SPOTLIGHT ON: ALTER

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Photos courtesy of Tommy Cole

Spotlight is the first in a series of profiles on emerging, independent and established designers.

I spent my last 2 years of college in Boston, Massachusetts, earning a BFA in Fashion Design from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. It was there that I met Roy Caires, co-founder of ALTER and creator of the clothing line This Old Thing?, which is made up of one-of-a-kind, reconstructed vintage pieces.

Roy and his partner Tommy Cole have always held an interest in fashion and retail. I remember while in college I admired Roy’s keen aesthetic and was not at all surprised that he worked in avant-garde designer Alan Bilzerian’s Newbury Street store. Roy and Tommy’s eye for an amazing find has led them from trunk sales of vintage clothing to opening shop without investors or any formal business training- they’ve achieved their success with persistence & tenacity, and of course, good taste.

ALTER is based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on a quiet stretch of road adjacent to the East River overlooking Manhattan. Far from most subways and a little out of the way, Franklin Street has become a mellow stretch of residential brownstones, clothing shops, cafes, bars & restaurants. Roy was kind enough to share with us his story below.

1. When was ALTER conceived?

The original Alter (the men’s shop now known as ALTER 109) was conceived on February 2nd 2007, which is Ground Hog’s Day. We thought it would be funny and easy to remember the opening of our first shop on this day. The women’s store (ALTER 140) was conceived on 08.08.08 another day of ironic coincidence.

2. How did you manage to set up shop in the beginning (i.e. overhead, inventory, materials)?

Alter was created, designed and executed by myself and my partner Tommy Cole. When the shop first opened it consisted mainly of vintage pieces that we hand-picked and curated ourselves from special wholesale rag houses that we have been fortunate enough to get into and work with. We also carried a few Cheap Monday jeans and our in-house line This Old Thing?.

We have grown quite rapidly since ’07 and currently house about 40 or so designers from all over the US, Canada and even Sweden. We constructed the shop with our own hands using vintage tools, found objects and materials from our neighborhood of Greenpoint. We turned found wood into our cash wrap and redesigned tables, bookshelves and other common fixtures found in the trash into unique sculptural pieces for display. The overhead was low to begin with as we did all the work ourselves and with what very little money we did have, we purchased a few key denim pieces from Cheap Monday which has now become our largest and sought out label.

3. When did you begin to sew, did you study fashion design formally?

I was formally trained at Mass Art in Boston, Ma., where I received a degree in Fashion Design. Tommy is a self taught photographer and graphic artist who I taught to sew when we first had the inclination to start our own line 4 years ago. In 2005 we began selling This Old Thing? to a few select shops in NY, LA and TX. It was then that we had created a stock of vintage garments with which we would work from. Many items we didn’t have the heart to cut up so we kept them as inspirations. This pile started to get out of control so we decided to create one-day-only pop-up shops to make some extra cash. We did these in Boston (our hometown) as well as in Brooklyn at the space now called Public Assembly (formerly Galapagos).

The popularity and quick success of our this new endeavor gave us the idea that we should combine all of our retail knowledge (15 years between Tommy and I) that we have ever had and make it official with our own permanent shop. So hence the first ALTER came to be.

4. Do you follow a design philosophy or is your process more organic?

We are very organic in our approach to fashion, merchandising and buying. It all comes from our gut. We do not have a specific design philosophy but do approach things in hopes to create a fresh view on retailing, styling and curating.

5. What do you find advantageous about designing & selling your collections in Greenpoint, Brooklyn?

We enjoy our neighborhood and working in it. It is a small community filled with great people who are enjoying what we do. Our customer base is very fashion conscious and savvy and look to us to give them clothing that they can wear all the time at an amazing price.

6. Do you have a muse?

We don’t have a specific person who we would call our muse. We respect and look up to many different people/ companies from all different disciplines. We try to meet our eye for great, fun and wearable fashion with the needs of our customers.

7. What is your favorite restaurant in Brooklyn?

Diner in Williamsburg… amazing food in a low key atmosphere.

Alter 109 (Men)

109 Franklin St.

near Greenpoint Ave.

Brooklyn, NY 11222

tel: 718.784.8818

ALTER 140 (Women)

140 Franklin St.

near Greenpoint Ave.

