By Emily Kovach
Coats from Meri Fete
Meri Fete is a small fashion label founded by Meri Lazar and her daughters. Together, they create one-of-a-kind, demi-couture pieces meant for women who want something with better fit or quality than clothing off the rack. Much of their capsule collection comprises timeless dresses and separates with sleek, clean lines, but they also make gorgeous, sophisticated winter coats that don’t sacrifice warmth for style.
“As all our items, the coats are intended to be timeless statement pieces made from a collection of individually selected quality fabric,” says Lazar. “We start with the fabric as our canvas and then we create the basic design that evolves with the progress of execution: cutting from the initial pattern, basting and sewing, to the final hand finishing and addition of details.”
Though the label is just two years old, the concept behind its founding goes back 40 years, when Lazar coupled her engineering training with her grandmother’s basic sewing teachings and began cutting fabric. While studying in engineering school, she was asked to maintain a fashion column in the college newspaper, and she developed an appreciation for couture. Later, while traveling for work, she would explore vintage stores and high-end boutiques in various countries.
One of Lazar’s daughters, Ioana, inherited her mother’s love of fashion and now works as a stylist, and she has poured her skill and passion into the label. The label’s practices also reflect their commitment to certain principles: A percentage of the label proceeds benefit various causes, including the International Rescue Committee and Waves for Water.
Self-described as “slow fashion,” Meri Fete also sees itself as helping to encourage mindful consumption. “Items are designed to be ageless and timeless,” Lazar says, “thus aiming to contribute toward a more sustainable and less wasteful lifestyle.”
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Towels & Throws from Cuttalossa
Can fabric be light, airy and also cozy? Everything that Old City-based Cuttalossa makes points to yes. Its line of versatile cotton textiles feel equally ready for a warm winter snuggle as a relaxed summer picnic. The pestemals (like a throw blanket/towel hybrid), peskirs (good for kitchen towels, hair wraps or towels for little ones), and plush and ultra-plush towels (thick enough to double as a small area rug or child’s play mat) are soft and easy, with colors and textures that exude a modern minimalist comfort.
And if supreme coziness is what you desire, Cuttalossa’s line of alpaca socks, hats, mittens and blankets are just the ticket. They certainly will run you more than your average winter accessories, but their construction and quality means you’ll have them a long time.
Cuttalossa was founded in 2013 by Shannon Retseck. Community and sustainability are at the core of her mission; the organic hand-loomed textiles are sourced from a weaver’s collective in southern Turkey, and the wool is from a group of alpaca farms in rural New Jersey. You can shop online or visit its small setup in the back of Meadowsweet Mercantile, a home and lifestyle boutique in Old City.
Quilts and Fabric from The Village Quilter
Tucked into a charming cottage-esque building in Mill Race Village in Mount Holly, New Jersey, about 25 miles east of Philadelphia, is the Village Quilter, a quilter’s paradise. The cozy 1,000-square-foot shop offers bolts upon bolts of quilting cottons in all kinds of designs, patterns, books, classes and supplies. Twice a year, the weekends before Memorial Day weekend and Black Friday, the shops sells completed quilts. Village Quilter has been open for 15 years and doubles as a community gathering space where first-timers and seasoned quilters come together via classes, workshops, events and clubs.
At the end of 2015, the original owner retired, and local Joyce Doenges, a frequent customer at the shop, decided to take it over.
“I had always wanted to own a quilt shop, and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity,” Doenges says. “I considered the Village Quilter my home shop... the perfect place to enhance my quilty stash, have a bite for lunch at the Robin’s Nest and do a bit of shopping. It was a bonus that I just loved the people that worked at the Village Quilter, and fortunately for me, they all decided to continue working for our incarnation of the shop.”
Doenges, who is also a second-grade teacher, reopened the Village Quilter in April 2016. In addition to relocating and expanding the classroom area and exposing existing barn doors along one wall of the shop, part of Doenges’ updating process has been harnessing the power of the local quilting community to do good. They support three charities: Project Linus, Ryan’s Cases for Smiles and Distributing Dignity.
“We have a large network of quilters that visit us from all over the tri-state area... Many of our customers consider us their home away from home,” she says. “We take our hashtag, #ittakesavillage, seriously.”
Clothes and Knits from West Oak Design
In February 2014, soon after the birth of her son, Christie Sommers wanted to find a way to work from home. Her goal was to open an online shop of some kind, and in preparation she started the Handmade Today Project and made one thing by hand every day for a whole year, posting each creation to Instagram.
“The Handmade Today Project was just the structure of accountability, feedback and productivity I needed to kick-start my business,” Sommers says. “The project itself brought a nice bit of attention to my work and legitimized me by showing I was tenacious and dedicated.”
When she’d built up an inventory of items, she opened West Oak Design, an online shop offering small-batch and one-of-a-kind clothing, bags and housewares. Sommers designs and handcrafts each piece with a zero-waste approach. Her clothing is loose and comfy-looking in a very effortless, cool way, and the rope plant hangers, fabric plant cozies and coiled rope bowls bring a tactile warmth.
She recently signed the lease on a new studio in Mount Airy that she’ll use to host workshops, offer shopping by appointment and host occasional open studio hours in addition to fabric printing, pattern cutting, product photography and general business operations. She’ll continue to dye fabrics and construct garments 2.5 miles away in her home studio in Wyndmoor.
Pillows from Dance Happy Designs
Dance Happy Designs is an independently owned silk-screen print studio located in Swarthmore. It prints geometric motifs on fabric in cheerful colors, which is used to create pillowcases, table runners, tote bags and more.
The company was founded in 2016 by friends Emily Scott, Julia Tyler and Liv Helgesen. The three met in 2012 when Scott, who owns a small shop in Swarthmore called Compendium Boutique, partnered with a Philly-based not-for-profit called Community Integrated Services, whose mission is to find meaningful employment for adults with disabilities. Tyler, who has Down syndrome, was placed as an intern at Compendium and was accompanied by her work coach, Helgesen.
“Julia is very capable of doing a wide variety of tasks but she's fairly nonverbal... and she has her own pace,” says Scott. “The three of us just really clicked and bonded from the get-go, and five years later, Julia is still working at my boutique as an employee.”
Tyler’s government funding changed when she turned 21 in March of 2016, and Scott and Helgesen brainstormed ways to help boost her employment. They tried screen-printing: Helgesen has a degree in it from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Tyler showed a knack for it. Now, together, they produce handcrafted, high-quality home decor and lifestyle products in small, limited runs. Tyler, the lead designer, applies her interest in pattern and color to the aesthetic of Dance Happy’s products and design patterns. She chooses colors and helps to transfer her patterns for the screen-printing process. Scott is the company business manager and Helgesen is the lead printer.
“From cutting out new patterns to printing fabric to assembling products, everything at Dance Happy is done by hand and with a whole lot of love,” says Scott.
Though they don’t have their own brick and mortar shop, their Etsy shop is stocked, a few local boutiques carry their products, and they often can be found at trunk shows and makers markets across the region.