It has been about a year and a half since my last blog post and I can tell you that I've been working on a few things.
1. The mobile Boutique for Flora Lou is almost ready to roll!
2. I have formed some strong views on fast fashion and consumerism in general that have changed the vision for Flora Lou a bit.
3. In the past year and a half I have really become curious about and drawn to makers, thus the "Makers Series." For the next few months I will be getting everything ready to have the launch for my mobile boutique in the spring. I thought it would be great to shed some light on the slow fashion movement in New England by interviewing different makers and small business owners throughout New Hampshire and Maine to get some insight on what it takes to make a small business in New England that focuses on ethical and sustainable production work. So Here it goes, the first of many Makers I'll be showcasing in preparation for the launch of Flora Lou's mobile Boutique!
Hills and Trails
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kanya Zillmer, the owner and graphic designer of Hills and Trails, a printmaking and design studio in Portland, Maine. After working for a boutique graphic design firm for six years Zillmer found herself driving away from the city to be in the outdoors every chance she could get. She soon realized she didn't want to be behind a desk anymore so she started Hills and Trails with her partner James Frydrych, a photographer, as an outlet for their adventures. Specializing in quality screen printed goods Hills and Trails is THE place to go for modern, minimal homewares, apparel, and prints with a rustic edge.
Zillmer and Frydrych Just recently moved the Hills and Trails studio from their home in Saco, Maine to a small studio space in downtown Portland. What I love instantly about the space is that it’s not over done. There aren’t any big machines or a group of people sewing and screen printing, just Zillmer and her production assistant, Paige Bedard, whose quietly working while I bombard Kanya with a barrage of questions. There is a metal rack with neatly folded miscellaneous screen-printed apparel, a screen-printing press (that Zillmer explains was found at a junk yard for $70), a sink, a stack of screens, a shelf with bottles of ink, and a small desk area. To me, this kind of small batch operation is what slow fashion dreams are made of. When I asked about scalability Kanya said they didn’t have any desire to get big, explaining that a lot of companies outsource their screen printing because it's a lot of work and the burnout rate is high. Her vision doesn’t include becoming a huge screen printing operation, although she does plan on reaching out to more brick and mortar stores to wholesale to. Currently you can find their products in these Maine stores, Toad and Co. in Freeport, Daytrip Society in Kennebunk, Little Boutique in Portland, Gingham in Yarmouth, Wylers in Brunswick, Lemon and Tulips in Fryeburg, and Boyce’s Boutique in Blue Hill, as well as Olives and Grace in Boston Mass.
I think it’s really inspiring to see an artist thrive as a small business owner. I think the “maker’s movement” has really progressed in the past 5 or so years, with websites like etsy broadening the scope of the customer base and craft fairs coming back into popularity. The recognition and demand for handmade, unique items seems to be on the rise. And speaking of craft fairs, you can find Hills and Trails at Picnic in the Brick South building at Thompson's Point in Portland December 10th, and the LL Bean Northern Lights in Freeport, Maine on December 9th.
Zillmer is striving to source all of her materials from the US soon. Right now some of the apparel is made in the US but not all because of price point and lack of sourcing options. This winter one of their goals is to order samples from different companies for sourcing within the US. Because of the screen printing process it’s necessary to sample how the screen print will look on the material before ordering. Currently they source from a company called Bella and Canvas based in California whose manufacturing is primarily in Los Angelas but Kanya explains that sometimes there will be a batch of items that are manufactured elsewhere.
All of her housewares, however, are made in mid-coast Maine by Katrina Jo Kelley, a seamstress and owner of Amphitrite Studio (stay tuned to the hear more about that on the next blog!)
As far as being an eco friendly operation Zillmer says Hills and Trails is “really conscious of what we are doing.” Making smart decisions like using only as much ink as needed for each screen, using only water based ink and reusing all of the paper left over from prints for the tags and packaging. Water based inks are not only better for the environment because they don't require harsh chemicals for clean up but because the inks themselves don't contain environmentally damaging petroleum or fossil fuels. Zillmer also spoke about where they source their paper from which is a Michigan paper plant that was established in 1871. French Paper is a sixth-generation, family-owned company that is powered by fully renewable hydroelectric generators installed in 1922 (and saving over one million barrels of fossil fuel to date).
Another amazing thing about Hills and Trails is that they have an artist series called Camp Daze Press where every month they feature a new print by a Maine artist. Each print is limited edition. Zillmer says the artist is often not a screen printer so its really fun to show them how it all works and turn their artwork into a print, the artists are involved in the entire print making process. "It's really been about expanding the art community" says Zillmer. She explains that when she first moved to Portland she had a hard time connecting with artists within the community.
Eco- friendly ink, small batch printing, and community outreach are only a few of the aspects of Hills and Trails that make them a truly unique slow fashion small business with thoughtful consumerism as an organic by product. Zillmer and Frydrych have made a mark in Maine and I have a hunch that their products will continue to pop up in small boutiques throughout New England!