Brooklyn, NY 11222

tel: 718.349.0203

Do you have any tips for a spotlight feature? I’d love to hear from you: alison@burdastyle.com.

Featured Member: NattyJane

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1. Where are you from and/or where do you live?

I was born and raised in Berkeley and Oakland, California. I spent the last four years in Santa Cruz where I received my bachelors in mathematics from UCSC, but I couldn’t stand being away from the Bay Area and moved back as soon as I was done. Now I’m working part time as a lifeguard and living with/ taking care of my 90 year old grandma.

2. What was the 1st thing you made? How did you start sewing?

My mom is the person who got me started in the world of sewing. My mom is an artist and I owe my creative, crafty, and artsy side to her. When we were little, my mom would work on all sorts of craft projects with my sister and I including sewing projects. I remember making shirts for my teddy bears, sachets of lavender, and simple bags. A few years ago I started to make my own handbags. I mostly used canvas which I would first paint and then sew into a bag. I didn’t think I could make clothing until a few months ago when I decided to finally try a pattern. Now I’m using patterns and making up my own and I’m completely addicted.

3. What role does sewing play in your life?

For me sewing plays the role of a creative outlet in my life. I can turn on some music and get lost in a project for hours. It is a wonderful way to relax and let my mind wander.

4. What is your favorite and what is your least favorite thing about sewing?

My favorite thing about sewing is coming up with the project idea. I love looking for fabric and buttons and I love writing down ideas in my sketchbook and thinking about how I can make the ideas a reality. I have an interesting mix of approaches when it comes to sewing because on one hand I have a mathematical mind that wants to plan out measurements and make sure things are in order, but on the other hand I enjoy diving right in to my creativity and seeing where it takes me. My least favorite thing about sewing is cutting out patterns and following directions. For example, I didn’t start using buttons until recently because I absolutely didn’t want to read how to make the button holes in my sewing machine manual (I finally broke down and read it though and found out they are rather easy. I guess that’s a lesson to myself, instructions help!).

5. If you could make something for anyone who would it be and what would you make?

I’d really like to start making things for the people I love most. I think that hand made gifts come from the heart and can show how much you care. My best friend has been pestering me to make her a romper so maybe I should start there (I just have to figure out how to size things for someone other than myself).

6. What are you looking for on our site? What do you think should be improved and what do you really like?

I absolutely love BurdaStyle because I can share my creativity and explore the creativity of others. It’s a great website for sewing knowledge and inspiration. Plus it’s another way to stay in touch with my sister. She lives in another state, but Burda allows us to share our latest projects and ideas with each other. I also really like the patterns that you can print at home (although maybe not the piecing together and cutting out part).

7. What is your motto?

I recently found a fortune cookie fortune floating around my room that read: “the lovely things of life are as necessary as the air by which you live.” I don’t normally pay much attention to fortune cookies, but this message got me thinking about the lovely things in my life and sewing is definitely one of them.

NattyJane has 17 wonderful creations that always catch my eye. Check out where she gets her inspiration from on her favorite top ten

Is It Tuesday Already?

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My best friend, whom I met while living in Mexico in 1998 is visiting from Los Angeles and there’s much to do. My primary sketches for Caress are due this Friday (yikes!) so I found it natural to meander into some high-fashion. We popped into Alexander McQueen and wow! The current collection has these silky, a-symmetrical gowns with incredible embroidered birds and daisies that look as if they are painted on, stunning. His tailoring and dart placement is otherworldly and the slope of his shoulder pad is perfection. It is so interesting to feel these garments, most of the pieces are seamed with boning, have built in bustiers and padding in wild places.

A Matthew Williamson shop has finally opened (right next to McQueen) and talk about vibrancy! I visit these stores as an art historian would visit the Met: to look and be inspired, my Louvre being Barney’s. I have recently become obsessed with prints and embellishments and found no lack of pleated chiffon appliques, sequence and beading.

As to quench the thirst for designing my own prints, an immense passion, I tried out Spoonflower knowing the low price wouldn’t necessarily reflect quality: they print exclusively on a stiff, rough cotton and don’t offer color matching (though it’s great for quilts or upholstery). I washed the first batch in cold water and lost about 30% of the color. You get what you pay for. Has anyone else tried Spoonflower? I have a hunch though these errors shall improve in time:)

Now back to the drawing board.

