It’s 2009 and the Great Recession is in full swing. You’ve just graduated college with no job in sight. You’re stuck in Western Massachusetts (aka the part of the state no one knows exists), and need new clothing to wear. Not just any Walmart-esque, thrifted clothing ...something outside of the norm. Something epic.
You could give up and settle for yet another day of wearing jeans and t-shirts. Or if you’re David Volante, you could teach yourself how to design, learn to sew clothes, and inadvertently build an independent fashion company for the geeks, gamers, outcasts, and anyone who’s ever felt like a weirdo. (We’ve been there too.)
Hi, that’s us! We’re Volante Design. What started as a one-man adventure in character design and couture has expanded into a ready-to-wear clothing line. Volante Design gear is built to make your daily life extraordinary. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped from the pages of a comic book or walked right off a character creation screen in your favorite video game. (Just think of David as filling the longstanding traditional role of a quartermaster or armor vendor in your favorite fandom.)
Maybe you’ve seen us at New York Comic Con. Perhaps you’ve noticed your favorite cosplay influencer sporting a really badass custom coat on their Instagram feed. Or you found us by googling something like “assassin coat.” You might think we’re a big corporation, a huge international organization making a killing selling you clothing licensed by God of War and Devil May Cry. (Insert stock image here of cackling executives in suits holding fistfuls of money.) Real talk: we’re eight people and three dogs. A year ago, we were only five people and one dog. By that math, next year we’ll have nine dogs!
Our website and convention sign proudly proclaim that our products are handmade in the USA. But what does that really mean for Volante Design, and why do we make everything in the US?
1. We didn’t know any better.
Over the past six years, Volante Design has been built one stitch at a time with scrappy DIY ethos, sheer force of will, and the creative vision of David and Willow, the company’s CEO and David’s partner. Until Koco, our Production Manager & Assistant Designer joined the team, we didn’t have any industry experience in fashion design or manufacturing.
At first, David did everything—partially out of necessity, partially due to immersing himself in the creative process, and partially because he didn’t know any other way to do it. By focusing on a custom-only, made-to-order model, David could carefully control his work volume. After a design went viral (ahem), it became obvious that production would need to be outsourced. It’s only a few hours drive from our Easthampton, MA studio to NYC’s Garment District, which houses the remnants of American garment manufacturing. Diving into international manufacturing was unfathomable. We still couldn’t believe this was happening!
2. We’re picky about quality.
Some of David’s earliest designs were built with parkour and other athletic activities in mind. Reinforced seams, natural fiber materials, and big, usable pockets are key to his vision of crafting badass gear that can stand up to the rigors of daily wear. David and Willow hand-pick the fabrics we use. Every element of our products is thoughtfully chosen by us—we aren’t using fabric leftovers from another company’s order or settling for supplies a factory happens to already have in stock. Having a nearby factory gives us the freedom to supply everything ourselves to our partners, so we can prioritize quality materials with an increase in lead time.
Being within a few hours driving distance to our factories allows David and Willow to personally choose each one and vet them for quality before agreeing to begin production with a new factory. David can quickly tell if a factory will be up to his standards just by looking at some of their sample work.
3. We know what it’s like to be broke.
One of our mission statements is to ensure everyone involved in our business is fairly compensated for their labor. All of us at Volante Design know what it’s like to struggle to find a job with a living wage, to worry about paying rent, to balance the cost of student loan payments within our small budget. Yes, American made products are more expensive than the outsourced equivalents we’ve all become accustomed to—it’s our way to support our local communities and local talent, and it’s worth it.
You’re probably rolling your eyes right now, thinking, “If you understand what it’s like to be broke, then you know I can’t afford a $400 jacket!” That’s totally fair and reasonable. We know our products will never be impulse purchases, which is why they’re built to last. You can measure the lives of our product in years, not months. Consider our designs the daily workhorses in your wardrobe—but with way more style.
4. Our designs are complicated.
Part of David’s signature design style is intricate piecework and lots of unusual angles accented by contrasting top-stitching. The Eagle hood alone is made up of 22 different pieces! (Fun fact: When someone applies to work as a sewist in our studio to make custom orders, they’re given a sample Eagle hood, all the pattern pieces, and no instructions. They have to finish it in two hours or less to be considered.) Working with a factory we can drive to is great for clarifying any particularly tricky designs, without the loss of productivity that would occur if our partners were on the other side of the world.
5. Because we can.
What’s the fun in building a renegade brand if you can’t do things your way?!
Interested in learning more? Check out these resources:
The True Cost - a documentary about the true cost of fast fashion
How Far Did a Dollar Really Go 100 Years Ago? - compares prices of clothing from 1918 to today’s dollars, plus what percent of income people spend on clothing then vs now
Why America Stopped Making Its Own Clothes - looks at the cost and origin of clothing across multiple decades
What More Can You Do? - Slow Fashion October interview with Gina StovallFashion Fashion Explained in Under 5 Minutes - a short video when you only have 5 minutes