Joanna McCartney of Pyne and Smith Clothiers
Dressmaker Joanna McCartney learned to sew from her mother and grandmother. Inspired by the art of dressmaking, Joanna began her own clothing company, Pyne & Smith. Based in California, Joanna designs and cuts all Pyne & Smith dresses, working with a seamstress to sew together the final product. These dresses are made of linen, a durable, hard-working, and stain-resistant natural material. In this interview Joanna and I talk about how Pyne & Smith began and the importance behind the story clothes tell.
With regards to your own work, how do you define sustainability?
Every dress we produce is made from all natural materials such as wool and flax linen. These fabrics are made by old world, ethical mills. These natural materials are sustainable and biodegradable. Also, Pyne & Smith dresses are made to order, which eliminates waste caused by overstocking.
Can you describe how you started your company and how you became interested in sustainable design?
I found the over-saturation of cheaply made, poor quality clothing in our modern day society a sad reflection of today’s corporate run society. In response, I started to make my own dresses from natural materials. I discovered that by embracing slow fashion, and producing hand make dresses for others, I could be part of the change that I wanted to see in the world.
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of owning a sustainable business?
I love that my customers appreciate the thought that has gone into each dress. I receive thoughtful messages of praise and photographs of my customers in their new dress frequently, which makes me feel part of a community of like-minded women. I find keeping up with demand while trying to be a slow fashion made company challenging.
Where do you see the fashion industry moving in terms of ethics and sustainability?
There is a new wave of small businesses out there that make ethical and sustainable products. Consumers are discovering that by paying a little more money for a craft industry product, you get something that is superior in every way to the mass produced equivalent. Hopefully this will cause larger businesses to follow in these standards.
How can we encourage consumers to buy ethically and sustainably?
My customers appreciate knowing that there is a person and a story behind a product, so sharing your passion and belief about why your product is different helps a consumer make that decision to support you.
Can you describe what you hope your company will look like five years from now? In other words, what are your long term goals for your company?
My long term goals are to continue making thoughtfully designed, functional dresses, using sustainable natural fabrics. I will continue to be a Made In America small business, and hope to become known as a brand that is synonymous with quality, functionality and beauty.
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
I start by making a big mug of coffee and answering emails. Then I update my order list, and go out to my studio to cut out the weeks orders. I work with several amazing local seamstresses, so some of the dress pieces will be shipped to them to sew, some will be assembled by myself. I also spend time packaging orders to ship out to my customers, posting on social media, designing new fabrics and dress styles and creating new patterns. My favorite time is still physically working with fabric and making a new dress.
Tell me about your design process.
My fabrics are the inspiration for my designs. I usually start off with a color pallet in mind, then using these colors, I start to sketch out the fabric designs. Designing my fabric can be tricky, because all of our products are made from thread dyed fabric, no over prints or piece dyed fabric, so my designs must be created with the weavers in mind. I work directly with my linen mill to refine the design. I’ll also sketch outlines of dress models, then create a lot of prototypes, refining each for drape, outline and fit. When I’m finally satisfied, I’ll create the patterns, cut the material and assemble the final prototype in the chosen fabric. Aesthetics, comfort and function are a huge part of my consideration throughout.
Do you have a motto or saying that particularly inspires you?
When I find my self overwhelmed or stressed, I tell myself to just start. Take that first step and don’t worry about what comes after that.
Photos courtesy of Joanna McCartney