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When we set out to create SOL VAE, we knew we wanted to cut/sew our hybrid bras in the USA. But we had no idea how difficult (and expensive) it was going to be to find a good manufacturer, nor how challenging it is to sew production quality items.
For the first five years, we worked under a different brand name and utilized a local network of sewers in Colorado. These sewers were underground gems. They didn't have websites (or even email addresses most of the time).
"I was really on the edge of giving-up. I had worked with 3 different small-batch manufacturers, and each time, just as we were about to go into production, I'd get an email that they were sadly going out of business. Searching for manufacturers wasn't working, so I decided to search for people that owned the machines my hybrid bras needed. I found an article one evening that mentioned a guy named Jack in downtown Denver that distributed industrial machines. I sent an email to a handful of addresses (fingers crossed one of my guesses was actually Jack's correct email). And then, I miraculously got a phone call. A very quick conversation later, I had an address in hand and hopped in my truck. I rolled-up to a sewing distribution shop just across the street from Denver's football stadium. It was raining and already dark at 5PM in the middle of December. Jack's office was (and still is) wonderfully old school. Piles of handwritten notes everywhere; the walls plastered with photos of family. And then I saw it. There was a photo of him and his sons at Hanalei Bay, a beach just 15 minutes from SOL VAE's current Hawaii headquarters and the town I grew-up in. It was just the sign from the universe I needed to trust everything and keep going." - Bridget Thorpe, Founder
That was in 2016. With the right contacts, attitude, and support the company persevered for four more years improving the quality of our product and basic skills behind a machine.
We toured factories in Colorado and branched out to Southern California. It was honestly tough to see some of the conditions cut/sew workers in the USA still operate in.
In 2020, everything changed when covid hit. Yet as the dust settled, we had finally reached the point to press forward with a more established factory in Baltimore, Maryland—where your sports bras are proudly manufactured today.
Given the immense challenge it was to secure USA production for our products, there are 3 reasons we remain passionate about USA cut/sew production:
01 | Machines don’t sew. Talented humans do.
There is a common myth out there that machines sew clothing. Turns out, they don't! Sewing a hybrid bra (or any garment) takes dexterity. Someone with a high-level of spatial, kinesthetic, and mechanical intelligence sewed the clothes you are wearing right now. Their skillset is dignified and took years to master.
Beyond that, cheap clothes are not cheap. Someone pays for them somewhere. When you look at a price tag, it’s worth questioning: how much did the person who sewed this earn? What was their working environment like? The non-profit Fashion Revolution shares a whitepaper on events, such as the Rana Plaza Factory collapse, motivating fair and transparent labor ethics globally today.
02 | It’s time to bring USA innovation back
In the 1980s, the fast fashion business model emerged and the USA began outsourcing manufacturing (mostly to Asia) with an “innovate here, manufacture there” mindset. Back then, approximately 50% of clothing was still produced in the USA.
Today, many organizations continue to manufacture overseas not because it’s cheaper (which isn’t always true). As we learned, they do it because they have to. The factories abroad have the innovation, equipment, and trained people to get the job done. The USA does not because the innovation followed the outsourcing overseas. As of 2020, more than 95% of apparel sold in the USA was imported.
03 | Emissions Matter
We track our carbon emissions at SOL VAE. Part of this exercise includes measuring the carbon intensity of shipping materials to/from our suppliers and partners. It is mind-boggling how quickly impact can increase as operations spread across the globe.
Although our value chain may not be perfect from an emissions perspective, we firmly believe that tightening up the distance materials need to go—long before they reach your doorstep—is a fundamental consideration for climate action.
So, after that odyssey, you may be wondering why we utilize Italian vs. USA fabrics? Great question! After a similar uphill battle finding quality materials, we found Italy's environmental textile practices were increasingly advanced, rooted in centuries-old luxury fabric culture, and aligned with our sustainability practice. We are always open to domestic textile innovation, yet the minimums to purchase USA textiles that match our sustainability standards are still out of our reach. We continue to be passionate about supporting USA cut/sew craftsmanship and transparency.
We pour our hearts into our sustainability and manufacturing processes. Take a look at all of the ways we work to provide you with thoughtful progress.