This is the long version.
I'd like to say Atèlette began at the end of 2020, but it's more realistic to say it began in a small seaside village in the Philippines, where a little girl, aged 6, would draw her creations on whatever scraps of paper could be found and proudly show them off to anyone who asked (or most of the time didn't ask, but entertained her elaborate back stories anyway). At the age of 8 when she got her first box of Crayola crayons (and also immigrated to America, which came second to the crayons), her world changed.
The story of Atèlette is really my story. After all, even the name is derived from the word Ate (pronouned A-tey or A-ti depending on your dialect and accent. In Cebuano, it is term of endearment and respect for an older sister or a woman that is older than you, even by just hours, that is like a sister to you) and my childhood nickname "Lette".
I have always loved fashion and clothing for the freedom of expression it affords a person. In different clothes you can become someone else. In certain garments I was poised, I was put together, I wasn't shy, I was confident, I was lovely, I was someone worth knowing. I witnessed firsthand the power of clothing when I saw my very Filipino Mom being mistreated at a department store for how she was dressed (if you are a child of an immigrant, you can imagine this clearly). She went back the next day dressed to the freaking nines and shopped the house down. It was very Pretty Woman. And I had never even seen that movie at that point. I remember being so proud of my Mom but also remember her vividly telling me "It is shame people judge you by how you look on the outside." That burned into my memory forever.
Throughout school I was always seen as a fashion risk taker. I was the kid who wore mismatched patterns and three scrunchies in my hair. I was the kid who made her own clip-on earrings out of cardboard, gemstones, and puff paint. I wore trendy clothes and a lot of home sewn dresses. I wore the lime green velour bell bottom jeans and holographic baby tees and platform jelly shoes.
So it wasn't any surprise to anyone that in my 20s I created my own website and started selling vintage clothing online and had also dropped out of college, twice. This was in the mid 2000s. Instagram didn't even exist. I was teaching dance classes at Montessori schools part time and spending my entire paychecks at thrift stores and vintage shops.
By 2020, my small living room hobby business had blown up to become a multi 6 figure a year business selling vintage inspired clothing. Everything was a blur, everything seemed great, and everything was going so fast! I was running on this hamster wheel system I had PERFECTED and all the while never realizing how every turn on the wheel was eroding me from the inside out!
By Summer of 2021, my little online shop for women's clothing kept beating our previous month's sales records. I couldn't even wrap my head around it. I just needed to keep going! I was really fortunate that my business was doing so well! My CPA suggested I needed to start spending more money because come tax time, it would not be pretty. I had no idea what to spend this business money on so I thought "Well, maybe I'll give doing my own clothing line a try!" because why not? Because of the pandemic, I was surrounded by so many people questioning their career choices, so I rode along on that energy bandwagon. I thought I could just hire more people for my business so I could start researching my own line.
It took me about a year of research and work, but by early Spring 2022, I released the first two Atèlette dresses, the Bennet and the Aveyron. On launch day we sold through HALF of our production run. "Wow!" I thought, "That was great!" I jumped right into working on more designs. All the while still maintaining my role at Adored Vintage. As you can probably guess, I was burning the candle on both ends. I was running on fumes. I mean, the fumes were already gone at this point, I don't even know what I was running on, and as you rightfully have guessed...the burnout, the most severe burn out I've ever experienced, hit me like a ton of bricks.
Truthfully, I am still recovering from that burnout. I am threading so carefully in this new journey for Atèlette to not burn out. To SLOW DOWN. To do things more intentionally, with more care. To define purpose and find meaning in this line of work I am doing.
And this is where I am now. I slowed everything down. For my mental health and my physical health. I took several months off from Atèlette and stepped away for a bit. I started doing more research. I broke ties with the previous partners I was working with as the values and ethos I wanted to uphold for Atèlette did not align with theirs. I hated the pressure of being told I needed to come up with more ideas and needed to meet deadlines and increase my production minimums to get the best prices. I kept asking myself "Why does it have to be that way?" Then I asked myself "How did I want to do this?"
Could I do things differently? And the answer is YES, sort of. There was always a little bit of a catch. However, I quickly realized the catch was only there if I wanted to play the fashion production game like everybody else. And more importantly realized I DIDN'T have to nor did I want to. I started looking to work with manufacturers directly and knew I would have to teach myself everything about clothing production along the way. I found a manufacturer that checked off everything on my check list and we worked on the newest releases, the Florenzia, Sandrine, and Appalonia. However, I wanted MORE. More transparency. More communication. And importantly, more heart. Even though these manufacturers ticked off the sustainability check marks, there was still that pressure to "produce more styles and quantities" which I just hated.
In the summer of 2023 I started searching for more partners that better aligned with my values. I wanted to work with minority women owned and led manufacturers who also integrated sustainable and ethical practices in their businesses. I wanted to work with manufacturers who were OK with smaller production runs and producing one to two garments at a time from start to finish and who would be down for using surplus fabrics for small projects to eliminate as much waste as possible. I met with these women in person. We Zoom called. We Facetimed. We got emotional. And we also got down to business.
I feel so good about the decisions I have made! I do not have a crystal clear plan for what the future of Atèlette looks like, unlike Adored Vintage, I am far from perfecting the systems and operations for this new endeavor. And I am OK with that. Well, mostly OK. Having control of things gives me comfort and there is a lot of this process I don't know enough about. But as I learn more, I can make the most ethical and conscious decision I can. I am creating a slow and intentional fashion label because I am also choosing to live a slower paced and intentional life and I am a big believer in practicing what you're preaching! I know I'm not walking the same path as everyone else and instead forging my own. It's a little scary, but my heart and spirit feels really good about all the steps that lead me here.
C'est fin. Wow! Did you make it all the way to the end? I am very impressed!!!