Starting a womenswear brand from scratch is a difficult challenge, but it’s one that has led Stitch By Chanel to reach great heights in only a few years.
Chanel Green, a native of Henrico County and a Varina High School graduate, had never intended to start a clothing company — until she realized that her hobby and favored family pastime could actually become a real business. That realization, which took place two years ago, is what led to the establishment of her custom-order womenswear brand, Stitch By Chanel.
Growing up in suburban Virginia was a far cry from the experiences of her mother and grandmother. Many years ago, Chanel’s grandmother set out on a mission to support her children from afar, leaving Trinidad for London in search of work. She eventually had the opportunity to bring her twelve children overseas and reunite with them. Although they held onto their differences, one thing remained consistent through the generations: the family tradition of creating clothing. This is where our story starts.
While living and growing up in London, Chanel’s mother participated in pageants as well as modeling. This meant that looking fabulous on a regular basis was a must, but it had to be done on a budget. High-street shops weren’t an option. Luckily, Chanel explained, “[My grandmother] had taught my mom how to sew … my mom made her own dresses.” Because of the countless hours her grandmother had invested in teaching her children the intricacies of sewing and the skills that turn sketches into actual garments, Chanel’s mother was able to make things work for herself.
Chanel herself learned how to sketch, sew, and create her own garments from family members who passed the trade down through the generations as a way of connecting creatively. “My grandma always did it out of passion, my mom always did it out of passion,” she says. “[My mother] taught me how to knit, she taught me how to sew, she taught me so many different things.”
While the family history of designing definitely existed, Chanel couldn’t always perceive the path to starting her own clothing company. But after graduating from high school and spending 10 years working in the corporate banking world, she got tired of the limitations her chosen career had imposed on her. She was ready for something bigger and better; she was finally ready to create. Lessons she had learned from both her mother and grandmother taught her what to do. “The biggest lesson that they have taught me is that this has to be done,” said Chanel. ”We have to create this.”
Creating mood boards, selecting fabrics, and constructing clothing for Stitch By Chanel has allowed Chanel to discover parts of her personality that she wasn’t familiar with before. “When you find the things that actually complete you, and it’s your actual self, I feel like you constantly find a new version of ‘you’,” she says. “Creating and sewing has been an outlet for me. It has created a space that allowed me to find myself.”
Although she’s successfully pursuing her dreams now, she wasn’t always optimistic. “Being a business owner, you fail so many times, but nobody ever tells you that failure is success. People only tell you that failure is failure,” says Chanel. “Getting overwhelmed with failure is not something that anyone ever tells you how to handle.”
After the task of designing and managing her own business started to leave her feeling drained, Chanel had to make a decision: get back up, or throw it all away. While the possibility of failure will always be present for business owners, Chanel didn’t let it bring her down, focusing on her main motivation to keep pursuing her dreams — the creation of a family legacy.
“There’s also not a lot of African American women in the fashion industry,” she says. ”A lot of the time, that lane (of opportunity) is diminished.” Even as more and more artists and creators of color are given opportunities in mainstream creative spaces, there is still a ton of work to be done, and Chanel wants to make sure she does her part.
In the spring of 2019, Stitch By Chanel made its debut on the catwalk at RVA Fashion Week, Central Virginia’s biggest annual presentation of fashion created by local and national brands. Since then, her focus has been on creating custom pieces for clients, as well as reworking vintage items and breathing new life into older clothing.
“There’s a lot of things you think are supposed to happen in the first year that just don’t,” says Chanel. “It takes time … I’m in the process of finalizing all of the branding details, getting the business plan finalized … Having a store and creating a place where people can come and not only see Stitch By Chanel but actually feel Stitch By Chanel is definitely going to be the next step.”
Top Photo via Stitch By Chanel/Facebook