Mostly known to the world as a powerhouse in manufacturing electronics (including that iPhone you're holding), the island nation of Taiwan, our Creative Director's birthplace, is also a world leader in the development and manufacturing of performance fabric and athletic wear.
When Passion Meets Profession
“My first collection was produced in New York. I was lucky enough to have found manufacturers willing to work with my small orders. However, the craftsmanship was not up to my standards. What were some of the issues? The manufacturers here didn’t have access to certain advanced technologies “
“Machine operators are a huge part of it too – machine operators need to know how to handle and control the factor. In my experience in Taiwan, the training and techniques available to designers were simply better. Working with performance fabric is extremely challenging – so you need to be precise and careful.”
“Then I learned that Lululemon, Under Armour and Nike, all of these big giants develop and produce their products in Taiwan, which is so close to my home city of Taipei in New Taipei, an industrial section on the outskirts of Taipei – where small scale sample rooms and family-owned manufacturers can be found, so I thought, why not? It made sense not only as a business decision but also as a creative decision.”
As for Karen, Taiwan is a huge part of her background, heritage and gave her access to both markets.
How did the manufacturing process differ in New York vs. Taiwan?
“We work with the family-owned manufacturer in Taiwan. Taiwan used to have many clothing companies, but now most of them moved overseas. Only a few small family sizes remained in town. They are often struggling to keep the factory running. We wanted to work with them, the local family-owned factory. That enabled us to work really closely with the production team. Making sure things are going according to how we designed it with very little “surprises”. Communication was much easier as you can point out things you want and you don’t want with directly with the production manager.”
The Process in Making a Piece
After the initial design which is in drawing form, we then get samples of the fabrics we would like to use and all the hardware trims, send all materials to the pattern maker to have the paper pattern made, then cut the fabric and sew the piece together to test. We call it the "Prototype".
We fit the “Prototype” on our "Fit Model" – (Someone who has the standard size/sample size as a base to go by on fit) make corrections on the prototype when it's on the fit model. Then we go back to the paper pattern to make corrections and changes from the fitting session. We will then make the second set of the prototype. You basically repeat the steps until we are happy with how it fit/look on the model. Then we will place an order for the sales samples in all the colors and ways that we want. Then we move on to the Photo shoot.
“How we like the versatility in our designs, we also apply it in the fabric that we use. Therefore, when most brands go with Poly based spandex, we opted out and going with Nylon because we like the silky smooth texture to the skin better. We want it to be great looking, comfortable when wearing and multi-function all around. You can wear our bra as a statement piece and pair it with a high-waist wide leg pants or a cool comfortable supportive sports bra for a Barre class. If you like water? Our materials are also water-friendly; you can swim or do water sports in them. Our pieces are perfect for the urban lifestyle, a quick mix and match to get you ready for just about anything. ESPALIER pieces are versatile to suit your stylish needs.”
“It’s still a little surprise to me that there are people out there who have never heard of Taiwan. I’ve had people ask me if it’s somehow related or in Thailand, but I am so proud of my heritage and wanted people to understand the pride that the Taiwanese manufacturers take into their work. ESPALIER is definitely priced higher than the average athletic apparel brand, but it comes with a correlating level of quality, craftsmanship, and design. These are high quality and timeless pieces which you can wear for a long time at different occasions.”