Boutique designers and makers are typically very guarded when it comes to interfacing with big brands and retailers. In order to alleviate the friction, both parties must define and align their objectives until a sound partnership evolves. In order for this happen, bigger companies need to better understand the underlying values and attitudes of smaller businesses.
We met up with TM1985‘s Tielor McBride, who’s boutique focuses on leather accessories (bags, wallets, cases) to get a deep-dive into the values and ethos of Brooklyn’s maker community. In talking with him, one comes to realize that his core goal is to change the relationship between customer and product. He achieves this by crafting accessories that can last a lifetime. This sentiment, which stems from ‘slow fashion’ is prevalent amongst boutique entrepreneurs (e.g. Byronesque’s guerilla campaign).
Many big brands are aware of DIY culture and the maker movement. What are key things for them to keep in mind when it comes to approaching boutiques?
The maker movement is about rebuilding the relationship between maker and customer, and bigger brands have trampled over that. The buyer has no idea where these things come from and the seller has no idea where it goes afterward. But we see it differently, the relationship between buyer and seller continues because of the product: when we’re done making it, they go on using it. We love to hear about the journeys they take these pieces on — it’s not so detached for us, it’s not like “All sales are final.” We’re interested in our customers not only for revenue, but for feedback. We can improve based on what they have to say about us and our products. The relationship still exists.
Big brands need to understand our approach to that relationship. And they have to emphasize personal communication — with boutique brands, you’re dealing with a person, not an email address. That’s what’s real. In the past, my experience selling to big retailers has left me feeling frustrated. I only got automated emails and it was so difficult to get the buyer on the phone to actually talk to them. It made me feel like, if you don’t want to deal with me, I don’t want to deal with you. In any good business relationship, they should be willing to talk to you on the phone and meet face-to-face.
Tell us about the Brooklyn maker community. What did you need to accomplish to establish a reputation for TM1985?
I first started making bags and wallets in my bedroom on a tiny sewing machine I bought from NYC’s Garment District. I wasn’t even conscious of Brooklyn makers as a community, but by putting my stuff on sites like Etsy, I realized many others have the same mindset I do. They weren’t going to resign themselves to what was out there. They were industrious enough to create what they imagined for themselves and fulfilled their own wants. I have a huge appreciation for that attitude and approach.
A reputation for a brand is a long-term achievement, it’s a work in progress and I can’t even say I’ve made a dent in that. I started with reaching out to other designers in Brooklyn. I work to have my reputation include quality and endurance. I think quality comes from your materials – my search started with the best materials on the market. It’s always easier to start local, when you look for inspiration, it’s often something right around you. There are a lot of really amazing family-owned quality suppliers in the NY region – I was lucky enough to be introduced to some of them early on. From there, I focused on utility – practical and functional accessories that couldn’t fail you.
Your perspective as a maker is deeply rooted in your family’s history. But you’re also fascinated by history in general. Tell us about this obsession?
My love for history comes from objects and pieces that have lived on to tell their story. It’s a privilege to see into the past and gain insight from the way people lived in a real, day-to-day sense. The things that survived are the things that worked. For instance, my first sewing machine came from generations ago – from 1941 — and lived in the Garment District for 60 years. I’m sure it’s seen thousands of garments – it carries with it the understanding of process and products.
All this might sound nostalgic, but I respect the dual nature of history – you can research it all you want but you have to be creative and fill in the gaps yourself. You never get a clear idea of what actually happened, because even memory has its mysteries.
Tell us about how you translate research into a finished product. What does your process typically entail?
My best designs and ideas are based on human observation. I’m influenced by what I observe every day – people going about their daily lives, seeing what their routines are. When I see someone overloading a backpack with textbooks, stuffing a yoga mat into a tote bag or lugging groceries in a wet paper sack, I think, what bag would make their life easier? Because of that, my designs focus on utility — how people really function and what would best suit them. I sketch out ideas and make a rough mock-up for my manufacturer. From there, we develop a solid sample. Even after we put it into production, I tweak the design with improvements from everyday usage.
If you could change one thing about the way the fashion and/or retail industry work, what would it be?
Constant consumption. The industry should be based on longevity. Sales-based trends come and go so quickly and quality has suffered because of that. People would easily be able to spend more up-front if they knew it would last. If you knew it’d last you 20 years and look just as good, you’d fork over the dough. Classic, simple, functional – those things should be driving the fashion industry, but they’re not. That’s what I see as my contribution to the industry today, because I guarantee that.