What is Factory Handbook?
Factory Handbook is the company that I started with my husband Mike Newsome when we moved to Louisville in 2010, after almost ten years in Brooklyn. It primarily includes (1) a vintage clothing shop, which we run through our Etsy storefront at www.etsy.com/shop/factoryhandbook, (2) a conceptual line of lighting designs made with artisanal woodworking methods, and (3) a lifestyle collection of items using exclusively vintage and/or re-use textiles.
What made you want to start a vintage shop?
This is a long answer! I’ve been shopping at thrift stores and wearing vintage as a primary staple of my wardrobe since I was around 12 years old. One of my first jobs during high school was at a Goodwill store, and some of the first sewing projects I undertook were alterations to vintage garments under the helpful guidance of my mom (a fantastic sewing resource who empowered me with the needle at quite a young age). My initial interest in clothing design stems largely from those early explorations, and the way I first started to understand garment construction goes directly back to all the garments I seam-ripped apart before putting them back together again. While I was in school at F.I.T. earning my degree in Fashion Design, I worked at an incredibly special boutique called ‘Eva Gentry Consignment’, where I was surrounded by designer vintage from Miyake to McQueen and Lacroix to Laurent. It was hugely inspirational to me, and left strong impressions of quality, taste, merchandising aesthetic and customer service that made me feel intrigued by the idea of operating my own store. Later, when I decided to leave my job as an Assistant Designer at Helmut Lang in order to relocate to Louisville with Mike, we already knew that our dream was to build a business together. Starting Factory Handbook also meant becoming a team, both creatively and professionally, so we ended up assessing our strengths, skills, knowledge, and interests to find the ‘sweet spots’ where our abilities overlapped. The Etsy store felt like one place where my education and experience in the fashion industry, not to mention my passion for vintage clothing, intersected beautifully with Mike’s talent as a photographer.
How long has Factory Handbook been operating?
The Etsy shop has been up and running since April of this year, the prototyping process for the lighting series has finally come to its final stages(!!), and the lifestyle collection is currently in development - with prototype designs + a killer vintage fabric stash ready to roll as soon as our schedule allows.
What makes you D.I.Y.?
That’s a hard one. I think that I'm D.I.Y. because I’m very specific in my style preferences. For me, clothing has always held a lure and intrigued me in a way that relates very closely to my creative instincts. I mean that both in terms of getting dressed in the morning and the many ways I perceive art in the process of design or the tiny details of a garment. Even as a pre-teen, I wasn’t finding any sparks of inspiration in the clothes I saw at stores so I started to seek those intuitive connections within the world of vintage. When I started to de/re-construct or alter the pieces I found in order to make them work for me, it became a sort of ‘gateway drug’ to developing a deeper and deeper interest. That same passion eventually led me to publish a book called ‘Fashion DIY: 30 Ways to Craft Your Own Style’ before ultimately going on to pursue my design degree. Everything seemed to snowball out of that original desire to seek out clothing that inspired me. I had started to enter adolescence and look for ways to nourish my creative spirit, and that was simply what felt right to me at the time.
How does what you do impact Louisville?
We occasionally participate in local events as vendors. Sometimes you’ll see us selling vintage, like we did at the recently inaugurated Salvo flea market. At other venues, you might never know we hoc vintage because we’re representing Mike’s paintings, my illustrations, or screen-printed t-shirts. We try to engage every audience with whatever aspect of our creative output we think will interest them most. For example, at this year’s Unfair our stall was filled with visual art from Mike’s side of the studio, along with an Old Louisville t-shirt that we designed in collaboration with our neighbor and friend, local artist Mason Maxey. The shirt was just something fun we had decided to create after chatting about it one day, and there is a good chance we’ll do similar designs for other Louisville neighborhoods because of the great response it received. There are so many sources of inspiration in Louisville. I think that we’re still new enough to living here that we’ve only started to scratch the surface and find ways to incorporate those inspirations into our work.
What are you currently working on?
