and usually organic mills in Japan, Italy and Korea. We use this fabric in a multitude of ways. When we have extra fabric we do a recut of styles and make a small run. Small swatches are used in gifting packages at Kiwi and Fig. We’ve made lavender sachets, scrunchies and face masks. Most of the buttons that we use are deadstock from companies who get rid of their end goods. Christine despises waste. After the designs are finalized and the materials are acquired we gauge the production based on demand and that is where our pre-order comes in. The small factories in New York City where we manufacture our clothes have low minimums of twenty to thirty pieces but sometimes they make an exception because we have developed a great rapport with them. Sometimes we produce one piece that is one of a kind and sometimes we produce thirty to forty pieces of a garment, depending on the demand. Christine has worked with larger retailers in the past, producing hundreds of garments at cost. She hated that process, decided to go small and never looked back.