Small manufacturing in New York

Where the entrepreneur is a fashion designer

9 AUGUST 2016,
Orithyia Sketch Coat
Orithyia Sketch Coat

She is the individual within the tribe”- Pamela Thomas Hunt

Recently when I was at the trunk show of Orithyia and at the private sale of IB by Ingrid Bruha. I got to thinking about small manufacturing in New York making a comeback. Flashing in my mind’s eye from my days as a college student in New York were memories of navigating the sidewalks and streets past garment racks packed with clothes or furs being pushed up Seventh Avenue.

Viewing one trunk show and one private sale sparked my curiosity to do a little digging on the subject matter. I found that regardless of who becomes the next POTUS, reshoring manufacturing has been progressing for sometime now, and is on the incline due to a combination of cost, convenience and flexibility: It costs only five percent more for a product to be made domestically than in China, US based factories can deliver with a quicker turn-around time, and flexible American workers are assuming various roles in factories. Further adding to the up-tick are corporate investment in developing factories stateside, and initiatives by retailers to buy American-made. It’s a long shot, however to imagine that all manufacturing that started moving overseas decades ago is returning. I was curious to learn more from fashion designers, Pamela Thomas Hunt, founder of Orithyia, and Ingrid Bruha of IB by Ingrid Bruha about their design sensibilities and production.

Following the trunk show, I met Pamela Thomas Hunt at the Living Room of the Hyatt on 57th Street - a posh retreat where she shared some of her secrets of what makes her collection so special. She named her company Orithyia after the Queen of the Amazons in Greek mythology. The name Orithyia resonated with Pamela for the vision of her brand. Orithyia is where performance athletic wear meets fashion, and supporting American manufacturing is a part of her ethos. The Orithyia trunk show was held at an elegantly and yet sparsely decorated apartment that complemented the good bones of a pre-war building on Park Avenue - luxuriously spacious rooms with high ceilings, plenty of natural day light, and gorgeous mouldings - a fitting backdrop for a unique fashion trunk show.

One of Pamela’s aims in designing this line was to allow one to flow from one activity to the next without having to change clothes. I think many of us would have participated in more athletic endeavors if we had not only high performing and fashionable athletic clothes, but also clothes that served a multi-purpose. It’s an appealing concept. I could see myself in her Wayfarer pants with the Long Sleeve Racer Back T going for a walk, to a yoga class, meeting a friend for lunch, or running from one appointment to the next on a busy day in something comfy and presentable to wear. I might top the look with one of her cashmere wraps as a finishing touch in cooler weather. Dressing this way frees one from the burden of having to haul a duffle bag with a change of clothes, or having to return home and change for the next activity. She also wanted to create a pulled-together look that doesn’t scream brand, that is simple and minimalist, and that allows for the individual’s presence to say - “She is the individual in the tribe.”

Pamela aptly sported an Orithyia essential pullover - a poet’s blouse - and performance leggings at her trunk show. The leggings were adorned with a simple graphic pattern of gold. It was no surprise to learn that she was a graphic artist and an All-American athlete in Cross Country and Track before becoming a fashion designer. Her love of fashion may have begun when she started sewing at the tender age of twelve. She’s a graduate of Boston University and completed post-graduate studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Polimoda in Florence, Italy. Pamela is influenced by the work of the Weiner Werkstätte and Art Nouveau as a whole. She fabricates her own prototypes.

She designed seven essential pieces: Pants, coat, t-shirt, cashmere wrap, poet sleeve pullover, and tank top. The clothes are made in New York and the silk-screening done in Brooklyn by artisans. She favors silkscreen, as heat transfers tend to peel off. The high performance fabric is made in Canada and the water resistant fabric is Japanese. Her artful approach continues in naming her collections as editions rather than seasons. I was surprised to learn that she just launched this year. This was her first edition -Voyager. At the end of our meeting she shared some of her beautiful fashion illustrations with me. I could see the influence of Art Nouveau extend into these drawings.

