American fashion throws its weight behind a new nonprofit to support artisanal craftsmanship

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American workshops and artisans are struggling to make ends meet amid record inflation, rising house prices and competition from lower-cost manufacturing countries.

Noticing what had quickly become a “crisis”, milliner and accessories designer Gigi Burris O’Hara decided it was time to act. On Friday, she unveiled Closely Crafted — a 501-3C nonprofit aimed at preserving American craftsmanship in the fashion industry and inspiring a new generation of creatives to dig into these legacy resources.

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The organization already has heavy endorsements: Board members and special advisers include Julie Gilhart, Maxwell Osborne, Markarian’s Alexandra O’Neill, Natalie Chanin, George Esquivel and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, among others.

“I was able to launch my brand because I had access to incredible artisans who are true stewards of American craftsmanship,” said Burris O’Hara, who established her namesake brand in 2012.

“I work with hand-blocking millinery factories that have been around for three generations – I rely on them. During the pandemic, when all of our workflow as designers dried up, it really squeezed those factories – they lost the work they relied on and some of them closed. A fair amount of factories are owned by first generation immigrants and they support a decent number of artisans. These craftspeople were left jobless and some of them retired, taking away decades of knowledge,” Burris O’Hara added of his eagerness to step up and initiate change.

Craftsmanship, of course, has deep roots in the United States that go far beyond fashion; mediums like woodworking and metalwork are integral to the folk crafts on which the American aesthetic was built. This was a consideration for Burris O’Hara when she designed Closely Crafted. She hopes her organization will inspire fashion to take inspiration from other craft-dependent industries and position handmade products as things to be enjoyed and paid for more.

“The interior design industry has always been so good at communicating the quality and value of handmade pieces. People expect to pay a decent price for handcrafted furniture or home items. hand. Here in the United States, I think there is so much competition [in fashion] with pieces made overseas, we lost sight of what a handmade item costs and what’s in it,” Burris O’Hara said.

Gigi Burris O'Hara in her studio.  - Credit: Sophie Sahara

Gigi Burris O’Hara in her studio. – Credit: Sophie Sahara

Sophie Sahara

Burris O’Hara views interior design buyers who appreciate handmade objects as an integrated audience for Closely Crafted’s mission. “We want to engage with them,” she said.

The designer has already drawn up plans for the next few years of the organization. “In its first two years, Closely Crafted will develop a critical awareness of the value and quality of American-made pieces and foster the workflow for brands that will allow them to support a network of artisans,” said said Burris O’Hara.

“Once there is consumer demand, we will begin to cultivate economic well-being through apprenticeship programs and workforce training programs to support consumer demand and the appreciation of luxury fashion made in the USA”

Closely Crafted will leverage the media reach of its partners ⁠— with brands sharing special in-house content that raises awareness of the handmade appeal of their products.

Designers such as Christopher John Rogers, Brandon Maxwell, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia of Monse and Oscar de la Renta, Brett Heyman of Edie Parker and Jonathan Cohen are now working with Burris O’Hara to find a way to get the message across.

“We want to attract as many eyes as possible and want to change the perspective and create a reference based on value. All of these brands have their own audience that they communicate with internally. We encourage brands that produce in the United States to share their craftsmanship with their audiences and inspire a new generation of designers who not only can be fashion designers, but also work in a studio,” said Burris O’ Hara.

To kick things off, Burris O’Hara recruited four women-owned retailers to spread Closely Crafted’s mission. Webster, Mcmullen, Hampden and Vermillion will host special in-store presentations and promote the Closely Crafted message on their social media and e-commerce sites to raise awareness among their own consumers.

This weekend, The Webster will be the first to kick off with a three-day social media initiative that spotlights American designers available in the store.

Closely Crafted also launched its own website and social media channels on Friday with special content and video series that showcase factories and artisans who contribute to America’s craft industry.

Burris O’Hara thinks the time is right: “As consumers, we’ve changed to look for value-based credentials when buying things. People crave pieces with a story and what better time than now to support the storytelling and the artisans behind it? »

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