Sustainable fashion designer and owner of Bare Cloth
We sat down with Keila McCracken in her Turtle River studio to talk about her own style and also how she creates clothing for herself and others. Keila’s space is bright and feels magical. The grass is overgrown and the sun twinkles perfectly through the trees and into her windows. A giant loom, which she has had shipped over from England, is the first thing you notice in her studio. We talked with Keila for over an hour about her loom and her creative process.
in: What are you wearing today?
KM: When I moved out I was 18 and I decided I would wear whatever was closest and cleanest to the bed. Up until recently I have decided that instead of putting together outfits, I ask myself, “What are my favorite shoes? What are my favorite pants? What is my favorite shirt?” and that’s what I did today. I’m wearing my favorite shirt that I’ve made, it’s called the weisman shirt. I made them first for myself. It’s been a process of five years to edit down the pattern so that it fit, so this is the most recent one that I love. These jeans, everyone knows these jeans, they are mended over 50 times now and I got them when I was a sophomore in high school. They are my favorite jeans. I don’t have to wear a belt with them. I don’t have to adjust them. They fit me perfectly. They’re really unique and they look really grungy.
in: When did you start mending and creating your own clothes?
KM: I started making my own clothes in middle school, but mending didn’t start until I was in my sophomore or junior year of college. Because I was just broke and I had like 13 pairs of jeans and I hated all of them and the only two pairs that I did like had holes in the crotch. So I was just like, “I’m not going out, I’m not going shopping, I’m just gonna rip up this old pair and mend them and see what happens.” Ever since then I have been mending non-stop so I don’t have to buy. I don’t like shopping. I’m like the most ironic person to talk about fashion because I don’t like shopping or spending time getting dressed.
in: When you do create clothes, where do you seek inspiration?
KM: I’m very functional. I used to design completely opposite of how I design now. Before I would sit down and think what do I want this style to be, how do I want this person to look, what kind of lines do I want for the fit and style of it and color scheme. Now it is completely opposite. Now I design for, solely, what is the main function. I often re-cut the arm-sides, which is the sleeve, because I used to drive a stick-shift car and now I work on the loom all the time and I move a lot when I talk. So that’s usually my number one thing and inspiration is the physical movement. If I’m in the woods climbing a tree, and I rip my pants, well, then I need different pants that work for this. If I’m thinking of a client, I think of if they walk a specific way or I know they would be more confident if they had a different cut of shirt. That is the inspiration, the literal person that will be wearing it.
in: How often do you design clothes for other people?
KM: It’s something I do around once a month where I am designing a garment for someone. It’s something I am very cautious about because it is so personal. It is a very long process. For example, the project that I just finished and the one I am working on right now are two weddings, and one is my family and the other is basically like family. It is really interesting to be a part of a really big life event and it is really intimidating to be part of a bride’s day. It’s very fun to be a part of their wedding that way and it is a way I can contribute. Eventually it will be more than one custom order a month but I have realized it is a slower progression that has evolved from two orders a year.
in: How time consuming is the process?
KM: It depends on the garment. The wedding dress that I made took the most time, which was around 40 hours. A client brought in her grandmother’s wedding dress that had seven layers of tulle and lace and had a ten-foot-long train. She wanted a short knee-length dress, she said she wanted to “spin-it!” Which, that is a little different from what I normally make, like a tailored shirt which takes around 12 hours to sew. For making the cloth it usually takes a little less, around six minutes to make a yard and if I need about 4 or 5 yards for a shirt then it easily is done in an hour. If I have the fabric necessary for the shirt, then I take it off the loom, wash it up, cut it out and make it.
in: What is your process when working with a customer?
KM: Depending on the client, the process is whatever they really want it to be. From beginning to end, I make it on the loom here, and then I finish the fabric which is called fulling. Then it comes off the loom smelling like oil and sheep and you can see the individual threads. But then after the finishing process, it’s like actual fabric. My goal is to use local wool. Right now I still have to order wool from England to use for the warp. If the client is wanting a pattern that I already have, then I just cut it out, sew it up and then I do one or two fittings. But if they want a custom garment and a custom pattern made, then that takes a little longer. I usually need three or four fittings from the first fitting to draft the specific pattern for whatever they are wanting and then test it out. It is more of the logistical process of it but it is really personal.
