I took this project on with Jess of Pip & Squeaks because after learning about her company and her process, I felt like a maker spotlight was in order.
These are weird times in the world, aren’t they? We have a heightened awareness now perhaps more than ever that our dollars vote for us. As we globalize and share information with each other instantaneously, it’s becoming more difficult to look away from truths about the realities humans face all over the planet. We’re learning more about war, hunger, and countless forms of oppression and inequality. We’re learning more about the environmental disaster we’re causing with policies that prioritize profit with little regard for ethics and how that affects humans beholden to that machine, as well.
You could take a nihilist approach here and say this is all damning evidence that nothing matters and we’re all going to implode so why even attempt to change the brokenness of this system, but I choose to remain optimistic. Damning evidence of injustice certainly surrounds us (it’s getting a little suffocating these days, isn’t it?), but I think we’re on the brink of a mass awakening. Not only are people seeings things now they didn’t – or couldn’t – see before, but people are mobilizing. The ability to band together online quickly might just be our saving grace.
This is a season of change and every individual who feels called to help does so in their own way. For Jess Lynch, the path toward living a better and more helpful existence began with her realization that she could make a difference through the clothing her children wore, which evolved into her own children’s clothing shop.
I was able to check out six pieces of Pip & Squeaks clothing in person and it was wonderful to see and feel ethically made clothing that is also supremely comfortable – soft to the touch and Ever didn’t want to take any of it off – and gorgeously designed. Lovingly drawn patterns that evoke natural and creative imagery mix with timeless solids for a collection that is both curated and handmade. The best part might be that none of these clothes are going out of style any time soon, which is perhaps a less obvious factor for why these garments are sustainable. In more obvious ways, Jess is committed to making sure her products make a difference. Whether you’re looking to support fair wages, small businesses, the use of organic fabrics and natural dyes, or the donation of profit to charity, you’ll find it all with Pip & Squeaks.
I got to know Jess and her business a little better through an email Q&A, which I’ll share with you here.
E: Can you tell me more about your thoughts at the time you started your business?
J: I went into 2016 committed to finding a way to fulfill myself creatively and give back in 2016. I had been sewing again for about a year and starting taking drawing classes again through my local community course offerings. I have always wanted to have a shop but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to sell. At this time, I was reexamining my family’s clothing buying and trying to find companies who were committed to making clothes in an ethical way along the whole manufacturing process. I was collecting these “good companies” and sharing them with friends.
People kept asking us where we got our daughter’s clothing – to the point where my husband suggesting I should sell them. At the time, I was buying from other moms on Etsy and making leggings from knits in our guest room. I began to wonder if I could combine all of these things into one business. I bought my domain name in February and began hunting down vendors I would be proud to offer to the public alongside my own designs.
E: How did your children react to the change?
J: They loved it! We got lots of packages in the mail with outfits from them to try on and I began working on some custom pieces that they could wear to school and try out for me. They would draw pictures of their favorite animals and I hand-painted shoes and knee/elbow patches for them.
E: Making the switch from economical shopping to ethics-based shopping is a difficult hurdle for even informed consumers. What advice would you offer to those who are looking to support companies they feel good about but aren’t sure where to start? Where should they look first if they want to make a change?
J: I would say start with the companies you already buy from and look into the claims they make about their textiles and manufacturing. With the current consciousness about taking care of our planet’s resources and human rights violations, if they don’t mention their commitment to standards, it should make you question why. I tend to think it is a huge selling point and if it isn’t mentioned in their marketing, it is probably not an important focus of the company. The internet makes it easier now to find companies who certify safe working conditions and sustainability. I have come across some great lists of responsibly manufactured kids clothing brands and hope to see more pop up.
(Pictured above: the teal linen hoodie and custom leggings in woodland print.)
We also have to start recognizing that with a little planning, we can have smaller wardrobes and spend a bit more per piece. I try to have lots of basics and solid clothing for the kids to choose from and then focus on some key patterned items that they love and can mix and match with everything else. This is also a great way to allow them more choice when they dress themselves but not have too many conflicting patterns. One of the reasons I chose to bring several companies together on one site is that I couldn’t find other sites out there. There are certainly companies committed to being environmentally and socially responsible, but they tend to only carry their own products.
