“Fair trade is one of the few checks we have on a system that tends to be quite exploitative.“
-Holly Greenhagen of the Fair Shirt Project
We recently sat down with one of our clients, Holly Greenhagen, founder of the Fair Shirt Project, to talk about her experience partnering with WORK+SHELTER. (Update: Holly now works with us as our technical client manager, helping support other small brands like hers that manufacture with W+S.)
Holly entered the world of sustainable fashion at a young age, learning to sew and craft from her mother and grandmothers and sewing lots of her own clothes. Her interests eventually led to a career in fashion. When one of her first industry jobs brought her to China to visit apparel factories, she saw firsthand how scant oversight made it easy for factories to treat workers in whatever fashion was necessary to get the order out.
She got out of corporate fashion, and ran a custom bridal business for 13 years, where she offered both her own designs and a handful of sustainable and fair-trade labels. After that she worked as a freelance patternmaker, and spent some time volunteering with Chicago Fair Trade, before moving into product development for a fair-trade dress company.
Soon to follow, The Fair Shirt Project came to be…
W+S: What inspired your product idea?
Holly Greenhagen: Through volunteering with Chicago Fair Trade I got to meet the staff at Ten Thousand Villages Evanston. Joseph, the manager there, mentioned more than once a lack of fair-trade menswear in the market. I was jonesing to work on an extracurricular project (I had worked on so much product development for other brands, but nothing for myself since my bridal days). I immediately thought of Work+Shelter, having met the U.S. team in Chicago. I knew if they could sew to the quality standards I had in mind, I could manage the fittings and such at this end. As it turned out, W+S did the patternmaking too.
W+S: Please describe the fabric decision-making process. How did W+S help guide you in your search for the perfect fabrics for your product?
Holly Greenhagen: W+S was just very willing to shift gears with me and keep looking for options. At the start I had an idea about how the line was going to look, but once I showed swatches to potential customers I realized I was on the wrong track. W+S just rolled with it. I also wanted to start small, and W+S was able to source low-quantity fabrics for me. It was a challenge, but they came through.
W+S: What parts of the development process did W+S assist in?
Holly Greenhagen: W+S did all of the patternmaking. They made the initial pattern and a first sample. I fit the sample at this end and sent back comments and my suggestions for revisions, which W+S executed perfectly. Then we repeated the process at size set. My experience as a patternmaker helped me figure out what revisions to suggest, but the master jis in India did the actual measuring and walking and truing.
A few of Fair Shirt Project’s button-up men’s shirts.
W+S: How did you decide on sizing and fit for your line?
Holly Greenhagen: I just wanted a shirt that would fit my middle-aged husband and his friends. And Ten Thousand Villages Evanston’s clientele! I tried the samples on as many men as I could. Men’s fit is new to me, so I’m sure we still have some stuff to learn. One thing I’d like to add down the road is a slim fit.
W+S: What do you find to be the most rewarding part of working with W+S?
Holly Greenhagen: The fact that everyone takes ownership of the process. The culture at W+S seems to be to just dig in and find a solution to a problem rather than passing the buck.
W+S: What was the greatest challenge you faced working with W+S?
Holly Greenhagen: Sourcing fabric. This is always hard for startups, but I had zero experience with how it worked in India. I definitely know a lot more now than I did a few months ago! I’m guessing the W+S team knows a little more about menswear fabric sourcing than they did a few months ago too.
Bhawana, who is in charge of going to the markets and checking for fabrics, along with a variety of swatches of fabric samples that our team sent to Holly for her line.
W+S: The WORK+SHELTER management team is a joint team, with both American and Indian co-leaders. What was it like to work with such a team?
Holly Greenhagen: It was just like working with one team, really. It’s pretty seamless.
W+S: What advice would you give to someone that wants to work with us but may be hesitant because our operations occur overseas?
Holly Greenhagen: I would tell them about W+S’s high quality workmanship! That’s what sold me. Once I saw how well the shirts were sewn, I decided I would be happy to deal with any challenges the process threw my way because I could be confident the end product would look really good.
I’d also talk about how responsive the crew on both sides of the ocean is. No matter where your manufacturer is located, what you really want is a quick answer on things, and someone who is willing to find out the answer if they don’t know it.
Sarita, Sandhya and Sita of WORK+SHELTER, modeling The Fair Shirt Project’s shirts.
A big THANK YOU goes out to Holly Greenhagen for sharing her story. Our production team is currently working her newest line of long-sleeve button down shirts, but for now we encourage you to hop over to her site and see what’s currently available.
If you have an apparel or accessory design in mind that you’re looking to develop or discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with me if you’d like to chat through the process.
-Founder + CEO