10 items or less
KM: I have eleven pairs of shoes. In general everyone has different ways to reduce their wardrobe or finding a good amount of clothing. I use the rule of 10. So when I first decided to minimize my wardrobe I would just own 10 jeans, 10 sweaters, 10 coats, etc. That’s how I started, now I only have 3 pairs of jeans, 3 pairs of dress pants, 3 pairs of shorts. So all my bottoms are under ten, and that’s how it is for my shoes. So for shoes I have 3 for each season. For example, in the summer I have sandals and my loafers, for fall I have boots and my loafers. So I only have, at the most, three shoes out for each season so then it is easier to just grab whatever is closest to the door and those will work for the day. It is much simpler, and you always know where your shoes are. Same with jewelry, just having less than 10 pieces, including earrings, watches, rings and necklaces. I have been wearing almost the same earrings, rings and watch every single day for almost a year now so I don’t really need all of those items either. My wardrobe now has been 72 or less for two years now and that includes pajamas and winter gear. Also I have a list of all my clothes that I own. I did this because I got bored one day taking the ferry from Staten island, where I lived, to Manhattan. I wrote down all the clothes that I had from memory and when I got back to my house I realized I only remembered half my wardrobe. So I just got rid of half of the clothes that I didn’t write down because obviously they weren’t that memorable so why would I wear them. Remember what you own from memory, because then you know what you like and what is important to you. My wardrobe is very utilitarian and simple and I only wear solids, everyone is very different. My friend loves patterns and she can wear three different layers of different pattern of shirts and she has the coolest style and I love it. Everyone has their own thing. I also would recommend finding out what your favorite style or specific colors you like because then it helps you get rid of all the other items, then everything in your wardrobe matches. And if you go shopping and pick something up that doesn’t go with your wardrobe then you know you don’t need it. Fit is number one, it doesn’t matter if you think you have a certain sense of style or not, if it doesn’t fit then it will never work.
in: How did you get to the point of narrowing down your wardrobe to your style?
This has been around a five year process from when I decided to get rid of stuff. Originally I started out as a student in New York and had a wardrobe full of fashion clothes from the industry. Every day was head to toe a fancy outfit. Then I had my anthropology clothes which were four layers of flannel and my ripped jeans and my Minnesota clothes for living in Minnesota, which were extreme outdoors stuff. Eventually I decided that it was stupid to have three separate wardrobes. So I have three main ways of living and if the garment doesn’t work for all three ways then I shouldn’t own it. I highly recommend figuring out two or three different ways you spend your time, whether if it is at home, work or outdoors. Then at least a half or three quarters of your wardrobe should be able to work within those perimeters. Get rid of the rest and be okay with it. It is a hard process. Statistically speaking 35%-75% of people’s clothes aren’t being used. So I just say get rid of half of your clothes and go from there. Start identifying what works because once you start getting rid of your clothes then you are forced to know what actually works and what doesn’t work because you can still have 30 garments for a capsule collection or season wear and still only utilize 15 garments easily. I still have evening gowns and sequin dresses that all count under 10 things. Minimalism in general, and reducing your closet, is a mental transition. The more you are used to questioning why you own something or why it is important, the better.
in: What was the process of getting rid of your clothes?
KM: I first started out for like a solid month going through my clothes weekly. I would give away between 40-50 garments in a week. Eventually, around two weeks ago, I only got rid of 10 garments at Goodwill and that was around a 6 month process to get to this point. It really is the mental framework of questioning why you own each item. If you realize after putting a shirt on that you want to wear it, but always tend to change out of it. If you do that more than three times, then you probably should get rid of it. Once you get to asking yourself, “does this work for my style and fit and daily activities” then it gets really easy. Even your shopping gets easier. So I would recommend first getting rid of clothes, then taking a year off of buying clothes and see what happens. Because then you also realize that you don’t need to consume as much and are stuck figuring out what works with your wardrobe to help define your style. If you have to spend time pulling down your shirt or adjusting your pants then it is a waste of your time. If you are spending time adjusting your clothes that adds up, because you don’t need to be wasting your time pulling down your shirt or pulling up your pants, that adds up time each week, each month, each year that you can’t get back. My favorite thing about fit is that you could wear the most absurd thing on the face of this earth and if it fits you and you are like “yep I’m wearing this” then you can pull it off. If you are looking in the mirror and see your clothes are pulling and creating lines wear they shouldn’t be then it doesn’t fit. It is as simple as that!