Unity Outfitters: The Sustainable Lingerie Brand
As you might expect with a namesake for a blog that includes “indigo," we are passionate about highlighting small businesses that are using existing natural resources and materials to ethically create products. We’ve always found the area of undergarments and lingerie to be a challenging one to navigate and find quality pieces and from fair trade sources. However, we were recently connected with the brand Unity Outfitters and their amazing and beautiful founder, Katina Gad. Unity Outfitters is a size-inclusive, ethically produced lingerie brand that uses natural dyes and responsibly sourced materials. Resources such as organic indigo, turmeric and even rose hips are used in the thoughtful dyeing process to produce the vibrant colors in all of the pieces.
This newly launched, USA-based brand is really leading the way as a model company that we hope other fashion brands will mirror in the future. Katina recently held a Kickstarter Campaign which was wildly successful and fully funded to push her brand and production forward — her pieces, which are beautifully designed for all body types and sizes, can be viewed on their new website: https://unityoutfitters.com. Products offered include bras and bralettes, panties and slip dresses.
Katina, who has more than 15 years of experience in the textile and apparel industry, was gracious enough to provide a guest post for us on her background and her process for building a USA-based brand. You will love hearing from Katina and seeing her passion for others shine through her writing and work.
On Building a Brand
by Katina Gad - Founder, Unity Outfitters
This calling has always been very personal to me, my mom’s family came to the U.S.A. from Syria, and her mother was a dressmaker by trade. She opened up a fabric shop and made custom dresses, and this helped support the family. I was always at my Sittu’s (grandma’s) feet as a child, and she began teaching me how to sew and design when I was a child. Many of my earliest memories are of watching her work. It’s nice to be able to carry on a family tradition and to have a heritage craft that is still valuable to society, and that there are jobs in.
I have always been interested in entrepreneurship for as long as I can remember, but I also knew that gaining an education and work experience before going out on my own would provide me with a more solid foundation. So I went to university, not once or twice, but three times, graduating with degrees in Business Administration (from Wake Tech), Fashion Design (from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles), and Fashion and Textile Management (from North Carolina State University.) I worked a dozen different positions, learning everything I could about the fashion industry, some of those jobs I loved and some of those jobs I dreaded going into by the time I quit and moved on. But I really learned a lot and the experiences shaped me and my understanding of how the fashion industry’s gears turn.
In my last position I spoke out against the way that workers were being treated — management didn’t appreciate this input and they told me more than once to keep it to myself. I didn’t, so I got let go from that position. That was when I realized I was ready to have my own business so that I could do things the right way. I had seen enough of how this industry I love and grew up in was being operated and I was ready to be the change. So that’s how my business was born, and I’m now making products I’m really proud to make and sell in a way that I know has a positive impact on everyone involved and everyone who wears it.
When I started out with Unity Outfitters, I knew I wanted to do something that helped women and that involved natural dyes and organic fabric. While at NC State, I had done a study abroad in Guatemala and volunteered with a women’s weaving cooperative while there. So starting off I chose to work with those women, I purchased fabric from them following the principles of fair trade, and then I brought the fabric back to North Carolina and I hired one production seamstress to do my sewing for me. I had begun looking for similar types of groups around the world to work with, traveling to the Philippines, Thailand, looking into going to Peru and India… And after three years I kept breaking even. I have always paid my workers first before paying myself, and I was spending everything I made on traveling - I loved every minute of it. I am very thankful I was able to support myself this way, but I really wanted to be able to stay home and start making a profit off of my work to save for the future.
About a year ago I decided to take a year off selling and manufacturing product., I took as many natural dye classes as possible. I took up an artist residency in Oaxaca, Mexico for a month. I joined a business incubator and took online classes, and I spent a year coming up with the collection I launched through Kickstarter. To me, switching the business model to producing bras, underwear, sleepwear, and loungewear was always inevitable. When I studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles lingerie was my main focus, being able to design and produce these garments now, here in Raleigh, using a local supply chain, it really has been such a happy homecoming.
The sky is the limit when it comes to what the future holds for Unity Outfitters! I would love to have my own retail space locally, someplace big enough to do our production under one roof and also be able to sell our own products along with other sustainable products. We now employ two single mothers to do our production sewing. I would love to be able to build that team and continue to provide employment for more women like this. Through the end of the year we will be busy producing and sending out the orders placed during the kickstarter campaign, and also starting to shoot looks for our next collection that will be available for sale starting in January. I’m getting a hang of wearing 50 hats at one time, but hopefully we will grow big enough soon for me to hire some help with more of the operations work.