Hey girl, hey (or guy – I don’t discriminate)! Months ago you may have read my Real Life Girl Boss interview with a fashion editor in NYC, but today I’m sitting down with Brittani Bumb, a clothing designer in Atlanta, Georgia, to take you behind the scenes of her ethical and sustainable fashion brand, Untitled Thoughts. She gives us the low-down on schooling, company funding, design inspiration, and the nitty gritty of owning a small business. So grab a cup of coffee, and we’ll get started.
So Brittani, when did you learn to design and sew clothing?
I started sewing when I was around 12 or 13 years old. Both my mother and grandmother sewed the entire length of my childhood. I have been told that at one point, when I was much, much younger, my grandmother attempted to teach me how to sew, and I did not want any part of that process. I assume I was not patient or mature enough to value what she was trying to impart on me. But a few years later, I distinctly remember the day that my obsession with sewing began. I had pulled out a thrifted tennis skirt (my absolute favorite skirt in my closet!), and I grabbed this brightly colored orange fabric from my mom’s stash in the attic. I examined the skirt to determine how it was made, and then, I just started sewing. I finished right before my mom arrived home from work, and I ecstatically showed her my newest creation.
Did you attend fashion school? How did you feel about your experience there?
I did attend fashion school for college. I wanted to go to to school to really refine my skills. When you are self-taught, a lot of terminology and standard practices can be overlooked or missed entirely. However, I do look back at times and wish I had gone to school for business. Their curriculum was not business heavy, and that is what I needed most.
What kind of jobs did you have before creating your own clothing line?
Oh gosh, I have done everything under the sun in regards to types of jobs I’ve held before working on my own line. My very first job was third shift at Waffle House. I quickly moved on from there to work as the giraffe mascot for a Toys-R-Us seasonal pop-up. I’ve held numerous waitressing jobs, retail jobs (for both large and small companies), alterations, freelance modeling, a training coordinator, camp counselor – the list goes on and on!
What gave you the idea to start your own company? What motivated you to take that leap of faith?
I have always had somewhat of an entrepreneurial spirit. In high school, I made costumes for the theater department, and when I was a senior, I made a number of prom dresses for friends, including my own. I actually started my Etsy shop in high school and sold some of my first pieces online then! Of course, my skill level was a lot lower than it is now, but that excitement you receive when a stranger purchases something you created gave me the confidence to really take the leap into owning my own business. Granted, it took many years of self-doubt (and research) before I finally jumped in full-force, but the idea to be my own boss was always spurring in the back of my mind.
Did you have to find investors to launch the company?
The company is 100% self-funded by me. When I officially launched, I was lucky enough to have gathered many of the necessary supplies to run a clothing business over a large number of years. I was gifted sewing machines by family when I graduated from college, and I have a strong network of people who regularly donate clothing and fabrics when they are spring-cleaning. I am incredibly fortunate to have so many close supporters who want to see my business grow and succeed; I truly owe my start to those souls.
Did you turn to anyone for legal/business guidance?
I have, at various times, turned to people for legal/business advice especially at the very start. I remember reading everything revolving around taxes and licenses – it is such a confusing process. Because the legalities vary from state-to-state (as well as from business-to-business), there was never a clear-cut direction that presented itself to me. I honestly just decided to jump in one day and hope for the best! I figured things would work themselves out as the business progressed, and so far, that is exactly what ended up happening. I made many mistakes, but I have walked away learning something new each year.
How would you describe both your style and the style of your clothing brand (I assume they are pretty similar)? Where do you find inspiration?
They are both very similar! I would describe my style as Vintage, Sustainable, and Feminine. I am a dress girl and have always been a dress girl. I find throwing on a dress the easiest way to lift my spirits and make me feel beautiful, and it’s the simplest, most comfortable option.
Nature, fabrics, and vintage silhouettes inspire me heavily. I love being outside, and I find inspiration in my daily surroundings often. When I look at a field of flowers or trees or a bushel of leaves, I see the color palette of my next collection, the textural elements I want to incorporate via embroidered details, the types of patterns I want to play with, the potential dyes I can extract to use within the collection. Working within nature and with my environment in mind, I feel the fashion cycle comes full circle.
I love your commitment to sustainability and your stance against fast fashion – especially your use of vintage/thrifted items that you re-work in your designs. Do you have any “rules” you follow when hunting?
Thank you! I actually do have a few rules. Generally, I try not to spend over $20-$30 for any given piece. If I spent more, the cost of my items would be even higher than they are now, and I am always working with my customer in mind. Sustainable fashion is already more expensive than most people are able to pay, so I look for any ethical way I can cut costs.
I tend to be drawn entirely by fabric when I’m thrifting. I shop primarily in the dress and linen section because that is where you will find the most material for the best price. When you travel into coats, tops, or pants, you really need to have an idea in mind of how you want to refashion an item before you even enter the store. These particular items generally have more seam lines and less material that you can work within the confines of.