Getting To Know Your Fabric Cuts

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Even though I’ve got a few quilts under my belt, I don’t consider myself a quilter (I still have so much to learn before I earn that title), But, something happens when spring hits and I suddenly have the desire to piece together small bits of fabric and make something that I can snuggle with when the nights are still a bit chilly. With the flowers blooming and the grass turning green, that urge is coming back. However, this time I’d love to try something new and since I’m out of the loop, I have no idea what a Jelly Roll consists of, let alone a Honey Bun. Want to learn the difference too? This blog entry by Simplify will help you learn all the ‘sweet’ cuts!

Video: How a Dress Form is Made

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Ever wondered how a professional dress form is produced? Have a look at this great video on the Science Channel – How It’s Made: Dress Form. Thank you wzrdreams for posting this on Facebook! Click here to start watching.

Time for bow-ties

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Now that the Melbourne Stitches & Craft Show is over i have a little extra time to sew. My first project was to make some bow-ties for the Sewalong. I chose a number of pink and black fabrics from one of my favourite fabric stores, Amitie Textiles, here in Melbourne. I particularly love the fine stripes! I had thought of embelishing some of them but i think that the fabric speaks for itself, so simple yet so striking. All i need now is to take a trip to the fabric store to find the correct size sliders, those i bought a while back were too small. I’m thinking of making some more snazzy bow-ties too. They’re so quick and easy to make and so addictive! Have you had time sew up a bow-tie for the sewalong? Don’t forget that they will need to be with us by May 4th after which they will be auctioned off to help the American Cancer Society.

More Bow Ties Coming In!

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You gals rock! In the last two days we got 4, yes 4 bow ties! We got three awesome pink ones from Fatmouse in Biloxi, MS: one in Burlap, one in Seersucker and one in Elvis Print. We also got a wonderfully soft black bow tie made from bamboo by mecb in Portland. Keep up the great work!

Learn about our pledge of 150 bow ties to the American Cancer Society and send your own in your own by May 4th!

Get everything you need for a bow tie right here!

The Golden Ratio

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The great plus size patterns that BurdaStyle has been adding to its collection made me curious to find out what lies behind our ideas of shape and proportions and whether these are different around the world. I started my investigation and was transported into the world of geometry where I found the “golden ratio”. This ratio equals 1.618Ö (plus an infinite number of decimals), carries the mysterious name “phi” and is so attractive to the human mind that it has been seeking (and finding!) it throughout the universe: in the spirals of galaxies, the curves of Nautilus seashells, and in the wings of moths. And it has spurred human imagination: artists and architects around the world have been employing this ratio to create what we know as classic masterpieces: the pyramids of Egypt, Greek sculptures, paintings of da Vinci and Dali, the music of Mozart and Beethoven.

So, what is this “golden ratio” or phi? Simply speaking it defines the perfect proportion between two parts. Take for example the shape of Mona Lisa: when you draw a rectangle around her head, dividing the larger side by the smaller side of the rectangle will give you the approximate number of 1.618 = phi. Or take da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man and divide the length from his feet to his navel by the length from his navel to his head, again you will arrive at the approximate number 1.618Ö

We can find this ratio not just in idealized human body shapes but in real ones too: curiously in the most obscure places such as the relation between the front and its neighbour tooth.

And of course we can apply this golden ratio rule to fashion as well, for example to find the right proportions for a dress, or to combine a skirt with a jacket, as Gabrielle Loodts shows. The key here is to find the right proportion between the covered and uncovered parts of your body to create a perfect visual relation between the two (note that it is completely unimportant what size you are as long as you get the proportions of your clothes right!) There is no need to repeat what Gabrielle describes with lots of visual examples, check it out!!!

How-to transform a coffee filter into a dreamy neck piece...

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Non-textile projects can be a fun beginner’s project or satisfy one’s desire to make an inexpensive, fun accessory. This week we are offering a how-to which anyone could make. Our very own magnificent intern David, who goes by a curious alias in his new online magazine Open Lab, was kind enough to share with us his “Make A Victorian Ruffle” how-to this week. This isn’t your ordinary neck piece either, this coffee filter bunch of joy is a lovely and thrifty project.