At the end of October we were awarded a grant through the Center For Neighborhoods P.A.I.N.T. program to do a public art / documentary film project focusing on the community that surrounds Churchill Downs. We’re full-swing into execution of that project in addition to creating the catalog and line sheet for the lighting series – all on top of managing the vintage store and working on our own individual artwork as usual.
What are your long term goals for Factory Handbook?
Ultimately, we’d like to continue improving the quality of our merchandise and hope to begin compiling a reference archive of unusual, first-quality, and high-end designer vintage. This kind of resource will become more and more valuable to the fashion industry, as well as collectors, museums, and academics, as these items continue to become increasingly scarce with the passage of time. In the short term, we’ll be happy to continue the very strong growth we’ve seen in the store during the few short months we’ve been online.
With the lighting series, our goal is to develop strong relationships with decorators and interior designers in the Louisville/Lexington area so that we can do custom creative work for a local clientele. We’re very focused on the materials we use, and would love to do site-specific designs allowing us to work with reclaimed wood, found objects, and industrial remnants that move beyond lighting and into custom furniture as well. You hear a lot about the ‘slow food’ and ‘slow fashion’ movements, and we’re basically looking to apply these same grassroots, all-handmade, locally-oriented concepts to our design process.
What is your favorite thing about running your shop?
I love working with vintage clothing because it fascinates and genuinely excites me as a designer. I’m constantly presented with the opportunity to get lost in an exquisite printed silk, to examine some intricate dressmaker’s construction created with tiny hand stitches, or to discover a bust dart angled in a way I’ve never seen before.
What is your favorite item in your shop right now?
I’m a huge fan of vintage leather, so I’ve got a gigantic crush on the weird Mod color-blocked leather tunic in red, white, blue and black. I love things with a bit of a rock and roll edge in my own wardrobe, and this is one of the most Woodstock-worthy 60s pieces I’ve ever seen. You can almost hear the reverb…
I imagine you do a lot of thrift shopping in your line of work, is there one great piece that stands out in your mind that you passed up and wish you hadn't?
That’s a good question! I try to enforce amnesia on myself and live without thrifting regret…but I’m still haunted by several exquisite 50s party frocks that I passed over during my early teens. I was too punk for pink! Now I wish I had made a little more room in my closet for froufrou, especially when I worked at Goodwill and saw flirty mid-century dresses all the time.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Our schedule and budget don’t allow us to bring in models for the store, so I’m stuck with the job by default. I’ll readily admit that it doesn’t come naturally to me and continues to be a challenge. I’ve gotten much better at wearing heels for long periods of time, however, so my calf muscles are in better shape!
Do you have any advice for other small business owners/D.I.Y.'ers?
My first piece of advice is to focus on photography. The internet is your way to reach a worldwide audience, and it is above all a visual place. In order to do your products justice and compete in a largely image-driven marketplace good photography has to act as your salesperson, showroom, and PR/marketing director all at once. My second, related piece of advice is to learn everything you can about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and apply that knowledge to getting information about your company in front of exactly the right eyes, as often as possible, all over the world.
On top of running an online vintage shop you also wrote a book on D.I.Y., can you tell us some about that?
At the time, I was working at an independent publishing company in New York after graduating college with an English degree and moving to Brooklyn to pursue a career in the industry. The company I worked for specialized in knitting, sewing, and D.I.Y. books as well as crafting magazines like Vogue Knitting. It was an inspiring place to work where I was surrounded by creativity and the D.I.Y. spirit every day. Altering vintage clothing was something that had become very ‘hot’ in the D.I.Y. scene at the time, with magazines like Bust regularly running a project feature, ReadyMade introducing its inaugural issues, and the first round of books on the subject starting to come out from ‘cool’ companies like Chronicle. I had been doing these kinds of projects on my own thrift store finds for so long that it had become a way of life for me, and I was already taking on some freelance writing jobs, so I decided I was in the right place at the right time to write a book of my own. Soon afterward I decided to challenge myself with the next level of knowledge by earning my design degree at F.I.T. The book, like so many of the things I’ve done over the years, really functioned as a kind of stepping stone to lead me toward the next phase of my creative and professional life.