Blooming Fashions

Apr 04, 2011 1 Comment

According to the Internet site dedicated to it, “the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is a tourist destination in Northwest Washington State” and over a hundred thousand out-of-town visitors come to see 300 acres of tulips as they bloom. The fun, fresh festival was the first thread of inspiration for Katie Senff, the fashion designer and owner of Tulees (www.tulees.com), an Eco-fashion company.tulees

“We wanted to make t-shirts for the big tulip festival, Senff explains. “So tulip and tees is where the name Tulees came from.”

Since that beginning, Senff wove an online business dedicated to using re-purposed fabric for exclusive designs. As the website details, Tulees is highly sensitive to the environmental concerns of the textile industry. Her clothing is made from excess/stock-lot fabric, an exception to the industry standard.

“A traditional design house would make the designs, sketch the patterns, and then commission a mill to make the fabric,” Katie explains. “For me it’s the reverse. I get the fabric and from there and decide what can I make out of it. This past autumn/winter season was all knits. That fabric lent itself to oversize tops and lots of layering pieces. Since we’re a new company those are staples for us.”

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Given the volatile nature of the fabric world, Katie has to stay flexible. “I’ll get a call in the middle of the night asking if I want 15,000 yards of navy blue fabric and I think, navy? That’s nautical, great for spring, yes! I’ll take it,” she goes on. “So, it’s thinking outside of the box. It’s like a puzzle.”

tuleesKatie’s used the different threads of the “puzzle” to design very comfortable and casual styles with quick turn-around. While most major brands’ design and production process can be anywhere from three months to a year, Tulees design their pieces from start to finish in a couple of weeks to a month. The quick style and unexpected nature of her fabric keeps customers returning regularly.

“Customers are getting limited edition pieces because once the fabric’s gone, it’s gone,” Katie says. “The styles are always changing. Every time they come back to our store, there’s something new because we’re producing with what’s available.”

Senff started her online business a year ago and just opened her flagship store in downtown Mount Vernon, Washington. She completed fashion school in Seattle and was working for a company there. She was considering moving to Seattle to work for a corporation or branch out on her own. However, after an internship with a London designer, Katie’s own fashion vision took shape.

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For Tulees, Katie draws the style, measures the fabric and creates a pattern. She then makes the first sample piece by hand. For her first round of clothing, a factory in Costa Rica completed the work. It worked well because the warehouse that held the fabric was close to the factory. Besides producing high-quality fashion, the Costa Rican factory held to the eco-practices Katie believes in. As her company grows, she is looking to produce more of her work locally.

tulees“It’s hands-on for me and the people on my design team,” the designer says. “We have contract workers who will sew Tulees’ designs. I know there are different people skilled in alterations and the unemployment rate is rising so it works well. They are looking for work and I am looking for employees with that skill set.” With the various threads of owning a company, opening a new store, managing employees and designing new pieces spinning around her, Katie is now gearing up for the busiest time of the year. “April is the Tulip Festival and we want the store to have a good debut.” The store is broken up in five chunks with the different styles and clothing lines that are available. The front window has her latest work on display. Katie manages the store and uses a web designer who came with high recommendations to setup the online store.

This entrepreneur has a business structured for success, but it’s not without challenges. “We started out in a very small office where rent was free. It was scary and not pretty,” Katie remembers. “As a business owner, you don’t take a salary for a time. You put in your own hard-earned dollars as a series of risks, hoping that it will work out.” And it has worked tuleesout. Tulees has already seen a substantial return, and they are continuing to build and grow. Whenever Katie starts to doubt what is possible, she recalls some great yarns of advice. “From business owners I have spoken with, especially women, It’s all about going with your gut feeling,” she says. “Every time I’ve followed this advice, it has worked out amazingly. It’s kind of learning how to follow your intuition. Initially, we were building this wholesale team. That was going to be where we would fit. So after going through multiple salespeople in the wholesale world, I began to feel like things were running away from me. I was thinking, ‘this isn’t the direction I want to go. This isn’t the best thing for us.’ It was hard for me to be the one to decide the path the company was going to take. There were so many doubts. Do you wait another month, another year? What’s the break point with everyone else? You really feel responsible for your work family, so you want what’s best for everyone.

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Katie found what was best. The company stuck to retail and its commitment to its beliefs. They designed clothes that fit with their vision and didn’t give up. Katie is even hoping to open a second store next year. “It can be scary and you can feel defeated or doubt yourself, but just keep moving forward,” she stresses. “Those ideas are very fleeting. I just keep driving towards my goal.”

With a silhouette of casual styles, sustainable fashion, and Katie’s tireless will, Tulees is taking shape. The sort of shape that turns heads and tulips to the light.

Written by: Sherry Liantonio

Edited by: Bridgette

TULEES

www.tulees.com

1500 E. College Way STE A PMB 599
Mount Vernon, WA 98273

Cities, Fashion, Other Cities, She Walks The Talk

One Response to “Blooming Fashions”

  1. Herman Wickenhauser says:

    Great post, thank you a lot for sharing. Do you happen to have an RSS feed I can subscribe to?

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