Here’s the next level, folks. You might be eating local and shopping local, but are you wearing local? The garments we don often come from very faraway places and seem to just appear out of nowhere; an oft-reported statistic from the American Apparel & Footwear Association states that 97 percent of the clothes sold in the U.S. were made overseas. “We’re so alienated from our clothes,” is how Sarah Tremaine, an Albemarle clothing maker, puts it.
But there is an antidote—locally designed and, in many cases, locally crafted clothing. It comes as no surprise that creative Charlottesville is home to a bunch of clothiers, peddling everything from streetwear to high-end handbags. Read on to meet seven of these companies.
Vinegar Hill Vintage Clothing
Sarad Davenport started a clothing line two years ago and named it Vinegar Hill Vintage Clothing after the Charlottesville neighborhood that was razed in the 1960s. The name is also a tribute to Vinegar Hill Magazine, which is produced by Davenport’s friend Eddie Harris: all in all, a gesture of love and respect to the local African American community and the neighborhood where Davenport has family roots.
“I have oral history about Vinegar Hill that was told to me all my life,” he says. In creating his line of T-shirts, hats, and other items, he hopes not only to create a “bridge to the younger generation,” opening conversations about the important local history embodied in the Vinegar Hill name, but also to begin recreating a culture of black entrepreneurship that was damaged when Vinegar Hill was destroyed. “We want people to know there’s precedent for [African American business ownership],” he says. “We’re normalizing that; we want people to own their economic state.”
It’s still a family affair for Davenport to produce his garments with their clean, classic logos; he gets help from his mother and children, and sells online and through the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. But he hopes the business will grow. “One day, my hope is we could have a full-fledged factory in downtown Charlottesville,” he says.
Charlottesville Dress Company
A shared love of vintage styles and unusual fabrics was the genesis of Charlottesville Dress Company, founded by Susan Stimart and Carla Quenneville. In May 2017, Stimart approached Quenneville, the former owner of Les Fabriques, to ask if she could repair Stimart’s vintage silk/wool blend suit. The two got to talking about vintage patterns (Quenneville had a collection) and African wax-print cottons (Stimart had just brought some home from Paris). “I said, ‘What if we started a company?’” remembers Stimart.
A year and a half later, CDC has developed a line of women’s styles (and men’s bow ties) plus the capacity to custom-design dresses, coats, and other garments. “We’ve had a great time with customers,” says Stimart—like the time a mother of a bride ordered a sari blouse to match a sari she already owned, to be worn at her daughter’s Sri Lanka wedding.
The company promises stunning fabrics, expert design, and all-local manufacturing (CDC is partnering with the International Rescue Committee to employ refugees as sewers). With Beth Pizzichemi working the media side, CDC sells online and at pop-up events and fashion shows. Their designs will hit the runway at a D.C. fashion show December 12.
Local streetwear brand Dreamin’ Diamonds first said “Hello, world” inside the sneaker boutique 89Till back in 2016. Rob Gray, co-owner of the now-defunct shop, is the brains behind Dreamin’. He sees his line of T-shirts, hoodies, hats, and jackets as a way to inspire people, especially at-risk youth, to reach for the stars. “The dream represents the abstract,” he explains, “and the diamond represents the dream manifested.”
He enjoyed a taste of success himself when one of the company’s hat designs, featuring an altered version of the “Rugrats” character Susie Carmichael, caught on online. Dreamin’ Diamonds sold more than 2,000 of that particular hat, with Susie sporting rubies for eyes. Other designs feature a black panther with the words “Free Huey,” or the logo of a certain national donut chain tweaked to read, of course, Dreamin’ Diamonds.
Gray, an Albemarle native, handles design and every other aspect of the budding company. He sells through his website, and hopes to gain a retail presence to give his products wider exposure. “I’ve always been into fashion,” he says. “Your clothes kind of speak to your identity.”
When Charlotte Friese was a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, she did a project she calls “microscapes”: small wall sculptures with laser-cut plywood frames encircling abstract compositions of silk, organza, stones, and glass. Now, two years out of school, she’s pushed the micro-scape idea in another direction: a line of high-end handbags. With laser-cut plywood bodies and hand-felted flaps, the bags are a study in contrasts.
