BROOKLYN IS HOME TO A GROWING NUMBER OF FASHION FIRMS. HERE, A LOOK AT FOUR YOUNG COMPANIES BASED IN THE OUTER BOROUGH.
Byline: Melanie Kletter
NEW YORK — Long considered in the minor leagues of fashion, Brooklyn has quickly emerged as a major haven for young fashion companies and designers lured by the borough’s somewhat-cheaper rents and often-larger spaces.
Areas such as Williamsburg and Smith Street are filled with trendy stores and cafes and plenty of young hipsters, who are transforming former beaten-down areas into new centers of commerce and activity.
Brooklyn’s larger business community is also starting to get more involved in promoting the borough’s fashionable side. Two years ago, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce began a business development program called Brooklyn Style to encourage local fashion companies. Brooklyn Style assists emerging fashion firms with marketing and publicity, as well as seminars about finances and other business management topics.
“We realized that there was a lot of fashion going on and there was no fashion program,” said Monica Rump, who oversees the Brooklyn Style program. “There has been a real renaissance in Brooklyn. Basically, we try and enable small companies and designers to go to trade shows and build their business.”
Many of the companies involved with Brooklyn Style are streetwear and directional designers who work out of their apartment and lack the resources to produce a large amount of merchandise. They often specialize in one category and sell to small boutiques and retailers who are more item-driven.
This February will mark the third season that Brooklyn Style designers have gone as a group to WWDMAGIC in Las Vegas. The companies share booth space and are able to attend a show that they may otherwise have been unable to attend.
Here, a look at four firms who work with Brooklyn Style: Tasty, Super Fox, Your Sister’s Mustache and Magnum Opus.
Your Sister’s Mustache
Maria Capotorto began her handbag business, Your Sister’s Mustache, with the idea of turning recycled materials into wearable art.
Launched two years ago, Your Sister’s Mustache includes handbags fashioned out of old newspapers, magazine covers and other random items such as a New York City subway map and pages from children’s books.
The materials are covered with a few layers of a high-strength glue, then laminated, after which it is cut and sewn. The bags have either a chain or vinyl handle.
A graduate of Pratt University in Brooklyn with a degree in industrial design, Capotorto began her career as a set designer for music videos and commercials.
A self-proclaimed “thrift-store junky,” Capotorto clearly relishes artifacts from the past. Her apartment, also her work space, is filled with vintage furniture, old cameras and artifacts. Now, she scours eBay for old yearbooks and various kitschy items. Other bags are fashioned out of Asian newspapers, retro magazines from the Fifties and Sixties, and financial pages from the New York Times.
“The stock-market bag used to be really popular, but now I can’t give it away,” she said.
The quirky bags are now sold in about 150 stores, primarily boutiques, including Fred Segal in California and P.S. I Love You in New York, and carry wholesale price points between $12.50 and $17. Your Sister’s Mustache has an annual volume of about $200,000.
The name of the company comes from an old saying of Capotorto’s mother: “When my mother was mad, she would say that instead of swearing.”
Following her initial success with the bags, Carpotorto has begun to break into other categories, including belts, cosmetic cases and picture frames, and hats are also planned.
Capotorto has a representative in New York, and she is currently scouting showroom space.
Super Fox, a five-year-old junior accessories firm, is banking on the current revival in older trends for its newest offerings.
Many of the firm’s styles have an Eighties bent, such as large hoop earrings and big necklaces, according to Dana Schwister, the firm’s founder and designer. Other styles include bracelets with a large flower, big rings and chain belts.
Working in the jewelry industry was a natural move for Schwister, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“I have always loved fashion,” she said. “And my mother always made jewelry, and we used to make jewelry together.”
While Super Fox primarily sells jewelry, Schwister has rounded out her offerings in recent months to include belts, mesh tops and some leather items, and nearly all of her products are made in Brooklyn.
The jewelry carries wholesale prices between $5 and $50 and is sold in about 200 stores including Patricia Field in Manhattan and the Urban Outfitters chain. The company’s annual sales are about $250,000.
Schwister has also recently gotten into the retail scene. Last year, she opened a store on Bedford Avenue, in the heart of Williamsburg, called The Mini-mini Market, which carries apparel and an array of accessories and gifts, including such labels as Illig, Luscious and Junk Food.
The store is a home for other small companies and has become a launching pad for local designers.
“The store is a good way for me to test my own products,” Schwister said. “Also, it has been a great way to meet local designers and people I wouldn’t have known.”
Williamsburg designer Susan McGowan recently branched out on her own with a new line of casual sportswear under the label Magnum Opus.
The line, which has a streetwear flair, is small in nature, but includes a variety of materials and styles, such as tie-dyed and screen-print tops, cotton and Lycra spandex blends, stonewashed denim and a cotton material that is screen-printed with a burnout process.
“I like to explore different textures,” said McGowan, who describes her line as “casual sportswear with a design sensibility.”
McGowan recently started designing shirts that have a photochromatic ink that she found while searching on the Internet. The ink is invisible until the wearer goes outside into the sun.
McGowan, a Pratt graduate who also studied at the Domus Academy in Milan, holds a degree in graphic design and held stints at a few accessories firms before launching her company last year.
“I was at a job I didn’t like and decided I wanted to try my hand at my own designs,” she said.
McGowan said she draws much of her inspiration from her Williamsburg neighborhood as well as from working and exploring different treatments and fabrics.
She works out of her one-bedroom apartment, which is overflowing with sewing machines, sketches, mannequins and clothing in various stage of completion.
McGowan also sells her designs through Trim, a small showroom that features up-and-coming designers.
With wholesale prices between $18 and $75, Magnum Opus now has about 25 pieces in total.
The line is currently sold in around 15 stores, including Barneys Co-op, Hedra Prue and Patch 155, all of which are in New York, and in select stores in the South.
For fall, McGowan is expanding into new fabrics such as silk tops and fiber-filled, puffy jackets with a silk organza shell. She plans to add more bottoms, including an expanded denim line, and dresses are also on tap.
Tasty, a T-shirt and clock company based in Williamsburg, is taking familiar images into new terrain.
The company recently started offering T-shirts with everyday objects such as coffee cups, salt and pepper packets, chopsticks and Chinese food take-out containers.
Some of the most popular shirt styles depict highway signs and regional road signs, and the Brooklyn USA shirt has been a particularly popular style recently, due in large part to the current popularity of the borough, said Andrew Levine, the company’s founder and president.
A former film student-turned-entrepreneur, Levine started Tasty in 1997 as a small clock company. The idea came to him while he was in Amsterdam and saw a rusty coke can that he added a quartz clock movement to and created a new type of timepiece.
His quirky clocks are made out of disposable containers and empty cans, and he now has the licensed use of product labels such such as Campbells and Spam, as well as more unusual brands like One-Pie Pumpkin.
He started offering T-shirts in 1999, after seeing the category gain steam.
“Everyone at retail is diversifying,” Levine said. “They all want to be in everything.”
Levine works out of a loft warehouse in Williamsburg, where a ping-pong table brushes up against the T-shirt press machines, and much of his manufacturing is done locally.
The shirts are now sold in a variety of stores in New York and in about 600 doors worldwide, including accessories and tourist shops. Among his retail accounts are Urban Outfitters and Harrods in London.
The shirts wholesale for $10 to $12, and are available in a variety of colors and sizes. Tasty also sells products over its Web site at tastyinc.com.