Manchester designer creates one-of-a-kind garments

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MANCHESTER — You won't find the ubiquitous "Made in China" tag on any clothing in Robin Lane's store.

From start to finish — making the pattern, cutting the fabric and sewing — everything needed to create Lane's one-of-a-kind designs is done locally.

"We make everything in the store using ancient fabrics that are right for the right climate," Lane said.

Some 30 years ago, Lane, who is a self-taught clothing designer and sewer, started making t-shirts and baby clothes using cotton, silk and hemp. She has evolved her clothing line, which has led her to opening a store in Manchester's Historic Depot District and, last week she celebrated her 15th year there with an anniversary sale.

Under the soft lights hanging in the historic brick building, cream painted wooden walls and a hardwood floor accentuate Lane's clothing style. Dresses, shirts, pant, and jeans — made of soft, natural fabrics in black and earth tones that were carefully chosen by Lane — are tremendously soft to the touch, comfortable to wear, yet durable, washable and fashionable.

"We want our garments to become wardrobe staples and worn out," Lane said. "Worn out to life's special events, worn out in the garden, worn out over and over and over."

Lane likens her clothing design philosophy to her lifestyle. It's an "intentional way of living," she said.

"What we're making is good for the whole supply chain and good for customers," Lane said. "Made out of respect for the environment and people. Natural fabrics are grown in green spaces."

Lane's clothing, lifestyle and philosophy match that of the slow clothing movement.

Similar in thought to the slow food movement, the slow clothing movement focuses on an understanding of the process of how clothing is made and the origins of the materials. Is it grown sustainably? Is it environmentally friendly? Is it made in a socially responsible manner?

While the slow clothing movement is not what the mass market fashion industry is pushing, the idea has gained momentum over the years — especially with small, independent designers like Lane.

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Since all the work on Lane's collections is done in Manchester, she says she is consistently looking for independent sewing contractors from the area and admits it is difficult to find them.

This obstacle makes her next goal of expanding into the wholesale clothing market a bit more challenging, but not unobtainable given that she has experience in the wholesale arena.

In 2013, Lane collaborated with well-known fashion designer Donna Karan. The collaboration culminated with Karan buying one of Lane's linen, beachwear lines for Urban Zen's Sag Harbor store.

While Karan offered Lane feedback on how to improve her designs, Lane also learned about the logistics and production timing of clothing lines.

"I want to take everything I've learned and make it work in my life," Lane said.

Armed with knowledge, Lane plans on entering the wholesale market first in the New England region, then on to the West Coast and eventually heading south, particularly in Florida where some of her Vermont clients have moved.

Recently, the Taconic Hotel store started carrying Lane's clothing.

Along with the market expansion, Lane is also considering expanding her product line - light-weight silks, to tie in with the Florida market, and fashion ski attire using natural, technical fibers.

With changes ahead, Lane reflects on her current situation and the past 30 years designing and making clothing.

"This is an organic,

Vermont way of doing what we do," Lane said.


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