At 69, Hanspeter Ueltschi is four years younger than Mick Jagger and has the same wiry frame, elegant style and a full head of silver hair. Last week, women were lining up for him to autograph their sewing machines and owner's manuals not their T-shirts because Ueltschi is known as the "rock star of sewing."
His fans know him as the fourth-generation owner and CEO of sewing-machine maker Bernina International and each year he chooses a few American cities to visit. Chattanooga and Atlanta were his 2016 choices.
"Each year, I visit stores in America that have done unusually well," Ueltschi said.
He traveled all the way from the Switzerland headquarters of Bernina for a meet-and-greet in Bernina Sew N Quilt Studio, a small store tucked into a strip mall on Shallowford Road near a shooting range and a sandwich shop.
Sew N Quilt has been thriving so much, Ueltschi's first duty last week was to cut the ribbon officially opening its new addition. A crowd of about 150 women and a scattering of men swirled around the sewing demos on the Bernina machines. The attendees reflected the turnout at a recent embroidery conference in Chattanooga — mostly women, some in their 20s but the majority middle-aged or older.
However, Ueltschi said it's millennials who are helping the most to increase the amount of sewing business in Sew N Quilt and other sewing shops.
"The millennials are giving us a good increase in business; they grew up watching 'Project Runway,'" Ueltschi said, mentioning the reality TV show for aspiring fashion designers.
"Project Runway" fans know that gifted fashion artists often fail at contests because they can draw a beautiful design but model and host Heidi Klum and her panel of judges give scathing critiques of the sewing. Nina Garcia, the fashion editor for Elle and Marie Claire magazines and one of the judges on "Project Runway," repeatedly warned on the show that fashion lovers need to understand how to sew so they can learn how seams make a garment properly fit and enhance a human's body.
"The year we fell off the worldwide economic cliff, that was 2007," Ueltschi said. "My store owners told me that we needed to get a younger generation of customers if we wanted to continue to prosper. The recession inspired a do-it-yourself attitude among young people. They wanted to learn to sew so they could dress well on a budget. We created a lower priced sewing machine model for them."
Keep in mind that lower-priced model starts at $700, a bit high for an aspiring fashion designer still working as a barista in a coffeehouse. But Ueltschi touts it as worth the money, saying it enhances the creative process because it is so quiet — no clattering like Grandma's sewing machine — and is an easy blend of software tech and artistry.
Steve Coakley of Ready Set Sew on Ringgold Road in East Ridge said he plans to expand his store because business has been so good.
"We get a lot of people in the door through our classes," Coakley said.
The store has classes for beginners, he said, "and yes, men do come to those lessons. They seem to find it relaxing."
Forget images of Jane Austen dreaming of novels while she tediously stitches a pattern in her embroidery hoop. These days, much of home hobbyist sewing is computer-controlled. Users can program the colors of thread and types of stitches, even the pattern, and the machine will follow the lines of the design, switching threads, stitches and colors when needed.
Ueltschi maintains that what is created on those machines can still reflect an individual's vision as much as any hand-sewnpiece. In 1893, Ueltschi's ancestor Karl Friedrich Gegauf invented the hemstitch machine that could sew 100 stitches per minute, so Ueltschi has always viewed technology and sewing have been mingled for more than a century.
At an embroidery conference in the Chattanooga Convention Center two weeks ago, one machine was topped with 10 types of thread — plum, marigold, silver, sky blue, lavender, jade, glittery gold and other hues — and, in about 30 minutes, used them to embroider nightingales and peacocks flitting through a garden of cherry blossoms, roses and orchids. The Arabian Nights fantasy could easily have taken months to stitch by hand.
At the convention, North Carolina sewing artist and entrepreneur Anna Miller, 26, watched one machine guide a needle effortlessly over the outline of a rose that soon bloomed with pink and orange thread.
"I run a business where I embroider and appliqué everything from T-shirts to purses," Miller said, "and I sell a lot of items that I make on Etsy.
"To me, sewing on a machine like this," she said, nodding toward the computer screen attached to the sewing machine, "is still an art because I can design the pattern, pick the colors of thread — just like a painter would pick pigments and pick how short or long the brushstokes will be — by choosing the type of stitch."
Some men attended embroidery seminars at the convention, but the crowd was mostly women. How to get more guys in the doors of sewing stores is often debated by those in the business. Offering free beer with lessons in how to sew a Super Bowl-themed might be a draw but also could result in mangled fingers and broken needles.
