QC sits down with Daniel Silverstein and Marge Bacon, the founders of 100%NY, to talk about how they started their own line, their journey through school and the industry, and how they came to produce 100%NY 100% in New York.
Daniel- We graduated in 2010 at FIT- two years ago from this month.
Marge- Well, we bonded through school while being a little neurotic about clothing construction. While we were in a class together, we were both working on showpiece and masterpiece styles that had a ton of labor-intensive work and detail and our class ended up working on it for months. I didn’t really know Daniel at the time, but he noticed me across the room and saw what I was working on and he came over to say, “this is a beautiful piece” and “congratulations, this is gorgeous” and then he turned my piece around and said “ooh..you might want to turn around and re-stitch this curve back here, it just doesn’t look perfect.” And I think most people would want to punch Dan in the face, but I said, “thank you” instead. I mean I had asked a lot of other people If I should fix it and everyone said “no it’s fine, just leave it,” so that was our original bonding from that day.
D- So from that day forward, we became work-perfectionists and we never get upset at each other for being critical, because it doesn’t mean your a bad designer or a bad sewer, it just means we look out for each other and make sure that each of us shows the best work we can.
M- And we’re really close-up to our work so it’s hard to see every angle of our projects from a different point of view.
D- The idea to start 100%NY was my idea and it was like Pinky and the Brain! We make that joke all the time- I’m a bit more like Brain, and when I was in my 7th Semester at FIT , FIT had chosen my specialization class to represent them in an international competition for the Clinton Initiative for a green earth. We did a sustainable denim project where we had to design a pair of sustainable jeans and the brief was- what is it about these pair of jeans that makes them sustainable?
I had handed in my project and I didn’t win, but I had an idea to make a pair of jeans without throwing away any fabric. Everyone wanted to make their jeans with organic cotton or natural dyes, but I decided to make a pair that had zero waste. My professor thought it was an interesting idea so that’s how it was born. I set it aside for school for 6 motnhs and while I was doing my stint at Victoria’s Secret as a temporary freelancer, I just noticed that there was a lot of waste that goes into production and what we talked about during meetings was why the costs were so high and it was because the company was throwing out so much raw material away.
I was in this business environment where people weren’t recycling (which is one of my core values) and it was funny fit for me, because I didn’t really feed into the lifestyle of the company very well- the work was great and the people who worked there were very cool, but from a more core point of view, it wasn’t in line with my thoughts. and I was thinking to myself, I have this idea where there’s a business where you don’t have to throw things out. I already came up with an idea and I should do something about it. I feel like maybe it’s a million dollar idea- who knows? So I called Marge and said I had this idea, I want to make some samples, and I think we should get together and just drape some stuff. Marge had a dressform and we were both working full-time, so we got together on the weekends and for 1-2 nights after work, we thought, “look at us! our stuff looks so good! We can do this! This zero waste thing is kind of amazing.”
And from there I started approaching a couple of investors and mentors in my life and seeking out their advice and their opinions on whether or not I should move forward with his project and keep in mind that this is the end of 2010 and this is the worst job market ever. Small business lending was at an all time low that year- it was just terrible .
I got a small group of people together and Marge and I invited a few mentors and professors from FIT and some industry professionals as well as my father who’s a small business owner and we said, “this is our project, this is our idea, this is our proposal, what does everyone think?”
and they said, “this is amazing, you have to do this,” and since then Marge and I haven’t looked back.
D- Currently, we’re doing most of it based out of this room because a lot of our orders are fairly small. I think the largest production is around 16 styles. We’re doing it sort of like sample production.
M- But we’re starting realize that we need to branch of out this room a little bit. However, we do want to set up a completely vertical production the way American Apparel does it over in LA. For the time being, we’re looking into locally sourcing all the embroidery that we do because a lot of our garments have heavy work. We have them do all the work and then we bring back the embroidered pieces here and assemble the garments.
D- Again, all in New York City.
M- We’re also beginning to branch out into a little bit of leather production so we’re contacting some people about having our leather goods produced as well- it’s just something that other people could produce better than we could.