E: Do you have any comments on the current importance of voting with our dollars? From a humanitarian and environmental perspective, the globalized clothing industry isn’t exactly pretty, but supporting businesses that embrace ethical manufacturing can make a serious impact on standard best practices.
J: Yes! We have lots of options as consumers. When I am researching a new brand and they don’t including manufacturing location and safety efforts, I ask. When I go into a new store, I ask. They won’t care if one person asks but if enough people ask and let them know that customers have high standards, these companies will have to listen. I pose the questions on their social media accounts as well. The goal is for the large companies to promise to hold their manufacturing facilities to a certain standard and then make sure that its happens. They cannot just rely on agents who operate between brands and manufacturers to make sure locations are compliant. I may love a sweater but If the woman making that sweater has to work 12 hours a day in unsafe conditions to keep her job instead of receiving prenatal care, the sweater becomes inconsequential.
E: What is your schedule like? What time of the day and conditions are most inspiring for your business and creative mind?
J: I work in my shop most week days from 9-2 and then pick up the kids from school. I work out of a small building from the 1800s on our main street where I have set up a showroom and a sewing studio. I tend to listen to podcasts and lots of different types of music while I work. A huge bonus of having a physical location is the community involvement. I hold pop-up shops with local makers, get to form relationships with other small business owners, and my neighbors love to drop in the say hi and see what I am up to in here.
I have never been a night owl. I have troubling working after the kids go to bed so I try to get anything important done in the morning – after coffee. I am lucky enough to have an amazing support system. I have a husband who is a great writer who helps edit and bounce ideas back and forth. I have one sister who is in advertising who helps with my brand choices and another sister who helps with my design needs (I am admittedly more comfortable with a pencil in my hand than I am on the computer so she is dragging me into the digital age).
I get inspiration from lots of places. I love to shop for textiles, antiques, and paper goods. I could spend hours in a bookstore or library looking at photography books and design magazines. I live in Maine surrounded by the beauty of nature every single day.
E: Is there a common thread for the design aesthetic that appeals to you?
J: I love color and pattern but those colors and patterns change. I think style evolves for me. I love mid century modern design and if I could wipe the slate clean, I would love to live in a modern house but I am also hopelessly sentimental and love my knickknacks; some of which are handed down to me and some of which I collect. Right now I am in a woodland creature/jewel tone phase so things I am designing use textiles depicting nature and wildlife and I imagine my outfits are on a long walk in the woods. My style tends to be modern and slightly unisex and so that has been part of my focus. Pink for girls and blue for boys seems to be fading away, which is something I am all for!
E: Do you have any other businesses you’d like to recommend for readers who are feeling especially inspired right now to shop their values?
J: Meeting local business owners has been part of the joy of this process. I stumbled upon an awesome vintage housewares shop called Recycling Retro up here in Maine. She has a ton of Pyrex and really cool cocktail sets. One of my favorite shops in Portland, Maine is Circa Home and Vintage. She combines antique and vintage finds, local artisan creations and she even has her own candle line! On the craft fair circuit, I came across a woman named Melissa who designs her own textiles, has them printed in North Carolina and creates tote bags from them. Her company is called Yarn & Cloth. We also support Patagonia for outerwear.
Just like people, no company is perfect but supporting the companies who make the effort and commit to a high standard is really important so they can continue to do better and be better.
(Pictured above: the fundraising signature t-shirt. All of the profits from sales of this shirt go to End 68 Hours of Hunger. This not-for-profit organization aims to address the roughly 68 hours of hunger many children face between their school lunch on Friday and their school breakfast on Monday. This weekend program provides children with nutritional food to last them through that school meal break that occurs each week. This shirt is available in sizes for just about everyone – size 2 all the way to 2XL. If you’re looking to do some immediate tangible good with your holiday dollars this season, buy one of these shirts for someone on your gift list. Whether it’s a child, teenager, or adult, the gift of this shirt is a great opportunity to talk about childhood hunger. It’s also really soft and the design is cute!)