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12.1.18

Shop Talk: Raincoat Maker, Raincoat Maker

When Lauren Morgan moved to the Vineyard from Cincinnati in June of 2009, she expected to find the bustling summer resort island she’d long read about in magazines. What she got instead was the quiet, pre-season slumber, and lots and lots of rain.

“It was actually kind of awful,” the designer, now thirty-three, remembered over tea at Rosewater Market & Take Away earlier this fall. “It rained the whole month.”

Fast forward almost a decade and Morgan and her husband, builder Nate Morgan, have settled into New England life nicely, now veterans of surviving Februaries and Marches, in addition to still-chilly Junes. But that first rainy month made an impression, and when she was searching for her niche in the fashion industry, the decidedly fickle New England weather was foremost in her mind.

“I couldn’t believe there weren’t any rain jackets designed or manufactured in New England,” she said. With most major brands coming out of famously waterlogged Great Britain, Morgan was inspired to design a functional yet fashionable raincoat fit for year-round Island life.

After studying design at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, Morgan worked for seven years at Martha’s Vineyard Interior Design, while on the side keeping her dream alive of working in the fashion world. It was while working at her first job on the Island at the Charlotte Inn that she met her first custom client, who complimented Morgan on a handmade design she was wearing and asked to see more.

“I ended up bringing my entire collection into work with me,” she remembered. “She bought half of it. I was on cloud nine.”

Thus began a working relationship that lasted for years. “She would send me a fabric or a magazine tear,” she said. The experience was so encouraging that Morgan began working on a line of dresses, which she entered into the MV Fashion Week. The shows went well, but when she went into production on the line, she was discouraged by the traditional process of sourcing and manufacturing.

Morgan, who got her first sewing machine as a gift from her dad on her sixteenth birthday, was used to overseeing everything from initial sketches to sourcing materials and manufacturing the final product. After hiring a New York City–based consultant and feeling discouraged by the lack of transparency involved in the process, she decided to go back to basics and do the whole thing herself.

“Some designers will draw up a design and send it off,” she said. “I get so involved with making, sewing…all of the tactile qualities. I wanted to know more about it.”

What followed was an intense period of researching sustainable fashion, a route that took her away from dresses and back to that first gray month on the Vineyard: rain jackets.

She quickly settled on a pattern for four coats: a men’s and women’s version of one trench and one utility-style jacket. The design is inspired by real New England living, and the aesthetic, she says, comes straight from nature. “I take pictures of the beach, of driftwood, sand, the ocean,” she said. The combination of found elements grew into the natural and nautical theme for her jackets’ color palettes.

Once the patterns were finished, she began to research her options for sustainable production. Ever the fashion detective, while researching the nylon she’d been sourcing for a test run of lightweight windbreakers, she learned about a compound called PFC, or perfluorochemicals, highly resistant substances often found in the waterproofing materials used in most mass-produced rain jackets.

Having always been attracted to the feel and look of natural, organic materials, she began to wonder about other natural and less toxic ways to waterproof. This led her to develop her own natural-based wax, and into relationships with a web of U.S.-based manufacturers and suppliers.

“I decided to scrap all synthetic fibers,” she said.

But as with anything, going organic looked to be an expensive endeavor, and so Morgan turned to a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first round of sample production last year. When it came time to choose a manufacturer for coats, the decision was an easy one. Years earlier, with her interest in sustainable fashion newly piqued, she had been listening to an ethical fashion podcast and heard an interview with the founder of Good Clothing Company, a Fall River–based manufacturing facility that happened to be owned and operated by women.

Morgan’s jackets are now a collaborative, all-American effort, combining the crafts and processes of sixteen suppliers from coast to coast. Organic cotton is farmed, ginned, and warehoused in Texas, milled and spun into yarn for canvas
in North Carolina, and dyed and waxed organically in South Carolina. Antique brass snaps and grommets are made
in Connecticut.

She even tracked down the one US-based YKK zipper factory that uses all American-made components. The chambray lining is woven by a veteran-owned California-based mill that uses vintage American-made machinery.

The end result, a line of sleek and stylish raincoats, is available for purchase on her website, laurenmorganco.com, and in local shops. The coats aren’t cheap – the utility and trench styles retail for $795 and $895, respectively – but the buyer can feel good about supporting an organic American product safely and sustainably made.

Though her interest in natural fabrics is longstanding, Morgan’s commitment to sustainability and environmental issues was inspired by life on the Island. “It developed in tandem with living here,” said Morgan, who with her husband and business partner recently finished another joint project: the design and construction of a new home in West Tisbury.

“Living so near the ocean, with so much preserved land, has really changed me.”

Comments (1)

Sheila
Quincy
Tottallyi in awe, thrilled to pieces for Lauren nd Nate, wonderful, impressive people
December 17, 2018 - 7:20pm
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