This Newark fashion startup is creating sustainable haute couture - Technical.ly Delaware

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Jul. 22, 2019 4:30 pm

This Newark fashion startup is creating sustainable haute couture

Fite Fashion will launch its first collection on July 29 in Philadelphia.
A shot from a recent Fite Fashion photo shoot.

A shot from a recent Fite Fashion photo shoot.

(Courtesy photo)

Newark-based fashion designer Michelle Fite noticed a gap in the formal fashion market while searching for sustainable bridal dresses.

“There just weren’t very many options,” Fite said. “And then the aesthetic of a lot of the options is either super super simple, almost nightdress-like or kind of hippie-ish or like a Renaissance Fair. I just felt like that doesn’t seem like what a lot of brides want. It’s fine that those things are out there and that’s great, but I thought there was a nice hole in the market for me to step into.”

The company she started in 2018 with husband Thomas, Fite Fashion, is set to launch its first line of sustainable luxury fashions — the area’s first in the formalwear market.

The line avoids some of the fashion industry’s darker practices simply by avoiding mass production.

“Eighty percent of everything is sewn by me at this moment,” said Fite, who currently works out of her home, but hopes to eventually open a production space locally, possibly in downtown Wilmington.

“It would be nice to be part of the up-and-coming scene on Market Street in Wilmington,” she said. “My goal is the vertically integrated manufacturing, so if I do set up in Wilmington, for example, I’d be training local people, I’d be paying them a living wage, I’d be doing my patterning and my cutting and my sewing and my shipping in-house.”

The Fite Fashion business model minimizes waste by making pieces on order, something mainly seen in men’s formalwear (though there are boutiques, such as Wilmington’s entreDonovan, that offer high-tech custom fashions for women).

“It just made more sense to me as a startup business to not make 500 things and hope they sell,” said Fite. “You’re eliminating a lot of waste — there’s been a recent controversy about Burberry burning millions of dollars of clothes because they’d been overproduced. I just find that absolutely appalling. That was one of those things that was like, ‘Well if I just change my business model a little bit, then it’s automatically more sustainable than over-producing.'”

And, thanks to Thomas Fite’s programming background, the small-scale, high-end fashion company is incorporating tech into its production mode.

“He’s going to have everything digitized in Illustrator so that if you order a pair of pants from me and you say, ‘I want the waist to be 29 1/2, inseam 30,’ you can order those pants and then he can go in Illustrator and lengthen or shorten the pants, print that pattern out on our large format printer, then we can make it,” said Fite, who herself has an undergraduate degree in fine arts and a masters in fashion design from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

When it comes to the pieces themselves, sustainability has to do with the raw materials.

“Your fabric choices are very important, and they are very limited, especially when you’re talking about things that are not active wear. Active wear is doing a much better job of tackling [sustainable fabrics]” — think of how easy it is to nab an organic fair trade naturally dyed t-shirt, for instance, she said. “But I feel like I’m called to work on what speaks to me, so I’ve been really stubborn about pushing and pushing to try and find what I need.”

For example, a Fite Fashion gown was featured at Bemberg’s booth at a recent New York trade show. Bemberg is the brand name of cupro, a non-petroleum-based cotton byproduct rayon fabric.

“They displayed a fuchsia gown of mine because the lining is made of cupro. I’m using it in my line because it’s very hard to get a lining material that’s not petroleum based,” Fite said. Other materials she’s used include non-petroleum-based materials or natural materials including silks, wools, organic cottons and Tencel fiber, which is made out of eucalyptus, beech or bamboo rayon.

The biggest challenge in sustainable fashion, according to Fite? Dyes.

She believes her commitment to sustainability is shared by other women shopping for high-end fashion.

“Ladies who really do want to make responsible choices, maybe they’re just they’re not buying that thing even though it’s super responsibly-made because they just don’t want to wear it,” she said. “It wouldn’t make them happy. I think the eye buys first and foremost, and then I get to say ‘hey, I also pay everyone who works for me a living wage and hey, this is made right here and I do it myself.'”

Fite Fashion will host a showcase event and cocktail reception at Bok Bar in Philadelphia on July 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. RSVP here.

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