Values-based fashion: How Suki + Solaine is doing things differently

Insights from Brandi Archer, Suki + Solaine (Bucktown)

Brandi (third from right) and the team wearing Suki + Solaine

Brandi (third from right) and the team wearing Suki + Solaine

When Brandi Archer, founder of Suki + Solaine, came to Chicago for law school, she had a different career path in the back of her mind.

“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. … I wanted to have my hands in everything, and I wanted to make a difference somewhere. I am super self-motivated, I can force myself to get up at 5am and work until midnight, and I knew that, but not for something that I didn’t believe in.”

When one of her best friends, a successful stylist in Chicago, asked if she would start a clothing line with him, she jumped into the unknown and gave entrepreneurship a shot.

They quickly realized they had a lot to learn: “We had no idea what we were getting into.” They were trying to do everything on their own without much experience, and after two years the clothing line fell apart.

“He decided, ‘I hate having a business,’ and I was like, ‘I love having a business!’ Now I know all the mistakes we’ve made, so I just need to reevaluate.”

After a couple months of planning, Suki + Solaine came to life in 2014. Brandi found that she always wore two kinds of clothing: comfy-casual and fun prints. She decided to bring those “two sides of one girl” to Suki + Solaine: super casual basics and funky print pieces, always with the priority of soft, high-quality fabric. “I was all about soft and easy. Even if I’m going to an event, I never want to get dressed up. I might want to wear heels, but with a soft casual dress.”

I found that I like working with women and for women. … That’s why I like having a store. These women come in, and when you see them find something that looks amazing, you know that you made it and you worked for that.
— Brandi
women owned chicago clothing

Brandi grew the team and started selling wholesale to boutiques (one of their first and best customers was Milk Handmade, another lady-owned shop on the BOSSY map). They started a pop-up, which did so well that they decided to open up a brick & mortar shop. And three years after its founding, Suki + Solaine still does everything in-house, from creating designs to cutting fabrics.

“It’s a lot to do from beginning to end, but it was really important to me because I feel like that’s just not how things usually work. … I wanted to be vertically integrated. We’re all about ethical — everybody making a living wage, knowing where the clothes come from, all of that.”

Brandi’s research during her first attempt to start a clothing line revealed the darker side of the fashion world. She saw that fast fashion retailers, who provide clothing trends that come and go quickly and cheaply, are on the rise. Consumers’ habit of continuously buying and throwing away clothing hurts the environment, and the industry’s frenzy for speed over safety results in awful human rights violations. Instead of letting that drive her away, Brandi saw an opportunity to do things differently. “My initial thing was, I want to know how the clothes are made, and who’s making them.”

women owned fabric fashion

Suki + Solaine only manufactures in the U.S., and they educate customers about how to take care of their clothes and make them last. In the midst of her efforts to lessen waste and encourage safe working environments, Brandi’s next shock came with the election in November.

“When everything happened with the election, my first thought was, ‘What am I doing? I’m making clothes! This isn’t anything important.’ … I went to the women’s march and I saw everybody’s shirts, and I was like, I want to make something like that and give back to charity.”

She was inspired to create WOMYN, a capsule collection, and donated a portion of the proceeds to charity: “It was also to feel empowered, and bring not only women, but people together.”

After years growing up as a tomboy and starting her career in finance and law, Brandi finally found her entrepreneurial calling in the world of fashion.

“I found that I like working with women and for women. … That’s why I like having a store. These women come in, and when you see them find something that looks amazing, you know that you made it and you worked for that.”

Check out Suki + Solaine’s collection (and sip some complimentary champagne) this Thursday at the grand opening of their brick & mortar shop.

Isabel BenatarComment