A Conversation About Craftsmanship & Starting a Slow Fashion Brand
With Taylor of Taylor Tall & Liz of Coat Check Chicago
Our Founder & Creative Director Taylor McCleneghan recently sat down with Liz Williams, the Founder & Creative Director of Coat Check Chicago— ethically made and classically inspired statement coats. The two female entrepreneurs shared thoughts on everything from what led them to start their companies, to the importance of craftsmanship, slow fashion, & size inclusivity. Throughout this post we’ll share their insights and help you get to know Taylor & Liz a little bit better. Keep an eye out for new styles releasing soon from both brands!
What is your background & how did you get into design?
LW: I've always been interested in clothing as a form of expression. However, my skills as a pattern maker and seamstress were forged while creating costumes for the theatre here in the City of Chicago. I later went back to school to study Fashion Design at Parson's School of Design. I had a great internship that led to full time position at Martin and Osa where I worked as an assistant designer in their Women's Wovens Department.
In 2014, I launched Coat Check Chicago after becoming frustrated while shopping for a new coat for myself. My sister had given me a lovely coat from “See by Chloe” (10 years prior) that I had worn thin. When I went to find something similar, I was really disappointed with the quality of coats that I was seeing. So, I decided to put my skills to use and make one for myself!
TM: I grew up with a seamstress and costume designer for a mom, so I started experimenting with fabrics and clothing early in life. Fast forward, and I was able to develop that passion for crafting clothing while working for another Chicago based brand called Mata Traders. Throughout that experience, I fell in love with small business and working in the handmade sector in India.
I started Taylor Tall in 2019 with my husband, Nathaniel, in an effort to change the fashion experience for tall women. As a tall woman myself (5’11”), I had trouble finding clothing that fit my height, and was also sustainable and consciously crafted.
Does your brand have a mission?
LW: My goal with Coat Check is to bring about a renewed appreciation for craftsmanship while supporting local makers.
TM: Similarly to Coat Check, we really value craft. Our mission is to thoughtfully design modern basics for tall women that you can customize for a true fit.
How did you & Taylor meet/ what brought you together?
LW: Taylor and I met in a women’s entrepreneurship program! It’s an international group, but we quickly discovered that we were both from Chicago and know many of the same people that are involved in the local fashion industry scene.
TM: We both swear by this ecommerce entrepreneurship group. It’s such a supportive community - which you definitely need in starting and running a business.
Did you find any commonalities with Taylor Tall/ Coat Check Chicago?
LW: Fair pay for garment workers is a subject that I feel strongly about. I spent most of my twenties behind a sewing machine working as a seamstress for local theatre companies. Frankly, I found the work to be challenging and I came to admire the skill and training that goes into creating a garment. When I look at a garment with a low price point, it usually saddens me since I know someone is getting short changed.
Taylor with Rosie, the Production Manager of Creative Handicrafts.
TM: The love of craft - which means the technical tailoring for a great fit, the holistic appreciation for the makers who contribute to our collections, and the longevity and sustainability of well constructed garments. We of course immediately connected on the woes of the plethora of technology skills required to run a fashion brand these days! Oh yeah, and of course, Chicago!
What does “Slow Fashion” mean to you?
LW: To me, “slow fashion” is about slowing down holistically. Slow fashion is about designers taking a closer look at their supply chain and asking more questions about the labor and materials they use. But slow fashion is also a move to ask our customers to slow down too. I like to encourage my customers to think about how many wears they may get out of their clothing before purchasing.
Under the fast fashion system customers were ultimately losing out by purchasing poorly made garments repeatedly, season after season. Quality craftsmanship and timeless designs work well within the slow fashion system. While following trends can be fun, it’s important to identify the trends that are on the verge of being a fad, so that we don’t waste our money and time on them.
Coat Check Chicago garment tags.
TM: Similarly to Liz, slow fashion to me, means releasing fewer, more thought out designs; slowing down the pace of development of new techniques and materials. This often really reduces the strain on everyone involved in the supply chain. It’s turning sharply away from the “it needed to be done yesterday!” mentality. While fashion lines will always struggle to be market responsive and nimble, the way in which they actually do and don’t do that really matters when it comes to social and environmental impact.
Where do you most often find inspiration?
LW: I look a lot to vintage fashion history when determining my silhouettes. I think if a garment can stand the test of time, that’s a great first indicator that there is something to it. However, no one wants to dress in a way that is “dated” or “old fashion” so I try to always give my coats a modern edge, whether it’s in the functionality such as using magnets, or a water resistant material, or by changing the shape in order to keep it in line with today’s proportions.
TM: Fabrics fabrics fabrics, I fall in love with fabrics. I’ve had the lucky opportunity to travel to natural fiber fabric makers throughout India who specialize in handwoven and other premium fabrics. I love seeing the minute details whether it’s a subtle two tone yarn color or a textured pattern elegantly woven into the fabric. Once I see the fabrics, I’m flooded with ideas.
