In 2010 I was the stay-at-home mother of a rosy cheeked toddler. Our only child, he was happiest when he was outside - walking, running, climbing, and exploring.
He was most happy when outside. But in windy or chilly weather, when I wanted him to stay warm, he hated having anything on his head. Knit hats, hoods, caps, whatever we tried, he would remove. We would zip him into his jacket and within five minutes he would have pulled off the hood and carried on his way.
A parallel issue for me was the lack of clothing available for little boys. Most brands made miniature versions of men's clothing, or t-shirts emblazoned with logos or cartoon characters. Childhood is such a brief window of time! Shouldn't his clothing reflect this?
Now, I should mention that I know my way around a sewing machine. I moved to New York when I was eighteen to study fashion design at Parsons, and by senior year had narrowed my interest specifically to childrenswear. So the design and making of kid's clothing was something that had been an interest for a long time. A child of my own and a trip to the fabric store provided just the catalysts that I needed to remind me of my design roots.
Passing by the upholstery aisle, a rack of brightly colored wool felt caught my eye. I've always loved wool felt for it's matte finish, its warmth, and it's weight. It has a nostalgic quality to it, evoking letter jackets, poodle skirts, and handmade Christmas tree ornaments. I paused to linger over a bolt of yellow-gold felt and in an instant thought "Lion"!
After a week of trial and error, mixing pieces from several patterns and adding on bits, I came up with a double breasted wool coat with a lion hood, tail, and six little black claws on paw-like sleeve extensions. Would my little guy like it? His reaction was all I needed to know that it was a hit:
I helped him put it on and he was instantly transformed into a roaring lion. And guess what? You can't be a lion without the lion hood, so the hood stayed up - he was warm and cozy.
In the weeks that followed he wore his lion coat everywhere. To the park, to the grocery store, out to dinner, even when he was playing inside at home. It became like a well loved stuffed animal; one that kept him warm and protected. It was like a lion hug!
This same year I had peripherally become aware of a new online marketplace called Etsy; an acquaintance had an Etsy shop where she sold cloth diapers. So when strangers kept asking where Carter got his lion coat, I took some photos of it (hanging from the wainscoting in my breakfast nook - necessity is the mother of invention) and opened an Etsy shop. Less than 24 hours later, I had my first order.
In the next few months, orders for lion coats rolled in from around the world as quickly as I could make them. When my son grew tired of being a lion and wanted to be a fox, I made a fox coat for him. Soon the fox coats started outselling the lions. When he grew out of the fox, he wanted to be a dinosaur. The Cheeky Green Dinosaur coat was born.
I was sewing as fast as I could. Our house became a coat factory! I sewed at the dining room table while my son played with his Brio trains on the floor. My husband would come home in the evening and cut coats on the kitchen counter while I assembled them. I hand sewed buttons in place while listening to audiobooks after Carter went to bed. It was exhausting, but exhilarating, and the inspiring stories from my Etsy customers kept me connected to the world outside our little house. During this time I made fox coats - including ones for the mom and dad - for a family of five living in a yurt in the Pacific Northwest. I made an owl coat with added "wing feathers" for a little girl who wanted to learn to fly, and a pink dinosaur coat for a girl in New York who wanted to be a paleontologist. I made bunny coats for Easter egg hunts, and Red Riding Hood coats for girls to wear on Halloween. Then I made wolf coats for their little brothers.
When our first big wholesale order came in, for what was then called Gilt Groupe (now known as Gilt), I was forced to confront my limitations. To accept the order meant I would have to produce 400 coats in four months time. On average I could only make one coat in 24 hours, so I was going to have to think outside the box.
I didn't know it at the time, but Dallas was once quite a garment manufacturing hub, before most of the American garment industry went overseas. What remains are pockets of small sewing rooms and design professionals who produce small batch private label goods. These people have refined their craft for years and are incredibly skilled at what they do, but they don't advertise online or in the yellow pages. Through word of mouth I found one piece of the puzzle (a pattern maker) who introduced me to another (a cutting room), who suggested a sewing room they trusted, and so on. Before I knew it I had a team of other small business owners who were willing to help me make the coats, not to mention a lot of miles on my car. And since I was still a full time mom, my little lion assistant went everywhere with me. We found every public playground and clean restroom within a 30 mile radius of Dallas! With the help of the experienced team I pieced together, I shipped the order to Gilt on time, but more importantly, our products got better. Not long afterwards I hired a local web designer to build the first version of littlegoodall.com as a standalone website.
And we have continued to grow, finding kindred spirits in workrooms all over the world. Each artisan who has a part in creating Little Goodall garments is an expert in their area, so the person who sews the welt pockets in our bunny coats has sewn thousands of pockets and knows how to make them in the most precise way. The pattern maker knows how to draft the sleeves for optimal freedom of movement, and the lady who creates the layout of the pieces on the fabric knows how to make use of every inch of the material, so there is no waste. As a team we are so much greater than me doing it all myself, and allows me to create new styles too.
Nine years after I made that first lion coat, I still work with the same community of craftspeople in Texas today. We have also added several overseas manufacturers that work in accord with our ethical design and manufacturing processes, as well as able to comply with the strict guidelines required by our licensing partners. We are proud of the resulting partnerships which allow us to keep more products in stock year round, and committed to transparency so that you know where your garments are made.
Although we are able to produce more designs than we did in the early years, we are still a small company. When you receive an order, a member of our little team has folded and packed it with care. If you have a question or need to exchange sizes, one of us will be happy to help you.
Here at Little Goodall, we are raging fans of little people with big personalities, and we strive every day to earn your trust and create products that your kids will love. As we continue to grow, I am so thankful for all of you who have been with us from the beginning and all who are new to our family brand.