Chau Tran, left, and Thao To, right, pose in their Port Richmond workshop. | photo by Jared Gruenwald
Thao To, the designer and manufacturer behind ToT, a new line of locally-made girls clothing, may seem an unlikely textile entrepreneur. The daughter of a Vietnamese couple who immigrated in 1986, To was an academic overachiever who planned to become a doctor. She graduated in 2005 from George Washington University with a major in Biology.
But Chau Tran, To’s mother, says her daughter’s plans to become a pediatrician were derailed by a simple realization. “She loved the kids, but the kids don’t love the doctor.”
To instead took a job with a clothing designer on the Main Line. Sewing was very familiar to To, who grew up watching her mother work as a seamstress, first at home and then eventually at Monica Turtle Studio in South Philadelphia. When Turtle closed her business, the plant manager offered to sell the equipment and rent the space to Tran. To, who had only been out of college for a year and half, decided to get involved.
“[My mother’s] English is limited, so she couldn’t really do something like that on her own,” To says. “She can sew really well, but there is a lot more to running a business than just being able to sew.” To planned to help her mother find a few clients and get established. That was 2006.
“It wasn’t meant for me to stay, [but]… as I continued to work and develop it, I kind of liked it,” To says.
That led to the establishment of T&T Sewing, which manufactures for a number of small-scale women’s clothing designers throughout the region, including Port Richmond’s Peg and Awl.
“We have been able to grow with our clients,” To says. “So, business is good, but we keep things small.”
Now, To is set to launch her first line of clothing, ToT, a collection designed for girls age 2 to 12. The urban chic clothes, loose-fitting in cut and made from natural fibers, look both dressy and playful, equally at home at a restaurant or in a park.
Thao says, “I try to style it so you can take it from day to night. It’s comfortable and casual. Nothing too frilly.”
ToT will wholesale to small boutiques around the country, and the clothes will be available locally in July at Born Yesterday in Rittenhouse Square.