Check out the How-to here!

If you’re inspired by David’s project, you should check out these links for some other beautiful projects:

Creature Comforts D.I.Y. Coffee Filter Garlands

A “design for all creatures great and small” blog which features many lovely projects and inspiring tidbits, this blog shows another creative way to assimilate paper creatively into your world (and has amazing fashion finds)!

Got Coffee Filters?

“Got Art?” features used coffee filters transformed into flowers, the petals look like dried hydrangeas, absolutely gorgeous. The artist also uses watercolors on the filters to make a colorful array of paper flowers, she even made a skirt for her doll. (scroll all the way to the bottom)

Coffee-Filter Fairy Godmother No-Sew Halloween Costume

Even Martha Stewart’s team has taken to the coffee filter. Here is a quick and easy no-sewing involved project.

Open Call: Do you have a great how-to that you have not yet posted to Burdastyle that you would like us to feature? Contact us!

Button It Up!

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Do you have a pile of buttons? I know that I have a jar of beautiful vintage buttons just sitting there to be admired. Unfortunately they have been in the jar for the past 3 decades and I just can’t find uses for all of them. Fortunately, Susan Beal’s new book, Button It Up is out, with over 80 projects for all of us button lovers.

Featured Member: Lizzie225

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1. Where are you from and/or where do you live?

I’m from Germany. I come from Halle/Saale and now study in Flensburg.

2. What was the 1st thing you made? How did you start sewing?

I didn’t really start with sewing, i started stitching. There were tons of boring jeans or shirts that i would stitch stars on, or pictures of ‘Emily Strange’ because i didn’t have the money to buy the clothes (later I used fabric colours). Then i moved on to making easy things like skirts of old dresses/shirts and tote bags and those felt puppets that are on here too.

My mum and her sisters have always made their clothes by themselves. And I am glad I grew up in a family where handcrafts were still something normal. Otherwise I would have never started sewing. Plus we have all the stuff you need for sewing, I never needed to buy zippers or buttons or anything like that. My mum knows a lot about sewing and can help me with everything.

3. What role does sewing play in your life?

I haven’t been sewing that much before. Only a few pieces a year. And then I’ve spent a year abroad where I didn’t have time for sewing nor did I have my beautiful sewing machine with me. But now I finally rediscovered sewing as a passion of mine. I dared to use patterns too – I’ve always been afraid because they look so confusing. And now that I have holidays I started making one piece after another and am really surprised and proud of what they came out to be. I’ve never thought I could sew a vest! My next aim will be making pants!

4. What is your favorite and what is your least favorite thing about sewing?

What I love about sewing is creating something unique and let your fantasy play. You can imagine your perfect prom dress and try sewing it. And although it might not be perfectly made, it will still be the best dress ever because you put so much effort and love in it. And it means a lot more than any bought dress.
Or that old shirt of your mum that has a history of itself and that she didn’t throw away yet. You wouldn’t even think of wearing it because it shows the belly or whatever. But since the fabric is so nice you can make a top or skirt of it and continue the history of that piece.

What I don’t like about sewing is first of all that fabrics are way too expensive. Nowadays clothes are so very cheap. So why spend lots of money on fabric to create something? For me – as an admitted shopaholic :D – it takes some motivation to get away from buying clothes and rather create unique pieces myself.
And then most creations take tiiiime. I always get so excited and want to see the result as soon as possible (I think that’s also why my creations are always so ugly inside haha). For me it’s hard to stop before the piece isn’t finished, so sometimes there are working nights involved. Because if I’d stop it is most unlikely that I continue the next day.

5. If you could make something for anyone who would it be and what would you make?

Currently im really into the series ‘Gossip Girl’. It’s a great series and with lots of stylish clothes that inspire me. If I could sew something for anyone, I would like to make a dress for one of the characters – my favorite one is Jenny Humphrey, she creates clothes too :] – and she would wear it in the series.

My own self made wedding dress will definitely be on the list too.. when the time comes.

6. What are you looking for on our site? What do you think should be improved and what do you really like?

I really love this site. You get to know other sewing addicts all around the world, can find patterns and share them, the how to’s are very cool too, you can post your creations and see what others think of it and you get a lot of inspirations by the creations of others!

