The Origin Story of Volante Design written by Willow
Volante Design is a story about us, as much as it is about what we create together. I have worked hard to write myself out of the founding story of Volante Design, but maybe I no longer have to. Maybe it will be possible to tell you how we work, who we are, without just telling you about David. Don’t get me wrong, David is at the heart of our business in so many ways. He is a true talent, one that doesn’t come along very often. We haven’t been lying. But maybe I’ve been writing the easy to understand version of the story. I have been trying to make us understandable, relatable, a tidy little package.
What’s tidier than “Talented, nerdy guy makes clothes that finally make him see himself as the extraordinary character that he has always wanted to be. He begins sharing this with others, and many nerdy, creative, amazing people start to recognize that they can be as cool as the characters in their video games or as brave or as unique. They stand a little straighter. They know themselves to be extraordinary”?
It is a good story, and a true one. I love this story, the characters in it, I love the ‘talented nerdy guy,’ the whole thing makes me smile, makes me proud. But there is something missing.
Here’s the whole story.
In 2009 David and I met at Hampshire college. It was a tumultuous time, my first year of college, my family dissolving, a long relationship from highschool ungracefully floundering to an inevitable end. When we met, David was a quasi vagabond, 22 and very thin, living in a small cabin in the woods with only a wood fire. It may sound romantic, but it was grimey and his roommate smoked cigarettes that made the house stink. You could not stand up on the second story of the cabin, where David’s “rooms” were. The first time I came over to his house, I washed all his dishes. It just seemed like he needed a hand. He made dinner, which consisted of pasta with salad dressing. It was surprisingly good. It was also the only thing he had to eat. I drank some of the tea left over from an ex-girlfriend, lavender earl gray. He showed me his favorite movie of all time, which was Speed Racer. I never really shook him after that, I never wanted to.
I had finally found someone who spoke the language of details and design. A language that is in everything we use, every single thing a person made or thought up. His perspective was trench coats, video games, graphic design and animation, mine was classical art, especially expressionism, music, film, clothes and of course shoes. We had a lot to show each other. A lot to learn. I finally met someone who believed there is magic in finding just the right angle, or just the right word, or just the right color.
We both came from backgrounds that informed our perspectives. David came from a family of makers. His grandfather, Enzo Volante, designed and built a car that he called the Volante. He even embroidered all the seats with a hand crank embroidery machine. Enzo designed the elegant curl of the V that you can see in our logo today. The car was white, with black and red details. You’ll never guess where our branding colors come from. Many folks in the Volante family are superb at making things. David’s sister, Maresa who invented the vegan macaron, has a very successful bakery in Kingston, NY. They are always tinkering with their creations to make them just a bit better the next time.
If David brings excellence in making things, I’ve got the unique balance of skills to pull everything together for opening night. I have been performing on the stage since the second grade. I was always in and out of costumes, but I was a lousy dancer and I didn’t like to memorize lines. In highschool I was given full reign of costuming for the school’s annual plays. Notably I designed costumes for Checkov’s “The Bear”. I styled the set and costumes after the movies I was obsessed with from 1920s Germany. The play did make it to the finals of the MA highschool theater competitions. While the play didn’t win, I was awarded for the costume and set design. I still love to build out sets, design spaces and dress people. I learned a lot from the technical directors and grumpy theater junkies that I lived with day and night.
Our courtship was a fraught and drawn out affair, but that’s a story for another time.
David and I dated officially from 6.5.10 onwards. About a year later, he moved into the house some college friends and I were renting when a room became available for the summer. He moved into my room and the other room became a workshop space to sew. That would have been the summer of 2011. He lived in my room rent-free so that he could afford the other space to work. It was a meager 9 by 6 room, with peachy beige walls and one window. Even then we designed together. Sometime in that year, David inherited about 11k, with which we bought our first pair of industrial straight stitchers and a home overlock machine.
One day we had a conversation that marked the start of something transformative. I remember sitting on the beige rug, in our bedroom, in that first house we lived together in. At the time David was working at the Smith college book shop, and making one-off costume pieces for people on the weekends and after hours. This suited me fine as I was taking a ton of classes and always had a ton of homework to do, so we worked in orbit with each other. But the bookstore job was putting more and more pressure on him to accept a manager’s position, to take on more, work more hours. He didn’t want to work there at all, nevermind more.