D- Also for us, since we do a lot of heavy appliques and embroideries, something that we’re also working on contracting out is laser cutting or cutting in general. I think what people don’t focus on enough in the garment center is, “do you use a factory?” But a factory for what, you know? I mean there are so many steps within the process of making beautiful clothing and doing things the right way, so we’re really all about breaking down the process into smaller steps. For example, where are we cutting this and where are we embroidering it and where are we assembling it- all of those things are totally separate.
M- Oh yea, I mean I don’t know who else I could spend this much time with and not want to kill!
D- I mean starting a business- it’s worse than getting married. I mean not that getting married is bad, but in a sense that it’s more intense.
M- And we joke that we got married and had a baby, and this is our baby.
D- Yea, 100%NY is our baby. And sometimes it’s bleeding, or it’s sick. It’s funny, because we’re both in serious relationships, and we don’t share bank accounts with our significant others, but we share one with each other.
D- I think the biggest thing that no one can prepare you for is for the financial and production hurdles. And for sales, working with people is difficult and being an employer and taxes- all that stuff is really difficult, but what people really can’t prepare you for is that even if you’re successful, how much rejection you face in this industry. There is rejection from every angle – a factory that doesn’t want to work with you, a buyer that doesn’t want to buy your clothes, and an employee who quits.
I mean we’re doing well, but we faced a ton of rejection and it’s immeasurable- I mean it’s really hard to keep your spirits high. It’s really hard to continue to work and show it to people and as designers, we make ourselves emotionally vulnerable by sharing our work with people. Still, we try to put ourseles in the most vulnurable positions so we can to make our work as raw and expressive as we possibly can, regardless of the price point. You do the most you can with your constraints and in our young designer contemporary price point that we’re looking at, we put a lot into these pieces and we get good responses as well as bad responses. For the bad responses, it’s hard to dust yourself off and keep going.
D- I did my 3rd year abroad in Milan and one thing I had there that I did not really get a lot of studying in New York is the group and team experience. We had one class in New York where we did a group project in the WebPDM class which was great. In Milan at Politecnico, we did 2 group design projects with intercontinental students, so I worked with American, Italian, and other foreign exchange students from all around the world to create a project in another language. I had negative experiences as well as positive experiences, but I learned a lot about working in a group. I took that home and went into other internships, sat in on meetings, and seeing how you really work with a team is an eye-opening experience. That way, I went into this venture with a partner with my eyes a little wider because I could see the forest with the trees.
For a business partner you want someone who will balance you and not someone who’s going to shadow you. I called Marge because she’s one of my closest friends and she’s got impeccable design skills- her construction and finishings are fabulous and she has amazing taste. I mean, I could’ve called 100 people I’ve met at FIT, but I’ve got the sales- I can talk to people, but if i had to leave the design into someone’s hands who can do it not just like me but better, I needed someone who would complement me and not just mimic me.
M- When Dan contacted me to start this thing, I thought that he was one of the most talented people I knew and I wanted to be a part of it and I’m just so flattered that he wanted me, too. Because of our history of working together through school, I think it would also be a no-brainer that we would be doing this together, because we are able to be so blunt with each other.
D- Marge gave me an interesting description of my personality and she said, “Things tend to get really big really quickly with you.” So I think it’s really cool that I’m working with someone who allows me to go make things really big and she’ll be like, “which projects are my projects and I’ll just work on those and you go do your thing.” What we say to each other is the I only have to remember that we are a team. At the end of the day, we also need to want the same things or we need to get each other on board with our goals so we can make this a reality. If we start butting heads, it’s going to crumble. We need to make sure we’re always keeping the same vision in mind.
M- We’re currently working on a small collection for holiday and pushing our sales. We’re working on setting up a better facility for a larger studio space so we can produce more pieces that we want to sell.
D- We have been working on sales, public relations, and marketing mostly in-house with a little bit of outside help that we are no longer working with, and we are finally hitting a stride where we want to start seeing more people 100% and spending more time on bigger projects. I’m not talking about huge growth, but a little bit of growth is one of my main short term goals as well as a couple of collaborations that we started talking about with other designers and retailers.
M- Another goal is that we want to be a completely vertical operation so our end goal is to eliminate the shipping for production and to have the design and production and our raw materials produced in-house. So when we ship our garments to a retailer, that will be the first time the garments have been moved across the country.
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