A Shirt's Odyssey: Sweet Caroline

The whole idea for TomboyX started because of a shirt. Or lack there of. I've never been a fool for fashion but I've always tried to look nice, wear matching colors, without stains or tears, but with a certain style. I've never felt very comfortable showing cleavage and the few times I've tried to pull off frills or ruffles I felt like an impostor in drag. In large department stores I'd longingly wander through the mens department, touching the amazing fabrics, admiring the contrasting colors in collars or along the lapel. I have so many friends who can actually wear mens shirts and they can pull it off. For me, they just don't fit well. They are so long that if I tuck them in I have an added pouch, and trust me, I don't need any additions there. The sleeves are wide but also too long. And they button up on the wrong side! (What's up with that anyway?)

At any rate, I longed for a cool shirt that was more tomboy style than ultra feminine or easter egg colored. So the journey began. Our first design - the Sweet Caroline, named after my mom. 

First, Naomi and I talked to our designer Barb about all the issues we have with shirts. I showed her my favorite shirts, explaining what worked and what didn't. I learned to use words like 'hand' and bias and knit versus woven. Barb listened and then went away and started drawing. She showed us various versions and talked about the features of each. We settled on one and all agreed that it was beautiful! 

We gave her the go ahead to move into the next phase, which is pattern making. She and Kaori hand sketched patterns on thin sheets of paper and then pinned them together to create the first pattern. It's a bit of trial and error for a while, but it eventually came together. Then, the pattern was sent to a seamstress with some less expensive test fabric. A week later, we had a shirt that we all tried on for fit. The sleeves are too tight, it tugs when I lift my arm, this side seam is uncomfortable, the length is perfect, the collar is just right... you get the idea. Kaori took measurements, made notes, pinned fabric and then took it home and created a new pattern and sent it to Kim, our seamstress.

Nine. That's how many times we did this for the shirt formerly known as the classic. It took almost a year but it is well worth it. We love the hand of the fabric, we love the fun details, we love that it fits a real woman's body, we love the flattering cut and we love all the buttons in all the right places. And we hope you do, too. It was truly a labor of love. And all we had at the end of the process was one sample that worked. The next phase was getting it into production.

But first we had to design our label for the collar, the sizing labels and the care labels. There are laws about what has to be included on the care labels, so we had to be very careful about wording. Then we had to pick where on the shirts to put them.

Fast forward to a successful Kickstarter campaign and the real fun began. Fabrics had to be chosen, then sourced, then shipped. Buttons had to be chosen, colors ordered, dyed and delivered. Thread had to be sourced and purchased. We had to find company to grade the patterns as we only had one, a size 12. We chose to work with Sewn Products Services, a woman owned company in Seattle. They used a machine and lots of algorithms to create a marker for sizes 6 to 16 for us. In the meantime, Barb put together this thing called a 'tech pack' which is basically everything that the factory needs in order to produce our shirt, now known as the Sweet Caroline, after my mom. A tech pack includes: sample, patterns and markers, buttons, thread, labels, and special instructions. Once the factory had all this in hand, production began.

We got our first samples back of the final product and I can't tell you how excited we are! My first words were "Oh yummy!" I can't wait to expand the color options! And we solved the gap problem!

It's a much longer, more thorough process than I could have imagined. It's been a journey of learning for all of us and we've kept excellent notes on how to improve every step of the way. I spoke with the factory owner in person and she assured me, the Sweet Caroline shirts will be ready by July 17th. We can hardly wait!

Fran Dunaway

Co-founder, TomboyX