Lauren Byrne is starting a murder-mystery quiltmaking class in June that she hopes guys might like. Different blocks of the quilt contain clues, so the quilters can debate the evidence as they sew. The identity of the killer is revealed in the last block, she says.
But admittedly, sewing's main draw will probably be the creative impulse that prompted retired art teacher Kay Donges to sew a beautiful quilt portrait of one of her male high school students from long ago. The portrait is now on display in the Bernina Sew N Quilt Studio.
Donges took photos of each of her students so they could use the picture to do a self-portrait; she kept the male student's photo because his eyes were so kind and perceptive, she said.
"He was living in a bad neighborhood in a bad family situation, but he was always so sweet and positive — and then he dropped out and I couldn't find out what happened to him," Donges said.
In the passing years she forgot his name yet found his old photo "so I felt driven to do a portrait of him," she said. "I've asked all the Facebook friends I have who were pupils or teachers at that school, but no one can remember his name."
She would like to show him the quilt, but no one even knows if he is alive or where he might be living.
"I still see that glow in his eyes, so here's what I named it, " she said, flipping the corner of the quilt up to reveal the word:
Shiny polka dot raincoats, whimsical tea dresses, daring patterns, bright and playful colours – look around in any major Australian city and you'll see them en masse.
Instantly recognisable and perpetually coveted, Gorman has become the uniform of fashion-savvy Australian women. The cult surrounding the local label has swelled to the point where past season pieces often sell for over twice their retail price on Facebook groups dedicated to the brand, the largest of which boasts over 8000 "Gormies" searching for their "unicorns" – the pieces they lust for most.
The label has a charming back story – it was launched in 1999 by nurse-turned-designer Lisa Gorman in Fitzroy, an inner-city Melbourne suburb known for its distinct local vibe. In the 17 years since, Gorman has become an iconic Australian brand, proudly positioning itself as sustainable and local, with organic collections and small, personable boutiques country-wide.
Due to its high price point, with dresses costing up to $350 and jackets hovering around $600, there's also a touch of elite about Gorman – it's a status symbol as well as a fashion statement.
In 2009, the label was bought by retail giant Factory X, which also parents brands including Alannah Hill, Dangerfield and Jack London. Gorman continued to put out popular collections, recently collaborating with artists Fred Fowler and Camille Walala to produce interesting, unique designs.
In the last week, Factory X has come under fire after receiving the lowest possible rating on a report on Australian fashion ethics from Baptist World Aid Australia, covering policies, suppliers, auditing and worker conditions – placing them below companies like Kmart.
This stands in stark contrast to the fairly ambiguous social and ethical compliance policyon the Gorman website, boasting "safe working conditions", "sustainable living wages" and "fair and equitable treatment".
Though Gorman was not included in Factory X's assessment as they have separate supply chains, the parent company received the F grade for choosing not to participate in the survey – which begs the question, why stay tight-lipped if you've got nothing to hide?
Immediately following the report's release, a petition was launched online calling for the company to disclose details of factory working conditions and provide transparency to its loyal customers. So far, it has amassed over 1200 signatures, as well as pages of comments demanding fairer ethical practices.
The woman behind the petition, Hannah Bowen, started buying Gorman in 2005 and has noticed a decline in quality in recent collections. She was inspired to take action when discussion around the report started on the Gorman buy/sell Facebook page, and members began asking the same questions she'd had for years.
"I wanted to know why Gorman and/or Factory X didn't respond when they claim to be so proud of their ethical standards," she said via email.
"I think, like me, people are just disappointed that a brand they have loved, supported and promoted for such a long time appears to have strayed so far from their ethical roots … So many customers are purchasing under the assumption that Gorman's ethical practices have never changed."
Gorman's first public response was an Instagram photo of Liao, a worker in Gorman's Chinese factory, who's quoted as saying he loves the label's colours, as though that quells ethical concerns. It has a faint air of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's recent"apology" video – forced and insincere.
The brand tagged the post with #whomademyclothes – a social media campaign forFashion Revolution Week, focusing on ethical fashion. Despite claiming that they'd been planning for weeks to participate, Gorman only jumped on board after the campaign had ended and the questions regarding their ethics began. Judging by the angry comments, the post has raised more questions than it's answered.
