After a year of preparation, mother-daughter duo Emma and Mary Kingsley are kicking off their dream of bringing clothing from seed to sold. We talked to them about the healing energy of mother earth from their 200-year-old farmhouse and agriculture preserve, just before the sheep shearers arrived. Meet Lady Farmer.
Tell us how your business was born.
Mary: We each came to the idea of designing our own clothes, to fit our lifestyle and preferences, from different angles. We had become very interested in the slow fashion movement. Emma was frustrated with finding clothes that suited her age and style that were also sustainable with slow fashion values. I was coming from it a lifestyle standpoint; we have a farm and agricultural preserve west of Washington D.C., and I’m outside all the time.
For someone my age, I’m not thrilled about wearing athletic shorts, t-shirts, and jeans all the time. I thought, Gee, I would really like to design my own clothes, at the same time I was becoming really conscious of cutting back to become more minimal. Emma and I compared notes on what we were looking for and the idea came to us to start a company where we designed the clothes that we want.
As we got into it and started learning about the whole fashion industry, we wanted to provide alternatives to the way that clothes are being produced and made available to the public. There are a lot of problems in the fast fashion industry and our approach started veering off into holistic health and wellness.
Emma: We needed to get people to start talking about and addressing the fact that if there are chemicals in your clothes, it’s just like when there are chemicals in the products you’re putting in your face and the water that you’re drinking. Using that as an entry point to the clothing, it’s easy to recognize the parallel between the alternate fashion movement and the food movement, which has already been going on for years. The public has already been conditioned to pay attention to (and has demanded) clean food and personal care. What you’re putting on your body is really not any different: If there are toxins and hormone disruptors in the clothes that you’re putting on your skin, this affects your health.
How are you using the digital world to support Lady Farmer?
Emma: I forget exactly where I got the idea to start with Kickstarter, but the structure of it makes a lot of sense for launching an apparel line. The way that traditional apparel manufacturing works requires massive upfront orders, but the pre-order model is financially smarter and is the most sustainable way. There’s nothing more sustainable than not making something until you need it, or until it’s ordered, versus making all the excess and hoping it sells. I had some experience in digital marketing before this so I had ideas about getting people excited online.
With Kickstarter, if you leverage it right, you work really hard to build a crowd before asking for money. (You can’t just send a Kickstarter to nobody.) To get people excited about our Kickstarter ended up being a huge push for us and it feels like we’re still riding the wave of that effort. We had in-person events leading up to the fundraising, we had an amazing launch party and we gave ourselves a lot of time. It’s funny, because the lifestyle that we?re selling is slow and offline, but the way that we’re reaching people is online, which is a sort of internal struggle for us.
Tell me about how you connect with your customers in a communal way.
Mary: That’s the main thing we’re trying to do. It’s all about connecting. Our area is surrounded by farmland, so we visit farmers and talk to other lady farmers that we get to know. We talk to them about what they do. We had an open house at the barn to invite people to come to see what we’re doing. We have a little event space on the second floor and it really works to connect.
Social media works, too; we’ve built a lot of community during the past year, and they were invested in us, excited to get their items! The night the Kickstarter launched, we had a party at this little restaurant and we hit about 40 percent of our $30,000 goal. Everyone just wanted the overalls! It seemed to happen organically, although we were very intentional about forming personal connections within the community and bringing like-minded people together.
Emma: That trickles into the online world, too. We hope to be able to offer more in-person workshops and retreats in the future but we’re also trying to figure out a way to bring the Lady Farmer lifestyle beyond our immediate community. A lot of people come to our farm and wonder how they can bring elements of the lifestyle into their own lives. We want to share what we’ve learned and empower people to connect with their neighbors.
What inspires you?
Mary: I’m so inspired by nature. We are surrounded by plants that grow naturally, which offer food, medicine, beauty, fragrance and there’s just so much around us. I’m becoming more and more aware, especially as I learn through Lady Farmer, our surroundings are so abundant and as a culture we’ve forgotten this. It’s about being intentional and aware of the industries between people and our basic daily needs. As human beings, we have lost the connection with the sources of all the things that we need on a daily basis: food, clothing, shelter and more.
Emma: I’m (of course) inspired by women farmers. I feel like we’re talking about things that really matter, living in a passionate and empowering space. The feminine energy and passion in farmers working with their hands, making food, growing things, nurturing, repairing the soil. There is a lot of fear and angst in the world, but it feels like, what is there to be afraid of when you know that there are Lady Farmers? That is a really powerful image and concept. It’s the basis of our business.
What does the future look like for Lady Farmer?
Emma: We would like to be vertically integrated. So, we would like to grow the fibers that are made into our clothes and oversee the entire process. That includes raw materials, testing, manufacturing the textiles, cutting and sewing the clothes. That is our dream!
Mary: We want to be the ultimate resource for the Lady Farmer, or someone who is inspired by Lady Farmers, in every way. We want to provide an alternative manufacturing system. To be a lady farmer, you don’t have to be a farmer. Being a Lady Farmer means that you want to live a healing modality. It is the feminine goddess energy.