By: Shelby Robin
Recently, Taylor Johnston came to speak with Northeastern’s Fashion and Retail Society about her refreshingly ethical philosophy for the fashion industry. Taylor’s path to the fashion industry, after all, was not the average one. In college, she studied plants and philosophy, leading her to become the horticulturist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum- not too far from Northeastern’s campus.
Taylor’s entry into the fashion industry was not out of glamour, but rather, necessity. Her personal style is far from quick and trendy, but practical and uniquely her own. When Taylor began her work at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, as she began to brush elbows with people of “high-society”– those who would often refer to her as “the help.” Since Taylor’s job is very hands on, and requires a lot of physical labor, her clothing attire reflected that. While the idea of creating her own fashion line was always in the back of Taylor’s mind, the spark was set off after an interaction with The New York Times’s very own Bill Cunningham. He photographed her as she was working on the blooming vines that the museum hangs up in the foyer every spring. The photos ended up getting a lot of publicity, and Taylor was embarrassed by how she was portrayed in the photos because of the way she was dressed; she felt she hadn’t been representing herself in the best way, and wanted to find a solution as to how she could look as though she took herself seriously, while working as a horticulturist.
And so began her clothing company, Gamine Co. — gamine being a French word meaning “a girl with mischievous or boyish charm.” Taylor, together with an ex-denim-designer from Levis, began developing ideas. They wanted to figure out how to design clothing that was both cost effective and ethical. Most importantly, the clothing had to be functional. A lot of research has been put into everything from finding the perfect textile, to actual production. To make high-quality denim work wear, Gamine Co. uses vintage sewing machines for stronger stitches, as well as an added elegance. Taylor found a niche market that needed to be filled, and is filling it. While more expensive and time-consuming decisions have been made, the product is genuine and specific to the needs of the consumer.
While Taylor has never paid for advertisements for Gamine Co., through the use of Instagram and features on different blogs and magazines, Gamine Co. has been able to build a following. Despite this, Taylor has had no problems being able to sell her product, and the site is currently sold out. Throughout the years, Taylor has collaborated with other companies that have the infrastructure needed to expand her line including Dickies, Jungmaven and Madewell.
As there are a lot of social and environmental considerations to keep in mind when starting a brand, it’s always a bit of a balancing act. Just because a product is made in the USA, that doesn’t automatically make it ethical; it’s just a starting point. Taylor works to ensure she knows everyone in her company down to the workers producing the clothing. While producing raw denim is not exactly good for the environment, raw denim doesn’t need to be washed often, which helps the environment in a different way. Gamine Co. also has a mend shop, so with the lifetime warranty on each pair of pants, this eliminates the need to repurchase.
When asked where she sees the company in 5 to 10 years, Taylor spoke about how she finds it cool to be a cult brand that is profitable, and able to create a product people want. Being well known, and expanding into lots of retailers is not how she measures her success, and is not even something she would want. It’s important to Taylor to continue donating to charity in some way each year. In the past she has donated clothes and money to organizations that help women in need. In the end, she wants to continue making a product that people want to buy, while remaining sustainable and ethical.
Sources: gardnermuseum.org, gamineworkwear.com, gamineworkwear.com