Susan grew up being crafty — from hand-sewing fabric dolls to woodworking — making things made her happy. Her interest in making clothes was a result of being tall, as finding something that would fit her properly was a challenge. So Susan began making her own or altering thrift shop finds. It was in the 11th grade when she decided to pursue a degree in apparel design. Her passion brought her to Western Washington University where Susan got her Bachelor of Arts in Apparel Design. After graduation, she worked for several Northwest companies as a designer and senior designer. During the first several years, Susan gained a strong sense of how to form a point of view and build a collection. This experience also provided her insights to behind-the-scenes at factories in China. At one point in her career, she was working on a denim line and met people that spent several hours per day just sanding jeans on a form. Factory workers worked six days per week and lived in dormitories at the factory. The workers were treated well, but seeing thousands of jeans produced this way, and realizing that they do this every single day, suddenly that pair of jeans hanging in a store takes on a totally different meaning. Susan’s goal was always to start her own line. While working full time, she made two separate attempts to get it off the ground, but it was too challenging to fully focus on both. Toward the end of 2007, she decided to take a chance, and the clothing line, Una, was born.
Aside from hiring a professional pattern maker to help develop initial fit blocks, Susan didn’t have a clear senseof what exactly her line was going to look like. The main priorities were to have everything made locally, out of good quality fabric, either eco-friendly, leftover European or vintage stock, and, ideally, styles that would transcend trends. The other consideration was creating feminine, flattering pieces that suited a variety of body types and ages. “Being something of a dreamer, and new to the realm of indie fashion, I hadn’t fully considered the production and distribution component…I just though I’d figure it out as I went along,” says Susan.
After selling pieces at a monthly craft show, known as Crafty Wonderland, and fine-tuning her offering, she approached the local Seattle boutique, Velouria. Tes, the owner at the time, would get quite few solicitations from designers in any give month, but she took a chance with Una. Shortly thereafter, Susan was approached by two boutiques in Portland: Radish Underground and Mink. Along with the website sales, before she knew it, she was humming along - seven days a week, sometimes 12 hours per day.
Una consists of elegant and stylish dresses, tops, and accessories. All of the clothing is made from organic or eco-friendly material and all of the pieces are stitched in Seattle. From the start, Una has paid close attention to the origins of fabrics that are used. For the most part they are sourced out of Canada - Vancouver and Montreal. Also, Susan purchases the printed jerseys from France, via a supplier in New York. But whenever possible, she uses materials made from organic cotton, hemp, soy, or bamboo.
Currently, Susan is doing the majority of production herself in her studio. When busy season hits, she receives help with orders from a woman on Vashon Island and a friend also helps with cutting. All other work, such as screen printing, curing the inks, labeling and packaging, Susan does herself. Being hands-on has given her a strong appreciation of what it takes to manufacture and distribute a piece of clothing or pair of gloves, but she also finds great satisfaction in being able to offer customization to individual clients. However, she has reached a point of wanting to find a local factory to help her further grow her business.
I asked Susan about designers’ challenges to produce clothing ethically, to which she responded, that it is creating compelling pieces at a price point that is mutually beneficial to the maker as well as the consumer, recognizing that there is a threshold for what people are willing to spend. With smaller companies, comes smaller volume, too, so it isn’t necessarily worth a factory’s time to accept nominal runs. Susan takes on contract design work a couple of times per year to catch up on bills, but despite challenges, she keeps coming back to Una. “There’s a certain beauty in feeling connected on a local level, with no hierarchical model, but rather a supportive network of really incredible people who keep one another going. That’s the reward, and it’s so meaningful to me,” says Susan.
Currently, Una is working on new styles for Fall, in preparation for a mid-September launch. You can find the clothing through local boutiques, such as Velouria, Mink, Radish Underground, Amelia, Sock Dreams, and also online. Check out her line, you will not regret it! Also, coming soon, Susan is looking into expansion to stores further along the west coast and beyond. Stay tuned!
Photos: Courtesy of Susan Fedore