Fashion manufacturing might not be dead in the USA after all, at least when it comes to home sewing. Properwear, a recipient of the ApparelMagic Grant for Emerging Designers of Color, is taking the industry back to basics, and that begins with putting together one garment at a time.
Recognizing that one size definitely doesn’t fit all, Catherine Jean Bell, who founded Properwear with her mother two years ago, is running a successful custom apparel business in the most unlikely of place, Kansas, in the most unlikely of times, 2020.
With ecological awareness growing in customer’s minds, the most sustainable clothes might be the ones that are made just for you. Properwear creates bespoke clothing tailored to their customer’s exact demands and body type. It’s the fashion system made perfect, where supply and demand are in perfect harmony.
“Properwear represents just being able to have clothing that fits you, properly,” Bell says.
Her success depends on a business plan that uniquely positions Properwear in the industry. Rather than relying entirely on retail sales, the brand works in tandem with their community education initiative, Sew Simple Sewing, where they teach sewing skills to children in the Lawrence, Kansas area.
“One of our clients asked if we could teach her granddaughter how to sew,” Bell says. “At first, I was like ‘I am not a teacher, I am just trying to be a designer! No thank you.’”
But after getting to know the girl, Bell couldn’t say no. That kickstarted their educational platform from the beginning.
“Once we started advertising, pretty much the whole community jumped on it,” Bell says about the company’s early success. “We went from one student in a year to thirty five or so.”
Sew Simple Sewing provides a place not only for the next generation of designers to make their first stitches, but it’s also a free advertising vehicle for Properwear’s custom business.
Kids come home to their parents with a new hobby and skills they can use for the rest of their life, and the parents are exposed to the possibilities of custom clothing.
Whether it’s getting a perfect fit or it’s creating the clothing they can’t find in retail stores—Properwear specializes in modest styles and plus-size dressing—customers become repeat clients who choose Properwear because it fills a niche few other businesses are focusing on.
“People want it,” Bell says. “People want to see something different. I can tell in this community.”
Going forward, Bell plans to expand Properwear. With a prime display and sales area in a new location, she intends to start producing ready-to-wear her clients can purchase and wear right away.
“We promote quality over quantity,” Bell says. “We want to make sure every single client walks away happy and feels good about themselves and the clothing that we make for them.”
For more information on the ApparelMagic Grant for Emerging Designers of Color, the winners, and other resources for fashion businesses, please click here.