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Paskho Brings Apparel Manufacturing to Local Communities: On Brand

The fashion sector has seen widespread suffering since the pandemic took hold earlier this year. Brands, retailers and manufacturers have languished amid store shutdowns, stalled operations and cautious consumer spending.

But these hardships have also forced much-needed innovation within the industry—and some changes are well past due.

New York-based label Paskho’s latest program was born of founder and CEO Patrick Robinson’s desire to right fashion’s most cancerous wrongs—namely, an unhealthy reliance on foreign manufacturing and its sometimes inhumane, unsustainable practices.

The brand has historically produced its clothing in China, a fact that Robinson admitted he’s reticent to share with contemporaries or consumers. “You instantly think the same thought that everyone has,” he said. “I have to clarify it for you, and I have to convince you that we do the right thing.”

Chinese manufacturing has been long plagued by rumblings of human rights abuses—a fact that has not escaped Robinson, despite the fact that he’s heavily involved with ensuring that his own operations are on the up and up. There are also concerns about the efficiency and carbon cost of shipping goods across the globe to U.S. consumers.

But as the nation’s small-yet-vibrant community of craftspeople struggles through layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts due to the continued spread of the coronavirus, Robinson found himself wondering how he could sit idly by and watch local talent go unpaid and unappreciated.

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Community Made

Dubbed Community Made, Paskho’s newest program aims to harness the power of the domestic apparel workforce.

“There are all these amazing people sitting in their homes—why don’t we hire them?” Robinson remembers asking himself one recent weekend while out for a run. “There are tailors, pattern makers, technicians and sewers out there.” He became determined to create a business model that could work for Paskho financially, while tackling the economic ills caused by COVID-19.

The crisis, Robinson said, has highlighted a breakdown in the idea of community. “We’ve separated ourselves and we’re no longer having honest dialogues with one another,” he said. “We don’t know where our consumer products really come from.”

Brands are monolithic entities in the eyes of shoppers, and the anonymity of the makers behind the products they purchase is a problem, he said. Through Community Made, Paskho is creating a collective of skilled craftspeople across the country, and giving them a platform to showcase their talents and lend value, through their humanity, to the goods they make.

“They’ve always been treated as the lowest on the totem pole,” Robinson said of apparel makers, underscoring that Community Made is not a charity. “The craftspeople are equals.”

Finding makers hasn’t been difficult, Robinson said, despite the American apparel manufacturing sector’s reputation for being small, fractured and limited in capacity. After connecting with New York’s Skilled Laborers Brigade, a group that formed in the early days of the coronavirus to lend their skills to the production of PPE, Robinson amassed an army of more than 500 workers across the country. “They have all been let go or furloughed by factories across the U.S.” he said.

Rather than bring workers back into crowded, risky factory conditions, Robinson decided on a revolutionary new business model: this new workforce would remain safely at home, and craft apparel remotely.

The logistics

Community Made’s first line will be made by Tri-State Area artisans in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, Robinson said. As the range continues to grow, production will radiate outward to cities like Detroit and communities across states like California, which are home to many apparel workers.

Paskho’s 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Hudson, N.Y., will be the program’s home base. Robinson has been collecting deadstock fabrics from mills and manufacturers that have had trouble selling their goods during the crisis. Many are domestic, he said, while one of the brand’s largest suppliers, a Bluesign-approved facility in Switzerland, is also hoping to move some of its unsold product.

Paskho is working to establish a network of couriers to run parts, pieces and materials to the different craftspeople in its network, Robinson said. “The cutting is still the only thing you can’t do in individual people’s homes,” he added. Waste-free patterns are laser-cut by a local facility, and are then distributed to sewers across the region.

“After everything, the ultimate dream is that the sewer sends out the products to their communities,” he added. “This first run will be sent to our warehouse for quality control and final packaging.”

The work-from-home concept solves for safety concerns as well as creating a more efficient supply chain, Robinson said. The amount of time some workers spent commuting to their previous jobs could actually amount to a full day of work on the Community Made line, he added.

What’s more, the company is willing to invest in outfitting workers’ homes with the correct machinery to help them do their jobs.

Robinson, who designs the apparel himself, also said he’s moved to 3D-modeling instead of creating physical samples—a costly process that creates copious waste. And while Community Made is not a truly on-demand process, the line relies on consumers’ buy-in.

Paskho CEO Patrick Robinson sketches designs for the Community Made collection.
Paskho CEO Patrick Robinson sketches designs for the Community Made collection. Paskho

“Customers have become the merchants, and they make the decisions on what’s produced,” he said. Before a single product was made, hundreds of items were pre-sold—and some designs were scrapped entirely.

Now, Robinson said, the biggest challenge will be finding “the right pace” for production. Goods can be made faster when spread out over a larger swathe of workers, he said, but keeping that group small and tight as the program ramps up will allow for better quality control. “The more one person makes, the better they get at making that item,” he added.

The brand will also face decisions based on the future availability of fabrics. The deadstock materials are limited in quantity, and Robinson may need to rethink his designs should they run out. “This first run is about learning the ropes,” he said.

The line

Paskho’s sustainably minded staples have always been rooted in upcycled or reclaimed fabrics, Robinson said, and the brand also uses compostable packaging. While always looking to expand earth-friendly efforts, the founder has also had to rethink his design philosophy.

“COVID has been interesting because we were so focused on creating clothes for travel before this,” he said. “It was about versatility, and taking fewer things with you on a trip.”

Now, with shoppers confined to their home offices, priorities have changed. Comfort is still a must, but clothes must be built for both work and play. Even online meetings require semi-professional attire, and for the first time, Paskho is adding skirts and dresses to its line.

Pants made up 80 percent of the brand’s business prior to the pandemic, Robinson said, but now, tops and blazers in jerseys and cottons are being added to the historically technical line, which was originally designed for exploring. He even plans to expand into merino wool in the fall.

“This line is super comfortable, relaxed and cool, with beautiful lines,” he said. “People need great knits, comfortable pieces that they can wear while having conversations on Zoom for work.”

When asked whether the Community Made program will continue once normal life someday resumes, Robinson was adamant that the brand’s ethos has permanently changed. “This is the only way I see us working as a company,” he said. “I’m not going back.

“The pandemic made us all think about what we value, like relationships, and we’ve seen that we don’t need everything we have—all the things we’ve been spending money on,” he added. “With us possibly making things in your neighborhood, maybe we can change the dialogue and give products meaning.”