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.
Carter was happy and healthy in every way but one - he suffered from constant earaches. We found a wonderful ENT Doctor who was able to resolve the infections, but she cautioned us that we would need to continue to be protective and proactive. When outside in windy or chilly weather, it would be important for him to keep his ears covered at all times. This would prove to be quite a challenge! Carter 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, although my career had taken a different direction. 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 tactile 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. It looked homemade, but it had personality! Would Carter 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 - his ears were protected.
In the weeks that followed Carter 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 Carter 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.
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 sharing the work supports people in our local community. It's a win-win!
Nine years after I made that first lion coat, I still work with the same community of craftspeople today. In addition we've reached outside Texas to have our organic cotton fabric printed in North Carolina, our custom embroidery done in Kentucky, and custom dyed wool felt made in Massachusetts. A sewing machine company in Tennessee makes special sewing machines for us from vintage parts that are able to sew our thick lion manes in place.
My son is 10 now and he's not wearing his lion coat anymore, but every afternoon when I pick him up from school he does his homework at a desk next to my work table. My husband isn't cutting coats on the kitchen counter, but he still coordinates getting all the shipping to USPS and FedEx every day.
Although we are able to produce more designs than we did in the early years, we are still a small company. When you email Little Goodall, you will either get a response from me or my assistant, Serena, and when you receive an order, we have 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. And if you see us at a trade show during the summer, you can be sure that Carter is probably somewhere nearby enjoying unrestricted tablet time until the show closes for the day and we can explore the city it's being held in.
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.