I try not to purchase synthetics whenever possible. I find that natural fibers breathe better and have a nicer feel. I also try to keep an eye out for USA made. These garments are hard to find and are generally beautifully kept vintage items.
Because you are a small team, what difficulties have you faced when it comes to production? How long does it take to sew a singular garment?
For one, we are not able to mass produce items in a quick time frame. We’re also an ethical company, which means our full time workers will be paid a fair, living wage. Both our small production batches and fair pay leads to an increased price point, which is sometimes difficult to “sell” to customers, given the fashion marketplace’s never-ending low prices. However, I’ve found that our loyal clients are willing to pay a little extra because they know we are providing unique, quality designs that are ethically made and sustainable.
Some of our items take as little as an hour to cut and sew, while others have taken over 30 hours to assemble!
Do you offer custom designs? How do you approach your pricing scheme?
We do! Custom designs actually make up the majority of our business. Creating a custom piece usually means the dress is going to fit the client better than buying of the rack. Plus, it’s even more eco-friendly, as there is less fabric waste when you have the measurements of whomever you are designing for.
We charge hourly + materials for custom work. Our hourly rate is higher than when we create shop products because we have to account for our overhead costs. With our online shop products, we are still charging hourly + materials, but we are charging a lower hourly rate that we pay directly to our seamstresses. We then add in our overhead costs and do a final mark-up for our retail partners. These mark-ups ensure that everyone at each stage is being paid a fair wage for their time and talents!
Where do you find your models?
I am in many of my own product photos! And since I was a freelance model in Atlanta for such a long period, I actually made friends with many other models in the area. I also really love working with my own friends to photograph garments. I want my clothing to feel accessible and be shot on girls of all shapes, sizes, ethnicity, etc. I feel it really speaks to my personal belief that all women are beautiful and should be represented in the scope of fashion!
What about your other employees?
Meeting everyone was a very organic process. I met one wonderful girl, Michelle, at a local fashion show I was participating in. Others I met through freelance work with small companies or through the local college. Everyone I’ve worked with so far was either an intern or sewing apprentice. I hope to grow larger in scale and bring on some more experienced seamstresses, but that is a but further off.
If I may ask, how long did it take for you to turn a profit?
If I’m being 100% honest and transparent, Untitled Thoughts hasn’t yet turned a profit. I have kept freelancing while self-funding the business, and I have an incredibly supportive partner who helps me pick up financial slack when the slow months roll in. But, we are only in our third year, and the chances of making a profit with the business this year look really good!
What advice would you give to people striving to get their products in stores? How do you promote your business?
Be persistent. I have been denied by a lot of stores in the past, and it used to really get me down. But you must remember that these small business owners are just like you! They are taking on all the work of a team, and things can fall through the cracks. And sometimes your product just isn’t a good fit for their brand, no matter how beautiful. Don’t be discouraged! Reach out, be respectful and professional, and begin building a genuine relationship.
I promote Untitled Thoughts primarily via social media and word of mouth. Instagram has been my go-to source for sharing curated content with an audience that really understands the products we offer.
What are some other clothing brands you absolutely love?
I absolutely LOVE Margu, Responsive Textiles, Reformation, and Megan Huntz!
So, what’s next for Untitled Thoughts?
I am collaborating with the beautiful Canadian Yogi, Emilie of Flow & Fitness, to come up with some feminine, ethereal items that you can wear for your daily practice and then out on the town! I’m also looking to expand into doing workouts out of my new home studio at the beginning of next year, which is something I recently found I have a passion for.
And in an alternative universe, what would you be doing?
I’d definitely be a baker. I love making treats and cooking extravagant things for my friends, and I think it would be so much fun to make yummy desserts all day long!
Before I let you go, let’s do some Rapid Fire, shall we?
- Morning or night? Both.
- Favorite city you’ve visited? Puerto Viejo.
- Any hobbies? Yoga and reading!
- Favorite book? Movie? TV show?
- Book: Devil in the Details
- Movie: Bridesmaids
- TV Show: The Office
- Song you’re obsessed with right now: Wish I Knew You by The Revivalists
- Teenage celebrity crush? Current celebrity crush? Oh gosh, I think I was really into Aaron Carter when I was younger. Now, my all-time celebrity crush would definitely have to be Godfrey Gao.
- You can only eat one dessert the rest of your life – what is it? Vegan chiffon cake with a fresh fruit and coconut whipped cream center.
Well Brittani, I have so much respect for the courage and hard work you’ve put into establishing your own business. Thank you for sharing your truth and transparency about the process, and I can’t wait to see what this next year has in store for you!
To keep up with Brittani and her clothing brand, Untitled Thoughts, check out the links below:
Untitled Thoughts website: www.untitledthoughts.com