They did not know it was impossible, so they did it.” Ingrid Bruha quoting Mark Twain

Let’s meet Ingrid Bruha. She is a French fashion designer living in New York. Her company, IB by Ingrid Bruha, specializes in limited editions of handbags, including cross body, pockets, and pouches. She creates from recycled fur, and new leather, and incorporates other materials such as unique trims. I was invited to a private sale by a mutual friend of Ingrid’s at her loft in Chelsea. A private sale is - a “By invitation Only” sale at someone’s home. I was wowed not only by her collection of unique accessories, but by the interior design of her home - it just sings. It’s so well put together that I assumed she hired a professional, but later learned that she dabbled as an interior designer herself. She describes her interior as industrial with ethnic influences. Some of the design sensibilities I observed in her home - such as color and the play between textures are reflected in her accessories line.

Ingrid was born Paris and raised in the posh 16th Arrondissement. Her parents were a huge influence on her. She credits her mother for teaching her how to sew at a young age and how to go about organizing herself. Her parents were enamored with renovating long before it became a trend. She noted her mother had her walls painted grey long before it became mainstream. Instead of continuing in the classical aesthetic of her Parisian upbringing Ingrid pursued her own sensibilities. Her individualistic style started as a young child when she favored painting her bedroom walls brown instead of the typical pastels many young girls favor. Ingrid is enamored by the nature, art, and crafts of Kenya, and she humors the notion that perhaps she was from Kenya in a past life.

Ingrid is a graduate of the École Supériere des Arts et Technique de la Mode also known by its abbreviation ESMOD. After her studies, she worked in corporate event planning with Haute Tension and Market Place before going on her own as a freelance consultant with prestigious clientele such as Peugeot, Dior, French Telecom, and many more. In New York, she continued with corporate event planning, yet found it less interesting stateside. This led her to explore other avenues. She worked as an interior designer, had a children’s clothing line with her sister, and lived in London, before returning to New York where she launched IB by Ingrid Bruha in 2014.

IB by Ingrid Bruha production is small and many are one-of- a- kind pieces. She is passionate for the cross body bag because it’s hand’s - free. She mentioned when she drives she doesn’t even have to take it off as if it’s an extension of her body. Her combinations are interesting, such as the cross body with black snake with metallic orange and bronze leather. This one is roomy enough for one’s MacBook. It has two interior pockets: One with easy access, and one with zipper.

Accessories are available in eye popping colors - metallics, earth tones, and blacks - and in snazzy textures; such as embossed lizard, ostrich, and various furs. IB by Ingrid Bruha also offers evening bags and pouches finished with chain straps, or adorned with beads and ribbon. These bags would be an ideal complement to pair with Orithyia athletic wear.

Ingrid wanted to work with recycled fur to avoid the challenges presented by newly sourced fur. Originally, she sourced furs from used remnants and now she buys whole vintage furs. She removes the lining and then cleans the fur using a mixture of baking soda and white vinegar. Initially she was making the bags herself. She now has them fabricated by a professional who has experience working with luxury bags such as Louis Vuitton.

I met these two wonderful fashion designers separately on the same day. They are both very different, yet share some similarities. They both recognize that women want fashion that’s both functional, has a lot of finesse, acknowledges their personal self-expression, and embraces an ethical approach in their production. They both preferred to go on their own, stay small for better oversight and manufacture in New York. Fashion is their medium of choice for self-expression. Perhaps, they are an indication of women rising not only in the world of fashion, but in the world at large. I think both of these fashion designers would make the revolutionary, - ahead of her time fashion designer Emilie Flöge proud.

In the company of designers of such savior-faire, it seemed like a good idea to ask them for suggestions for a good read, a quote, favorite travel destinations, and the scents they like. Ingrid shared the quote from Mark Twain “They did not know it was impossible, so they did it.” I asked Pamela for a good read, and she suggested Seed of a Soul, by Gary Zukav. They both like natural scents: Pamela mentioned jasmine as a single note. Ingrid likes patchouli and vetiver.

They both shared that they enjoy exploring New York. Ingrid likes the restaurants, Chelsea ABC and Coccina. Pamela notes that New York is full of gems and mentioned - Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, made from scratch in Brooklyn. When not in New York they both enjoy traveling with their families. A couple of Ingrid's favorite trips recently were to Kenya and Vietnam. Maine, has been a longtime summer retreat for Pamela, to renew, reset and feast on lobster.

As a former resident of Manhattan, I take pride in seeing fashion made in New York.