“I love the combination of something hard with something soft,” she says. “Nature is a huge inspiration. I love moss and lichen and wood grain.”
She also aims to source her materials ethically, sustainably, and, when possible, locally. Handbag designs start with sketches, then become CAD files that go to a local laser-cutting shop. Friese assembles the wooden bodies, sands and oils the wood to make it friendly to the touch, and adds a lining made of European machined felt for durability. Then she hand-felts the outer flap, a swirl of color inspired by a specific landscape (like “Painted Desert” or “Sedona”) that makes each piece unique.
CFK Designs, her company, is just getting off the ground; Friese has three juried craft shows on her calendar and hopes to work with local boutiques to sell her bags. She’s also developing a line of clothing. “I’m working with a natural dye company in Pennsylvania, so I can have multiple natural dye colors,” she says. “I’m thinking about expanding to other accessories, and hopefully a wider range of prices.”
Ayvazyan & de Beauvoir
In 2007, when Gohar Ayvazyan Beaver moved from Armenia to Charlottesville to be with her new American husband, Hovhannes, she wasn’t sure that she’d be able to put her fashion design education to work here. “Is this the right place for my business?” she wondered. But she managed to
produce a casual clothing line that was sold in a couple of local boutiques.
Meanwhile, the couple noticed the burgeoning wedding industry in Charlottesville. Having made a handful of custom wedding gowns, Beaver began to think about focusing her company, Ayvazyan & de Beauvoir, on bridal fashion.
That was about two years ago, and her home studio is now geared up for brides—full of white and ivory silk and lace, and featuring a rack of sample gowns in a variety of styles from boho to modern. Brides often come with photos of a gown they like, Beaver says, and then she takes them through the process of choosing fabrics, customizing the fit, and adjusting all the details of the design. “It’s fun to see the women’s reactions when they see it being custom made,” says her husband.
Word-of-mouth, and being a featured vendor on The Knot, have helped the Beavers grow the business, and they see themselves on an upward trend. Someday, says Gohar, “It’s my dream to make high-end couture wedding gowns.”
Rosalba Valentino learned to sew at her mother’s knee and, in high school, started taking old clothes apart and putting them back together just to figure out how they were constructed. By the time she finished college at VCU, she was skilled enough at clothing design and sewing that she was selling her pieces in a Richmond boutique. “I was experimenting a lot,” she says.
Today, she has at least 15 years of professional sewing behind her and, between making alterations to wedding gowns (her bread and butter), she continues to create original clothing pieces under her own label, Rosalba Couture, out of her Nelson County studio. She makes handbags, accessories, jewelry—and lots of dresses. “I have a penchant for dresses that are not formal but are fancy,” she says, adding that she sees a need especially for mother-of-the-bride or -groom dresses that aren’t “too old” in style.
Wanting to bring a bit of badly needed eco-consciousness to the fashion industry, she specializes in custom reuse and updating of vintage clothing. “Most of my things are a combination of recycled or found clothing and new elements,” she says. “That collaging is my specialty.”
Sunset Farm Studio
Sarah Tremaine worked for years as an environmental consultant, helping to remediate a Superfund site. But on the side, she was a serious crafter—knitting, quilting, basket-weaving, and painting. She began selling her work at craft shows a dozen years ago and, more recently, “decided to buckle down and make it a real business, not just a hobby,” she says. “Now I’m into it 24/7.”
As Sunset Farm Studio, she focuses on two main techniques to create artful clothing. One is Nuno felting, which results in seamless garments made of a blend of wool and silk: tops, tunics, and dresses. The other is botanical printing: laying plant materials onto silk and using a steaming process to print the shapes of leaves and stems right onto the fabric.
Tremaine’s earlier career informs her new one—she tries to source natural U.S. fabrics when she can, and uses almost exclusively natural dyes. Those include bark dyes sourced from a local woodworker, walnuts she collects herself, and goldenrod from her garden.
Having sold through The Barn Swallow for some time, she’s now trying to expand through more craft shows and into the boutique realm. “I do a lot of custom work,” she says. “People like the idea of being able to buy something from the person who made it.”