When Samantha Lischka, of Texas brand Modern Burlap learned she was going to have a baby, the inventive young mother got to work looking for quality products to outfit her young one. There is one area she felt was seriously lacking: swaddle blankets.
She started with blankets, and then expanded to onesies, bibs, crib sheets, burp cloths, and hooded towels — all designed with distinctive black-and-white high-contrast patterns (aesthetically modern, but also practical as it aids babies' eyesight and development) and made with organic muslin (super-soft, breathable and said to reduce the risk of SIDS). The now mother of three found that it's possible to build a successful business, while still being able to be a stay-at-home mom — the best of both worlds. She tells us how she does it.
On starting out:
Though she didn't have much experience in the industry or a lot of extra money to start a company, Samantha launched Modern Burlap in her small Texas barn with her husband, relying on a thrifty budget. "The main thing that keeps people from pursuing a dream is fear of the unknown or not having financial comfort," she says. "My advice is to start small and see where it leads. And remember that it's OK to ask for help."
On creating baby-worthy products:
Parents put a lot of thought and care into what they buy for their kiddos, so every element of the Modern Burlap brand was conceived with their needs in mind. "The black-and-white patterns are more than just design choices," she explains. "High-contrast, black-and-white patterns enhance baby's vision and stimulate brain development." The materials, most of which are sourced from Denmark, focus around the 100-percent organic muslin that is GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)-certified and guaranteed to be free of harmful materials. This breathable fabric is lightweight gets softer with every wash and helps regulate body temp, whether it's hot or cold. "Like all parents, I wanted the best for my babes, and I couldn't find what I wanted at the store," she says. "I created the items I wish existed."
On making it:
On finding inspiration:
"I am constantly influenced by my family and surroundings. Our cactus swaddle was inspired by my husband's family's West Texas Ranch," she says. "The wide open views with cactus and untouched land is unlike anything else I've ever seen."
On shopping local:
Even before she was a maker, Samantha believed in the importance of supporting small businesses and the impact that can have on an entire community. "People who shop small support the independent designers directly — the individuals who pour their hearts and souls into creating the products you take home. With success, those designers can expand their lines and dream bigger. They can hire others within the community to join their team."
Szeki Chan never intended to get into fashion, but man is she good at it. Her pieces — designed to blend seamlessly into the modern woman’s lifestyle — are stylish, clever and flawlessly made to last. To foster the spread of ideas, Szeki re-outfitted her Brooklyn storefront this year to include spaces for workshopping, storytelling and connecting. Here, she shares her conquer-anything tricks-of-the-trade.
On putting others first:
When I started the brand eight years ago, I was looking to solve the problem of finding clothing that I liked and could afford. Everything changed when I started to involve customers in the process. That’s where the brand got better. It became a marriage of what I liked and what my customers needed, versus what I imagined people would like, which often led me to hit the wrong note. I focused on the function that clothes play in the everyday lives of the women who wear them. Years of letting that idea marinate has really helped us streamline the brand and find our voice.
The mission and idea for the brand has always stayed the same. It’s about making clever and pragmatic clothes that work hard for the wearer, are beautifully crafted, made of exceptional quality and are attainable. My customers are my inspiration. I talk to them about their lives, and from that I think about the kind of pieces they need to fit into their lives. The production team in Guangzhou helps me source fabrics. It is really important to me that the fabrics not only feel amazing, but are also superior in quality. We rub the fibers and make sure colors and textures are consistent. The whole process is collaborative. I trust everyone on my team immensely.
Once samples are completed, I wear them day-in and day-out to make sure that they serve the function that we set out to achieve. For our winter collection, we’ve been experimenting with thicker coats and jackets filled with down-feather, so I’ve been taking all of the jackets for a test-run to see if they keep me warm and hold up to the New York winter!
On staying sane as an entrepreneur:
It is important to ignore the noise of what other people are doing. That’s how you achieve the things that you set out to do — even if it is different from the rest of the world. When you are able to cut through all the noise you end up hearing yourself clearer, which in turn pushes you harder toward your goals and strengthens your brand’s message. Set small achievable goals, and don’t worry about the rest.
On failure... and bouncing back stronger:
Side note: Besides being an amazing designer, Szeki was a successful pop star in her youth!
I left music because I failed, but it’s cool. I recognize that I was young, and that it didn’t work out for me. The industry didn’t allow me to be me. As much as I liked performing, I couldn’t see it as a lifelong career. I have carried a lot of what I learned into my design business. Both take a lot of effort, not just from you, but from a lot of people. When I was a singer, I was putting on a show and expressing myself in a very big, very loud way. I love doing that, but it’s different than what I do for 7115. When you’re designing it’s a lot more thoughtful. It takes more of you, but the outcome is so much more precise. It’s smaller. It’s quiet.
On the essentials:
On remembering where you came from:
I was born in Hong Kong, and raised in many different places (the UK, America). This made me want to create clothes that were pragmatic and universal. The designs are their own thing, but the construction and quality of our garments really shares the history of craftsmanship in China. With all the noise about things being made in China, now more than ever, it’s important to tell people how exactly we make our pieces. What it means to be “made in China.” The country; the centuries of garment-making heritage—it all shows through our designs and in the quality.
On necessary skills:
There’s nothing more important than being resourceful. It will be the one skill-set you master and use throughout your lifetime.
On finding your girl tribe:
Our team in Guangzhou produces all of our pieces in small runs. Our production director is a former professor at Guangzhou University, where she taught textile design. The rest of the team consists mainly of graduates from the program and local experienced seamstresses. We are like a family. They’re so close that they aren’t afraid to voice their opinions and disagree with each other. When I go to visit, we cook and eat together. My New York team is the retail team, and they are who I work with the closest. They are my support network. We joke that they’re like a 24/7 hotline. When I’m worrying, when there’s a crisis; these girls always step up. I would not be able to do what I do without them.
Photos courtesy 7115 by SZEKI
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