A few weeks ago week showcased eco-fabrics and design. One of the businesses mentioned in the follow-up was Sympatico. We just had to find out more. This is the wonderful story of Sympatico and fashion designer Rose Gerstner, written and told by Maury Paul.
In creating her Sympatico collection of women’s wear, Jacksonville, Oregon fashion designer Rose Gerstner targets the forty-plus market—a demographic largely ignored by the apparel industry. Working from her studio perched on the flanks of Woodrat Mountain, she aims to offer stylish yet comfortable designs that are sustainably made and that are proportioned for the realities of real women’s’ figures. She offers her women’s tops, pants, and skirts online as well as throughout the Western U.S. at juried craft fairs.
“I see my designs as an alternative to fast fashion that’s designed for younger figures.” says Gerstner. “For example, my Tuxedo Top has proven to be a perennial bestseller and typifies my approach in creating clothes that comfortably skirt the line between career and casual wear. I aim for versatile styles that my customers can wear in a variety of settings, and thanks to their quality construction and materials, will offer many years of use.”
After exploring the textile market for the most Earth-friendly options, Gerstner settled on a hemp/Tencel fabric for her entire collection. It offers the drape and soft hand of rayon, but without rayon’s extensive environmental downside. The hemp is produced without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides while the Tencel is made from farmed eucalyptus trees. The ground pulp used for Tencel is treated in a closed-loop process in which non-toxic organic solvents are recycled with a recovery rate of 99.5%. The tiny amount of remaining emissions is decomposed in algae-based biological purification plants. The resulting fabric is easily cared for with cold-water machine washing and requires little or no ironing…
“I work closely with my suppliers and contractors to ensure to the greatest degree possible that their employment, sourcing and environmental practices are in sync with my own convictions about sustainability” Gerstner says.
Because Sympatico operates on a smaller scale, cutting and manufacturing waste is minimized and small dye lots involve more efficient water use. Gerstner notes
“my cutting scraps, along with kitchen waste, end up providing fodder for two large colonies of red worms that convert them into castings to help my garden thrive”.
Many of the buttons Sympatico uses are produced from tagua nuts—a renewable resource. Asked about how she got into the apparel trade, Gerstner responds…
“I’ve been absorbed with designing and sewing clothes for nearly as long as I can remember with my dolls being my first clients. It was only later that I began to see apparel as a viable career rather than simply a gratifying hobby.
During the 1980s I became a part owner of a cotton clothing business and realized that I had found work that could be creative, useful and fulfilling. Working alongside women whose jobs had been lost to lower-wage workers offshore, I learned the multitude of skills needed to create good fitting, well constructed clothing. I took every class I could find on design, fit, patternmaking, draping and fashion illustration. Operating this cottage industry also offered lots of practical grounding in what it takes to be a self-employed woman.
After selling that business, I worked as a designer for a uniform company then later joined the Oregon Shakespeare Festival ‘s costume shop. Acknowledging my love of small business and entrepreneurship, I began Sympatico Clothing in 2005.”
Operating a small fashion business isn’t without its perils as Gerstner recounts:
“Economies of scale are a big issue. When I first floated the Sympatico idea among friends and family, they were dubious. With most of the U.S. garment industry having vanished and cheap imports being the norm, they wondered how I could hold my own in an increasingly competitive marketplace. They echoed my own doubts. But I persisted, feeling there was a small yet savvy market for the collection I envisioned—women seeking stylish yet comfortable clothes made with respect for people and the planet. Thankfully, my hunch proved to be correct and by right-sizing my business and expectations, I’ve been able to achieve my aims.”
Counterbalancing the challenges facing her microbusiness is the growing shop-local movement.
“Seeing how sustainably based economics can replace a significant swath of our consumerist economy and culture is inspiring” Gerstner remarks. My customers also help spur me on. They are a smart bunch—mostly 40-plus women—that travel extensively, do interesting work and grasp the more sophisticated issues of sustainability.”
If you want to find out more about Sympatico you can visit the website at http://www.sympaticoclothing.com/. Drop Rose a line..Im sure she would love to hear from you.