I remember there was this old amnesty international see-through sticker on one of the windows from a previous tenant that nobody had bothered to try and get off. David had been depressed, he hated his job and didn’t know what else to do. I was working as a waitress after classes and I was always tired and smelled like Indian food. It was not a fun winter. We had waded through it together and the summer was coming and my school year was almost over and we were living together officially.
I said something like, “I don’t care what you do with your life, but it has to be meaningful to you. I don’t think I can respect you, if you don’t have something you care about, that you want, that you’re hoping for. I don’t want to be with someone with no direction.” Sounds harsh right? But I think it was quintessentially true then as now. It has become one of our core beliefs that we want to be around people who are passionate about something, almost anything, but they have to care. We talked about how much more fun sewing was than his real job. That was May of 2011. Over July 4th weekend he was laid off from his job. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to us. It was the start of everything.
We got engaged in a coffee shop on 11.11.11. He remembered the date, I didn’t. I’m terrible with dates, I’m dislexic. He sheepishly remembers it because it was the day that Skyrim came out, and the promo had the six letters of Skyrim that just turned to the side and became 11.11.11, which is exactly the sort of thing that he remembers. The engagement was not flashy, we were at Amherst coffee, I remember it being more like “I always thought we’d get married” and he said “I always thought so too” and then it became true. Most things in our lives have been like this. I didn’t marry him for his romanticism, at least not the real world kind.
When I told my mom that we were engaged a few months later, she looked at me across our bucket of fries at the Dirty Truth bar, she was one beer in, already a little extra honest, and said “You know you may have to support him for the rest of your life?”
I said, “I know.”
I wasn’t worried about money. I’d never had any so what was there to worry about? I'd been fine so far. I was 21. Headstrong then as now.
In October of 2012, David designed a jacket he called the Kenway. I photographed it, picked out the fabric. He put it on our rudimentary website. We put up 100 units in stock, each was going to be made custom, one at a time. We joked about selling 20. Which was more than we expected. The site broke, we sold 132 at $345 per piece in 4.5 hours. It was the most money that we’d ever seen. To say we were unprepared is a joke. It was an incredible moment. We did the best thing we could think of, we took our housemates, yes we lived with six other people, out to the Dirty Truth for a burger and a beer. Dinner was on us that night.
Little did we know what it would take to make good on our promises. We suddenly had to figure out how to do manufacturing, how to be a company. It took 14 months to deliver the last Eagle (by then the name had changed from Kenway), about half of the original orders got moved over to a production run. But it was damn good to know what we were doing was exciting people.
Working with your spouse is not easy, but it is amazing if you can do it well.
For us there’s a certain chemistry. That chemistry would happen even if we weren’t doing Volante Design (God forbid). It’s not a job, not a calling, it’s a reaction that happened and continues to keep happening. It’s what happens when you put Mentos into Coke, except instead of a huge mess you get a creative process.
What is it that we do when we design together? I don’t do any of the hands on stuff, I don’t make patterns, I don’t sew very well, I am not able to say if you alter the armscye in just this way it’ll fall forwards a bit more. Perhaps that’s why I have worked to stay out of the picture.
One January afternoon we were sitting at our kitchen table and David said
“This is a little weird, but everyone says this right?” He paused and dunked his cookie into his coffee.
“It’s easy to feel like you didn’t make a thing that you’ve made.”
It does feel weird to admit that you have a contract with something you don’t know the name of. A contract with Creativity, or Chaos, or your Psyche. Having a name for it wouldn’t take away the mystery. I have this feeling all the time when I paint, when I get really immersed and the work is happening. So when he says “I just cut the pieces out” I get it. He isn’t proud, he’s quite the opposite; a little flustered at where the thing came from. Together we sit with it, edit it, name it, only when we give it a name does it really become something viable.
As always I am trying to give it form; to name the contract we have together, the chemistry. What do we do when we are together? We make stuff. We do really different parts of the process, we like different things. But we’re the right tension to make a springboard. It doesn’t work without the other half.
