Anyone who's ever had to get dressed in the morning (read: all of us) has reached that tipping point of sartorial frustration where they consider dropping every handbag, shoe, and more in favor of a daily uniform. Life would be so much easier if I didn't have to worry about what to wear, you find yourself thinking. There's just one problem: Chances are those "basics" (meaning the classic wear-anytime items that will actually last through the years) are gonna cost you.
Uniforme designer Alice Wang experienced this firsthand. After majoring in film studies at Yale and moving to New York to work in production (oh, and as an assistant to Madonna), she set out to simplify her life by adopting a style uniform. With a budget of $300, she was on the hunt for the perfect white shirt — and was ultimately disappointed by what she found (or rather, didn't find).
"I looked everywhere, but I just wasn't finding the quality of material and construction that I wanted anywhere near that price point," Wang tells Refinery29. When she did finally come across a version she liked, it was a $900 Alaïa top. And she just couldn't understand why a simple white top should cost nearly one thousand dollars: "I wanted to know why, so I dug deeper and started to learn about what goes into high-end sourcing and production: the costs, the markups, etc…" she says. "This was around the time that Everlane was getting really popular, and they espouse transparency around costs and supply chain, and then sell direct for a savings to the customer. I thought, Why don’t I do the same, but for finely sourced shirts?"
Shortly thereafter, her own brand of uniform-ready staples, Uniforme, was born. Sourced from the highest quality materials, manufactured in New York City, and sold directly to the consumer, Wang's simple pieces are making us rethink the basics we currently have in our wardrobe — and the ones we're missing. Below, Wang gives us insight into why her brand isn't like others out there — let's just say transparency and quality are key (that, and the fact that our search for the perfect white shirt is finally over).
Tell us a bit about the first pieces of Uniforme. "I am very inspired by traditional menswear because of its emphasis on quality and longevity in a garment. I lurked a bit in menswear forums (Styleforum, Ask Andy About Clothes) where there are discussion threads focusing on specific mills or fabrics, and leading shirtmakers will comment back and weigh in with their two cents. Before I started [my brand], I actually wrote to one of these shirtmakers on the forum — Carl Goldberg at CEGO. I sent him a cold message telling him I was a lurker on Styleforum without any fashion industry background, and I was thinking about launching a line focusing on shirts, and he invited me to his workshop to talk about fabrics.
"Traditional menswear is all about details. Since there are few variations in the basic silhouettes, the focus is on the quality of the cloth, the fit, the durability, and the stitching. Men seem to be much more inclined to invest in a single quality piece rather than buying multiple, more novel ones that have less staying power in terms of style and quality."
What's the biggest lesson you've learned along the way? "The lesson that has most dramatically changed my business, as well as my personal choices, is about the environmental and human cost behind the consumption choices you make for your wardrobe — how harmful the agriculture and manufacturing supply chain behind garment production can be."
With all of that in mind, how is your clothing produced? "The pieces are cut and sewn in New York City’s Garment District in midtown Manhattan. My first run was produced in low quantity, so my sample maker was able to complete it for me. As I grow, I plan to keep working with them on the production for as long as I can. The shirts are finished with French seams and edge stitching, and the buttons are 4-millimeter-thick Australian mother-of-pearl. I’m attracted to cloth that will improve as it breaks in and ages; the oxford cloth from my first shirt collection is woven by Alumo, a renowned shirting mill in Switzerland. It's made from Giza 45 cotton, the highest quality Egyptian cotton, and the cotton plants that produce it are grown only in a microclimate in a small region east of the Nile River delta. It actually makes up only 0.4% of all of Egyptian cotton production. It’s quite rare, and it must be hand-harvested at the peak of the individual plant’s growth to preserve the quality of the fibers. This is all important because it produces a silky, strong yarn and a resulting cloth that is both fine and durable — it will last many, many wears and continue to evolve over time."
Why would someone buy Uniforme pieces over mass-retail pieces?
"As I began creating the first Uniforme collection, I thought about my ideal wardrobe. I realized that I regretted most of my mass-produced purchases, and that I longed for minimal, refined pieces with truly high-quality natural fibers and construction.
"I love getting high quality at a good price. In addition to shopping at boutiques, vintage and consignment shops, sample sales, and eBay, I also used to shop at large mass-produced and fast-fashion retailers. I consider myself a good shopper, so I would look for pieces that seemed to be of better quality material and construction. I rarely shopped for “throwaway” items. Even so, since I began to learn about sustainable production and business practices (great places to start are the film The True Cost and the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion), I prefer to purchase pieces that I know are produced sustainably and in decent working conditions.
"Even at a contemporary designer price point, you rarely see garments made from the highest quality fibers. By selling direct, I’m able to avoid the retail markup, and therefore offer finely sourced and sewn pieces at a more modest price. I wanted to create pieces that I myself could afford. It’s certainly not a cheap way to design and manufacture, and so the price point may not be in reach for everyone, but I hope to reach like-minded customers who also believe in the importance of investing in high-quality garments."
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