When contacted for comment, Factory X's PR manager, Kara Brooks, replied with a statement confirming that the company did not participate in the study. She said that Gorman's customers have been misled, but did not expand on how, and rather than responding to direct questions regarding the brand's ethical practices, she pointed the query back to the online compliance policy.
Lisa Gorman has also released a statement promising that the brand will publicise audit reports in the coming months.
None of this has placated fans, with many boycotting the label altogether, and others vowing to only purchase second-hand items, until it provides the transparency they're after.
Gorman's demographic is not only fashion focused, it's also largely socially aware.
Student and Gorman enthusiast Katie Buddle has taken to her Instagram account, on which she posts about fashion, to inform her 6500 followers of the issues.
She said the strongest responses have been from fellow ethically minded students, who save for months to buy Gorman.
"When we want to make a purchase on a big-ticket item, we want to make sure it's going to last and that it's been made ethically," Buddle said.
"If they become transparent and honest about their manufacturing processes – that's literally all it would take for me to run off and buy a pair of Gorman socks."
Browsing the Gorman Facebook groups, it's not hard to see the rising discontent. Customers complain about dye running on $300 bedspreads when they're washed, inconsistent clothing sizes and stitching coming loose, and factory seconds and faulty items at the chain's discount outlets that often still have three-figure price tags, despite obvious imperfections.
In a recent study from Oxfam Australia, 89 per cent of consumers surveyed said they'd pay more for ethically produced clothing. Yet Gorman lovers are expected to pay exorbitant prices for garments that are reportedly decreasing in quality, and have no assurance that their money is going towards ensuring that the workers behind the scenes are treated and compensated fairly.
As a fan myself, it's frustrating that the company expects its followers' heads to remain in the sand, and condescending that when questioned, they deflect instead of providing concise answers. All the while, they continue to take advantage of brand loyalty to pocket fat pay checks for clothing that appears to be fast fashion quality at designer prices.
Over to you, Gorman.See more at:evening dresses online
Would it be overstating things to say that Ikram Goldman is Chicago fashion? Not by much. A protégé of the legendary Joan Weinstein at Ultimo, Goldman made a statement of her own in 2001, opening an eponymous boutique on Rush Street. Fifteen years and one relocation later, Ikram is one of the world’s most renowned centers of style, with an elite clientele of power players who travel from near and far like pilgrims to a fashion shrine. As Goldman celebrates the 15th anniversary of the boutique, the famously passionate fashionista offers a summary of its history in a series of bons mots.
Style storyteller. “I started Ikram because I wanted to curate a story that was not being told anywhere in Chicago. It was a place where I felt people would want to gather.”
Now and then. “When I first started, the amount of collections I saw was minuscule compared to what I see now, because [now] everyone wants to be a fashion designer. So I can actually curate in a much more profoundly interesting way.”
The first store. “Our accountant said, ‘You don’t need [more] than 2,000 square feet.’ Our Rush Street store was 5,000 square feet—and we outgrew it within a year.”
Seeing red. “We didn’t want the façade to look modern, but we wanted it to have a modern feel. And we saw this slab of red metal, and we thought, This is it—this is exactly what we want.”
Think pink. “One of my favorite moments at Ikram was a midnight [candlelit] dinner we hosted for the band Pink Martini after their performance at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We invited 10 friends with the band and sat here until almost 5 in the morning, where we ate, drank, played music, sang, tried on clothes, and had the best time.”
In it together. “I take on these [young designers] who really just want to be recognized, and we just go together.”
Creature features. “When I first saw the collection Creatures of the Wind presented in New York, I thought, These are two kids that are submerged in their culture.”
Girl crush. “Rodarte aren’t just designers—they’re creating cultural movements. They speak the language of the moment.”
Show me more. “Thakoon [Panichgul] was the first person who ever interviewed me and wrote about me, for Harper’s Bazaar, so we became instant friends. We had dinner and he said, ‘I’m thinking about doing [a line of] sweatshirts and sweaters, blah blah blah,’ and I said, ‘Really? That’s nice. But show me what you really got.’ So he made a collection of 20 pieces and sent them to me. I bought every one. They were flawless.”
For the archives. “I pull one to three pieces per season for [my personal] archive. Original Alexander McQueen, Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe… It’s like art; I invest in them. I’d love to have them someday in a place where they’re curated properly—and they will be.”Read more at:bridesmaid dresses online