I could tell you what I’ve done at Volante Design, or how we made it up as we went along. I could tell you how I did every job, carving it out, trying to figure out what it took to excel at doing events, or shipping, or organizing a warehouse, or marketing, or sales, or hr. But, I don’t think you’d see me in those roles, only my strength at figuring out how to do things, at filling gaps. I think headstrong grit was a big part of what made Volante Design run. I made it run, at times through sheer stubbornness.
You would see me in the stories, the photographs, the fabric. I can run my hands over 3 or 4 types of fabric and tell you which one will make a better trench coat, a better couch, or should be thrown out. I live in the details. If you’ve salted the water before you put the pasta in, if you’ve taken care to make your clothing label soft I am thankful. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s ok, you may not speak the language of details. We can still be friends.
It is bigger than David and I now. Both our staff and our customers amaze me and make me wildly proud. When folks get to do what they love, they stand up taller. When I see that, I know that I’m getting it right. The same holds true for putting people in the right clothes. Usually people are surprised that I get their size right early on. What they don’t know is that I’ve been dressing people my whole adult life. When someone puts on one of our products and sees themselves as the strong, capable, badass that they are, then I’m living the dream.
So now that you know all that, here’s the real founding story of Volante Design.
Once there was a talented nerdy man, and a woman equal parts water and fire. She stood with her head in the clouds, and her feet firmly planted. He wore black-on-black hightops every single day. They made music together, she was the score, the silences, the conductor, he was the orchestra, the singer, the headliner. They painted the world in their own colors. It is a love story for the ages. Together they make things, large and small. They make meals, homes, coats, stories, paintings, shirts, music, vests, gardens. It’s their love language. His medium is fabric. He is a specialist, she a generalist. Together they are unstoppable, resilient, stubborn, graceful and they began what is now Volante Design.
Our mission is simple.
Volante Design is building a world of fashion that makes people see how exceptional, how extraordinary they are. It is easy to see the clothes, and not notice the company, the context, the world they are building, here in Easthampton, and in your home, in your closet, or on your computer screen. Welcome to our world. Can we level you up?
That is an incredible story! Thank you for sharing, Willow! I am extremely grateful that Volante Design exists and grateful for the work you, David, and the Team put in to make it all happen! I have a creative personality, as well, and I am always excited to see all the new amazing releases from Volante Design! Thank you for blessing us with your creative contributions! Keep up the great work!
I have one of those original Eagles still hanging in my closet. It is probably one of the most memory filled items of clothing I have. I was so excited to order it back then, being barely able to afford it. I was waiting for months for the shipping confirmation. Picking it up was a huge hassle since I had it shipped to Germany and had to get it from a custom services office an hour long drive away. When I finally unpacked it at home… it didn’t fit. I usually wear small, but this was too small. I couldn’t afford the customs fee a second time, so I had to ask for a refund. I was heart broken. But Willow wrote me back and said they would love to help me get a new jacket. We figured out the customs thing and she asked for my specific meassurements so she could advise me for the corrects jacket size. A couple of weeks later, my new Eagle arrived. And it was amazing! I loved this coat so dearly. I wore it nonstop through the whole winter for three years straight. Lots of people at work or just on the streets approached me because of it. So many people liked this coat. Later at worked I learned from a collegue that some people remembered me just as “the guy who wears this cool coat in the cafeteria”. This coat was and still is one of my proudest posessions. I still wear it from time to time every winter and it always makes me happy to wear it.
It’s no wonder this coat was a starting point for a successfull business. But it’s not just the coat I remember. It’s also the great customer service back at a time when the guys where totally new to even having customers. As bad as I felt for getting the size wrong, they were nothing but nice and helpful about it and I never would have gotten the right coat if Willow hadn’t helped me figure out the exchange for the right size.
I wish all of you nothing but the best for your future!
Thank you so much forsharing. This was wonderful and inspiring and important.
Thank you! This was an incredible story…thank you for sharing it. It creates a lovely backdrop for explaining the beauty and power of your creations.
This is a wonderful window into a very special partnership that birthed a unique company. Anyone who’s ever been in a creative pursuit can relate to this story. Thank you for sharing it! I don’t know you well, but I’m proud to know you both.
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