But I think patterns on here should be for free. I heard that they used to be.. And having to scale each picture to 400×555 pixels it really annoying too.

7. What is your motto?

Don’t throw away clothes. Fabric is so expensive that you should think twice before throwing something away. There is always something smaller that you can make out of it!

Lizzie225’s incredible creations have been catching our eye every time she uploads a new one. Check out her top ten! .

You Decided, New Plus Size Sewing Pattern: Paola

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We asked you which you preferred and the answer was pretty clear: Paola! We are working on drafting up a pattern and addressing the bust fit concerns. Thanks for all your feedback, you can look for this in the Fall/Winter 09 collection!

Many Rivers to Cross...

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I am so thrilled to have screen-printed our last Dahl & Dane True Love Always t-shirt last night! Dahl & Dane was conceived as a fun side-project last September between my boyfriend & myself. Launched with a Daily Candy write-up (thank you Jeralyn Gerba) last September, our customized “I (heart)” organic cotton t-shirts & tote bags took off like dynamite. We’ve been up to our necks in hearts and we were so busy that I didn’t even design an Autumn/Winter collection, sigh, which under normal circumstances would have caused a deep depression in me, but thankfully, making so many t-shirts has opened my eyes to a new market and we’re excited to start our next project of boys & girls separates & accessories adorned with our own prints.

In the meantime, I am partnering with Caress and Cosmopolitan magazine to design 3 looks for an ad campaign and sweepstakes inspired by Caress body washes. The next 2 weeks will be dedicated to sketching out my design concepts which will be followed by a photo shoot of the 3 looks for which I’ll be the stylist. I am inspired by this project because I will be designing outside of my usual “box”, for the idea calls for something slightly outrageous. I found a website called “The Business of Fashion” where this article offers a cohesive explanation of partnerships and their advantages. I highly recommend finding a lawyer to aid young designers in these endeavors, as two large corporations vs. a small design house can spell trouble. But if you can come to agree upon the terms than it can be a great step forward.

Fabricate: 17 Innovative Sewing Projects That Make Fabric The Star

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There have been many times that I’ve looked for ‘the right fabric’, only to come up empty handed. Aside from designing my own fabric at websites such as Spoonflower or silkscreening my own design, I often am left to find something else that ‘will do’. However, I recently read Fabricate and was definitely inspired. If the cover alone doesn’t grab your attention the information inside certainly will. Fabricate: 17 Innovative Sewing Projects that Make Fabric the Star shows you a variety of techniques that teach you how to create how to create one-of a kind, custom fabrics plus the projects that will show them off!

I’ve been reading this book for over a week now and have enjoyed learning some new techniques – some of my favorites? Stitchless Embroidery – I love how the author made simple bits of fabric and string look so elegant on a shirt…. plus it’s easy to boot! Puffed Tufts – I’ve seen this technique on bridal\evening gowns and have always wondered how this look was achieved (now I can give it a try for myself). Fused Plastic – because I love the idea of recycling all those bags I get from the store. Applied Felt – The “Dots Bag” included in the book was one of my favorite designs… I’m just looking for the perfect excuse to try it out!

Overall, I liked Fabricate. Although I won’t try everything in the book, I definitely thought it was inspiring and it gave me lots of ideas for embellishing a few of my upcoming projects.

Celebrate Spring: Get the Winning Pattern Combo

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You voted and we listened. Combination 2 was the clear winner, despite a last minute push for Combination 1. Until March 23rd 2009, you can download the Ute Blouse free from BurdaStyle and order Skirt 2656 from Simplicity at a great spring discount of $5 (with no additional shipping fees within the continental United States)! To get your skirt from the Simplicity website, at this amazing spring discount, follow these easy steps:

  1. Follow this link, and click “Proceed to Checkout”

  2. Click the tab that reads “Promotion Codes” in the Shopping Cart.

  3. Click “Add Promotion Code” button.

  4. Type in the code CELEBRATE – please note the code is case-sensitive.

  5. Click “Apply”

  6. Click the tab that reads “Items” to get back to the Shopping Cart; you will see the new price applied in the total.

We had so much fun with this event, and we hope you did too. Both the BurdaStyle and Simplicity teams are very excited to see your creations. Happy sewing!

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