How would you describe your design process?
LW: Since I am a seamstress by trade, I really enjoy creating my own patterns and sewing my samples. I usually start with a rough sketch of an idea, but find that it changes along the way. I fit everything on myself which is kind of crazy, but I feel as though I can give myself immediate feedback on how I like something and change it quickly.
Liz in her studio working on a pattern.
TM: At any given time, I have a set of fabric swatches I’m in love with and a list of silhouettes I think our customers (and I selfishly) would like, or that I have created based upon customer feedback. The perfect fit happens when I find the best match for fabric and silhouette.
What is your favorite fabric to work with?
LW: WOOL! It takes shape so well and really holds up to time, and is also a natural fiber that provides plenty of warmth. I know many people complain of the itchiness of wool, which I am also very sensitive to, so I try to use only the softest wool I can find.
Taylor Tall's Summer fabric lineup.
TM: Au naturale! Cotton, silk, linen. Now that I’ve mostly cut synthetics out of my wardrobe, I really feel the difference on my skin. I’m now pretty sensitive to synthetics and can only wear them as a small percentage in a blend. Natural fiber fabrics are also the most frequently used for the weaving and printing techniques of India that I love to admire, wear, and support.
What are your thoughts on form vs function?
LW: BOTH are so important! Especially in outerwear! It’s so pointless to have a coat that does not function to either keep you warm or dry. But conversely, I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to see a beautiful dress covered up with a sporty parka. It drives me crazy. Outerwear is our first moment of visual communication with the world at large. I take that pretty seriously, and hope that the women that wear my coats feel amazing in them.
Liz in her studio adjusting a sample garment.
TM: Through years of experience seeing designs get manufactured and sold to large audiences, and then studying the return rates….both form and function matter so much! I do find that people buy for style a little more than function (which makes me a bit sad). But that’s what inspires me to try and marry both - especially for tall women. We’ve had a lifetime of trying to fit and squeeze into ill fitting clothing. I work very hard to design clothing that not only feels RIGHT for our proportions but also looks great.
How do you incorporate size inclusivity into your brand?
LW: Size inclusivity is so important. As a 5’10” individual myself, I’ve struggled my whole life to find pants and sleeves that don’t cut me off. As a result, I cut my coats with very long sleeves in a selfish endeavor. But lately, I’m also hearing from women who love my coats, but are petites and plus size. Last year I launched a few styles in plus sizes and my customers were so thankful. This year, I’m expanding into petites. The fact of the matter is that people really come in all shapes and sizes and they all want to feel great. There should be something out there for everyone.
Taylor Tall's Free Fit Kit, which includes a measurement card, measuring tape, and swatch booklet.
TM: When I started a clothing line, I really wanted to try to solve a problem for my customers. The problem closest to home was not finding sustainable and consciously crafted clothing that also fit my height. So while the basis of my brand is already to cater to the specific “tall” size niche, I also wanted to make sure I could include more sizes than just an XS-L, typical of smaller brands. Our made to order production model allows us to offer our styles in sizes 4-18, as well as offering length customization for sleeves, hemlines, and inseams. I also make sure to further adjust the bust cup size and placement for sizes 14-18, unlike other brands who just make the whole garment wider rather than taking proportion into account (aka not flattering).
What are each of your favorite pieces from the others collection & why?
LW: I'm actually having a hard time deciding between 2! I LOVE the classic silhouette of the Drop Shoulder Shirt! It's such a classic piece and the lines are so flattering on a tall figure.
However, the Infinity Scarf Mask is the perfect coat accessory and such a genius design.
TM: The Southport Overcoat in Grey - I love a classic wool coat and the amazing collar of this style looks perfect to pop up around my neck and scarf for a blustery Chicago day. I can also see wearing it open over a classic black shift dress and sneakers during transitional months.
What can we find you listening to in the studio?
LW: It’s so dorky, but I usually listen to business podcasts. Since I went to school for fashion and costume design I’ve really had to teach myself everything there is about running a small business. Thankfully I can learn while I sew.
TM: Sitar, viola da gamba, lute, or clarinet music. Lady Gaga, Chromatica, Led Zeppelin, Ray Lamontagne, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Stevie Wonder. Podcasts and NPR on a walk break.
Favorite way to relax/ unwind?
LW: I really love the beach and warm weather. So any spot that has both will serve me just fine. I know that may sound silly coming from an outerwear designer, but I really hate bad weather. Coats are my coping mechanism for living in Chicago.
TM: Pool, beach, warm weather, a good book, a long walk, and a great meal out.
Any new quarantine hobbies?
LW: Multi-tasking! As a mother of 3, I went from having a quiet business within my house to sharing that office with my entire family. Most days it’s hard to carve out an hour of uninterrupted time so I’ve gotten better (not great) at being able to do 2 things at once.
TM: Cooking - though I don’t exactly love it yet...