The threads indie designer Lisa Hackwith creates for Hackwith Design House are hyper minimalist, clean lines, and architecturally simple staples worthy of some attention
It’s why when someone as deliberate as Lisa Hackwith announces she’s launching a collection for curvier women, it’s a welcome sight. Her stuff isn’t the flashiest or the sexiest, and that’s refreshing, and we find ourselves looking to her for clothes with startling frequency.
She brings a sophistication to the form, mastering a relaxed capsule wardrobe. We wanted to talk with her about creating duds for a range of body types so we rang her and her business partner Erin Husted to learn about what she noticed about designing pieces she couldn’t try on herself for the first time, why XL has always sold well for the company, and how everyone doesn’t want to accentuate their waist.
It’s so rare that we see modern clothes like yours that are affordable. How do you make that happen?
Lisa Hackwith: It helps that it’s all in-house produced, and I can see everything. It probably helps that I do the pattern making creating myself.
What’s the difference creating clothes for this market between you and a big brand?
Erin Husted: That’s an interesting thing. I do think we can respond a lot quicker to the demand of the marketplace because we’re so much smaller. When she had the idea for swimsuits in November, we rolled them out January, and it was such an immediate turnaround, because we’re all in-house. So with plus, we got to talking to women about Hackwith design pieces that they really loved, and wanted in their sizes and we were able to just start designing relatively quickly.
And Lisa, why did you want to be accommodating to this demand?
Lisa: I had always specifically tried to design with multiple body shapes and sizes in mind so it was just trying to expand that idea. Plus had been a goal for a while, and other stuff just got in the way. I was a little bit more scared to design things that I couldn’t try on, and I felt I was venturing into uncharted territory, and I wanted it to be good because it takes more time to do it.
What did you discover about dressing the women?
We met with a lot of women that were plus-size, and I think that the same ideas hold for straight sized women, many shapes and sizes. You think, maybe they want to accentuate their waist, but then you realize that no, that’s not true. We tried to design a collection of pieces that are really versatile and you can wear it the way you want to wear it, like the reversible top.
Any lessons you had to learn?
It was a big learning process. We made the samples and had different women try them on. There was some going back to the drawing board. There were things I thought would look really nice, and then they didn’t so we’re still learning and we’re hoping every collection gets better. We’ll see what silhouettes work. When we do straight sized clothes, we listen to our customer feedback and make changes we’re hearing what people ask for and then we stick with stuff that’s working.
What did you base your measurements on for this collection?
We started with basic plus-size measurements and we just stick with the fit that we had before. Our things are oversized, they’re not super tight fitting so we wanted to stay true to that aesthetic in straight size with plus size because that’s everyone’s aesthetic so there was trial and error. We asked them, ‘what size do you normally wear,’ and they’d try it in that size, and say oh that fits well.
What’s an example of something you tried that didn’t work?
I had a silhouette with a line down the middle and it would hit lower than it hit on the straight size version, it was more at the waistline. That didn’t make it as flattering as I was hoping for, so I went back to make it longer to accommodate body type. That was just adding a couple inches to the shoulder so that everything hits two inches where it should. It was longer than I was hoping it to fit and it was just about extending the shape up.
What are some methods you used to address fit?
It was a little hard. I couldn’t try anything on so it was a little slower because I had people coming in to give feedback. I’d ask, “do you feel good in this?” “Is it fitting where you want it?” and “is it accentuating what you want it to accentuate?” I looked at so many photos too to get a read on what they wore and why it looked more flattering, and how the eye is drawn toward certain things so trying to work a lot with how the lines accentuate that feature and the natural shape of the body.
And Erin, what did you discover when preparing for this?
Erin: One thing that was interesting that we learned is that not a lot of plus-size clothing is being made in the U.S. so we’re really excited that we’re a resource for women being able to buy something in the U.S. that’s plus-size. It’s something we didn’t realize until we researched, so it’s good to be one of the few people operating that hopefully more companies start doing that.
What do you see as a trap that designers fall into with this market?
Erin: One of the things is that there’s a lot of patterns in plus-size clothing and Lisa doesn’t use patterns when she’s designing. If she does, it’s very rare, and we knew we were not going to change and start using patterns just because there are lines that do. That doesn’t make sense to us in.
In addressing women who feel marginalized, what kinds of feedback do you get?
Erin: One of the things that’s really interested when a lot of plus-size clothing they kind of say, aren’t you so glad we did this for you? We wanted this to be seen as something that’s a goal of ours to continue. We view it as a smart business move so that we make the clothes women can buy from us.
And Lisa, any difference in thinking about creating clothes for bust or hips?
Lisa: Well thinking of silhouettes that accentuate someone that doesn’t wear straight sizes, in talking with women, we got the exact same responses about their bodies that I have. They and I feel self-conscious about the same things and they say that’s the kind of clothes I want to wear, and I do too, so taking a lot of that feedback, I designed things I’m putting into my straight size collections, and there was a back and forth, and I really like that.
Can you tell me about range of sizes, and how that’s determined?
We now go from an extra small to a plus four, plus size 28, so this is kind of taking the designs that work the best from extra small to plus. We start from a size 8- 10 and go up and down from there.
Anything challenging about going up and down the sizes?
I kind of always designed that way so it was easy to do that. I think that the most important thing is to figure out what looks good on a more average size and go up and down, but that wasn’t too hard to switch to.
And what about the cost when it comes to your fabric and your time with this collection?
We really didn’t want it to be a lot more than our straight sizes, it could be 5 to 10 more. We did have to account for more fabric and more time averaging out the small size and finding a way to round out the price.
You’ve just launched. What kind of feedback did you get?
Erin: It was really fun to meet with women and talk about it. The best feedback was that a couple of straight-sized customers are saying, ‘are you going to design that in straight size?’ That’s exactly what we want happening.
Where do you see the business is at in terms of this size?
Well I think that with New York Fashion Week, there were a few designers who had plus-size models, and that’s one thing we’re seeing more of. It shows people there’s another marketplace, that there is an entire group of women and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be making the clothes. I imagine it will continue to grow. I don’t see why it shouldn’t.
What’s a business’s reluctance to do this?
I couldn’t speak about others who aren’t interested in going there. One of the interesting things we found was that some of the women weren’t always plus-size, they became plus-size, and they had a hard time when they changed sizes so that was part of it, but now with body positivity they’re taking it back, and realizing that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve clothing. I think if that continues to happen, the demand will increase and businesses will respond.
Is their a revolution of new brands or is it just because when something good happens it’s splashy?
I think that maybe revolution is a strong word. There is more awareness. These plus size models have taken control of their Instagram and demanded to be seen and plus-size bloggers as well, so maybe more visual awareness.
So that’s visibility. What about the demand?
We just started so we have one week worth of data, but we’ve always had a lot of all our clothes come in extra large, and those sizes have always sold well for us. We anticipate that we will have an entire plus-size line, and we hope to add plus-size swim line and basics. We’re a small business so it’s one thing at a time and we want to see how it goes. I hope it goes well.
And Lisa, what kind of fabrics do you like to use?
They’re kind of all over. The fall line has a lot of wool. Those are heavy in the fall lineup, but spring will be a lot more linens and cottons. We’ll continue with tinsel. It’s easy to pack, and all the wrinkles fall out when you unpack them, and environmentally they’re good.
But no difference in fabrication?
Right, no difference.
All photos taken by Eliesa Johnson for Hackwith Design House