by Rogier Ducloo February 28, 2018
Deciding on fabrics, fits, styles, and patterns for a tee shirt brand can be a bit of a process, however, with the process comes the fine tuning that produces a great quality shirt. In the end, we came up with a shirt that puts a new twist on the typical tee. If you are curious about how we decided on each aspect of the shirt, check out the blog below, and as always, feel free to send your questions our way.
In November of 2016 Ryan, Ashley, 10 print shop owners, and I traveled to Haiti to visit the LIFE Cut & Sew facility, to see what the Global Orphan Project does to support orphan care and orphan prevention, explored Port-au-Prince, and most importantly aligned on the fabric choices, the colors, the styles, and the specific fits of future Allmade t-shirts.
For many of us, in fact everyone except for Ryan, this was the very first time that we visited Haiti. It's fair to say that it was complete sensory overload for all of us. Since then, many of us have traveled to Haiti a number of times more. Instead of the, what I perceived as, despair, I now see the entrepreneurial spirit and progress that exists in Port-au-Prince.
We were in Haiti for four or five nights. The days were long. They started early. We’d get up early, enjoy breakfast together, and get on the bus to head to LIFE or some other site or facility. The nights were long as well. A lot of time was spent debating what colors to start with initially, the specifics of the fabric and the blends, what styles to launch with, and whether to include a smedium size or not.
We looked at a number of different options for fabric. The most popular fabric option in our industry is 100% cotton. Our challenge was that we wanted to offer an organic option. Only 2% of the US cotton produced is organic. The other 98% is genetically modified to resist damaging effects of Roundup and other harsh pesticides and defoliants. Demand for organic cotton is growing, and the growth in demand is outpacing the growth in supply. The cost of organic cotton is a fair bit higher than the cost of US GMO and chemical cotton. It is also a lot more expensive than foreign-produced GMO and chemical cotton. The shirt you buy for $2 or less is made up of the latter.
Foreign grown GMO and chemical cotton is processed and sewn for far less than living wages. A shirt made from US grown 100% organic cotton would cost around six or seven dollars wholesale. While there may be a market for such premium offerings, we recognized that it would be an uphill battle to convince customers that are looking for $2 shirt to buy a $7 shirt. The price difference is simply too great for most consumers. So, for now a 100% US organic cotton shirt is on the back burner.
We also looked at foreign-produced organic cotton. The downside with sourcing raw material from overseas is that it adds a significant amount of transportation and associated fuel consumption, and raw materials are fumigated before they are allowed to enter the United States. Certifications are also questionable and need to be carefully audited. We decided that if we couldn't offer a good organic option we shouldn't offer a hundred percent cotton shirt at all.
A popular option in the garment industry is a tri-blend, so we decided to focus on that. Traditionally tri-blends are made from chemically produced cotton, traditional rayon, and virgin polyester. We opted to make our tri-blend from US produced organic cotton, recycled polyester and TENCEL™ Modal. Organic cotton has a far smaller carbon footprint and avoids the chemical dependency. Recycled polyester doesn't require the creation of new plastic from petroleum, but instead reuses the polyester that was originally created to make plastic water bottles. About six plastic water bottles are used to make one t-shirt. TENCEL™ Modal is a second generation viscous fiber that is made from sustainably harvested Beech trees. TENCEL™ Modal requires far less harsh chemicals, most of which are recovered and reused over and over again. The added benefit of TENCEL™ Modal is that it doesn't require further chemical treatment to be machine washable and it is far softer than traditional rayon. It is also much more comfortable to wear. We were able to offer this premium tri-blend option close to the price point that other conventional tri-blends are offered for in the marketplace. There is about a 10% price difference.
Styles were relatively easy to decide on. First and foremost we knew we needed a men's or unisex crew neck. We also know that we needed a women's variation. Some of our partners preferred a crew neck. Others were adamant that a v-neck was the better way to go. Yet some believed that a scoop neck was the better option. In the end, we decided to listen to the women in the group and settled on both a crewneck and a hybrid v-neck and scoop neck option that we call the scoop-v.
Coming up with a pattern for a tee-shirt is trickier than you might think. The traditional tee was square and bulky. Modern tees are much more contoured and tight fitting. There is an upwards of 18 different measuring points from the bottom hem to the neck-line and the sleeves.
Everyone in the group agreed that modern fashion tees were too tight and form-fitting and that original tees were too squarish and unrefined. We worked towards a refined and relaxed fashion fit t-shirt. One that is more contoured than the original tees but not small and tight as modern fashion tees.
Our pattern maker Melissa lives in Haiti. She was formally trained in Paris and interned at Chanel. She is phenomenal and we're very lucky to have her on the team. When decided on a pattern for Allmade, we went through a lot of samples before deciding on a pattern. We've had to make a few adjustments since introducing the shirts to the marketplace, but these have all been relatively minor tweaks. We love our relaxed fashion-fit tee and we’re confident that you will too.
Allmade comes in a wide range of sizes. For the men's crew neck, sizing runs from extra small to triple XL. The men’s crew is also considered a unisex tee. Women’s sizes run from a small to double XL. When adjusting from unisex to women’s sizing, go up one more size. When adjusting from women's to unisex sizing, go down one size. For example, a unisex medium is approximately equivalent to a women's large.
Grading was the toughest part of the process. Standard grading has fixed increasing increments for each measurement by size. This generally means that if, for example, a measurement on a medium is 10, then a large is 11 and an extra large is 12 and so forth. However, when we tried this, both people wearing smaller sizes and people wearing larger sizes from where we sized from, medium, provided negative feedback on fit. As a result we customized each size. We carefully tweaked every single size until we received a thumbs up from multiple models and customers in each size. This took a lot more work and a lot more time, but the result is a better fitting shirt for everyone.
We settled on six colors. The first one is the traditional heather gray that we now refer to us Aluminum Gray. The second one was a very dark gray, almost black, that is double dyed. We call this Space Black. The third color is a Navy Blue that we call Rebel. These three make up the very core or foundation of the offering, and it's these three colors that we have the highest level of inventory of. The fourth color is red, which we call Rise Up Red. The 5th color is the color of the sky on a cloudless day, Azure Blue. And, last but not least there is a light bright green, known as Enviro Green. These are what the group agreed on are the most commonly requested colors.
The combined experience of the 10 founding print shop owners, having handled millions of shirts, having dealt with thousands of customers, taking in all their feedback, both positive and negative, and their knowledge of all the existing offerings that are out there in the marketplace, was invaluable in coming to the final design of Allmade. We combined the best of every other premium shirt in the market and put that into a single product and that made it better. If you want to get access to Allmade, check out our wholesale page or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org