Martha Stewart American Made 2015 nominee and Long Island native Karyn Villante is the founder of MADE*HERE NEW YORK, a company with sweaters that are 100 percent American made. Inspired by her daughters and a little organic thought, Villante started her business a half decade ago, not only to follow a dream but also to make a change.
The designer and founder didn’t (and still doesn’t) like how big-name fashion companies were outsourcing workers and material. Why not keep it in America? Fed up with the disregard for truly home-made goods, Villante took action. I got the scoop on Villante, why she believes in American made products and how she keeps her products American made.
Long Island Pulse: What do you love most about Long Island and living here?
Karyn Villante: The beach and the fact that, from Merrick, it only takes about five minutes to get there. In the summer I ride my bike and it’s great. Once you see the break in the water you realize how lucky you are.
Pulse: What inspired the creation of MADE*HERE NEW YORK? Did you ever think you’d have your own company?
KV: You know, originally I did. I went to school for fashion design at FIT and got my associates degree and I have a Bachelor of Science in textile production management. I went on to work in imports, did things in Hong Kong, and then as I got older I wanted to be more connected to the knitting world. I wanted to be in the mills, so I got a job with a company in New Hampshire. Every other week I went to the mill. They’re unfortunately out of business now because of the nature of the times. They dyed, they knitted, they did a lot. The next job I had was with United States Sweaters and we did everything in Brooklyn. We did work for Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Macys. I moved around a lot, then wanted to be home to raise my two daughters.
Pulse: How did MADE*HERE NEW YORK come about?
KV: It was about four or five years ago, my daughter took a sweater that I had designed out of my closet and she wore it often and got a lot of compliments on it. She said, “You should make sweaters again.” My other daughter said, “What are you going to do when we go off to college?” I started to think about all the major companies that had the resources to make their clothing here in the US, but didn’t, and I couldn’t believe it. There are factories overseas that don’t have rules or regulations where people are working in inhumane conditions and you don’t know where your clothing is coming from. It’s not right. In America we have regulations and there’s so much talent here.
Pulse: Would you say that your daughters inspired you to create a business that was in America, because they knew that was something people were interested in? Or was this something you were always passionate about?
KV: I think it’s both. It happened pretty organically, from when she said, “You should do this.” It was like an investigative journey because I had to find out who is knitting, where to get the yarn from, where to dye it. It’s been fun.
Pulse: What exactly does your job with MADE*HERE NEW YORK entail? What are you doing on a daily basis and what is your process like?
KV: It usually starts with the yarn. It has to be interesting and unique. I do everything on a daily basis from the logistics of shipping to the legal forms, sketching designs and a lot of it is going into the knitting mills and working with the knitters. Sometimes I give the designs to the mill and I want to be there when it comes off the machine. I’ll know right away, “Oh this is good,” or “I should have done this different.” It takes a lot of time, but it’s a lot of fun.
Pulse: What do you love the most about the process?
KV: Being in the knitting mills. Creating the stitches and seeing it there, and seeing it come out as I envisioned them.
Pulse: What makes your sweaters different from other brands?
KV: I’m really focusing on sweaters and knits. It’s a women’s company, whereas a lot of men’s companies are focusing on being made in America. I haven’t found a lot of women’s companies doing that. I want to make my sweaters contemporary, but still affordable.
Pulse: What tips can you offer consumers to make MADE*HERE NEW YORK sweaters last?
KV: Well, the cotton is grown here and it’s really high quality. The finisher is an expert finisher. Aside from the fact that it’s a cotton sweater and you want it to last, you can wash it on a gentle cycle, put it in the dyer for five minutes and than lay it out to dry. If you treat your clothing well, it will last. It’s also good to wash inside out!