A Look Inside a Blooming Organic Fashion Empire

FashionGood Work

Written by: Dustin Clendenen

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Mira Fannin has been out of her comfort zone for a while, now.

She’s the founder of Sweet Skins, an eco-friendly clothing-line based in Eugene, Ore., that is incredibly comfortable to wear. Ever since she started the company, it (and her life) has been slowly and steadily getting bigger and bigger. Sweet Skins has never done a make-it-or-break-it boom in growth, but because of the way things have unfolded, Mira acknowledges she’s never really had a chance to relax. Not that she really wants too.

The most recent, and perhaps biggest, growth the company has had is literally big: it’s a 3,500 square foot warehouse acquired over the summer that houses the clothing company’s stock and new in-house workshop. With seamstresses on staff and an even greater demand for Mira’s designs, the operation is now in the hands of five employees. Things look very different than the company she started ten years ago.

As she describes a day-in-the-life now, Mira starts with dropping her two-year-old off at daycare, going to the warehouse to let the girls in, then assigning work, getting updated on projects, or working on new designs.

“I’m kind of an introvert,” Mira explains. “I used to be able to just do most of my stuff on the computer. But now I have to manage people. Make sure everyone has their work. Lead the team. It used to be that I could just do everything I needed to do on my computer, and that was my me time.” She laughs,” But I don’t have that anymore.” Considering how comfortable her clothes are, Mira likes to live a life that pushes her limits. Likes may not be the right word, but there’s definitely a force within constantly encouraging her to grow and evolve.

Sweet Skins has garnered a following of women all over the world for their use of organic textiles. Mira says, “Probably more than being an innovative designer, I’m good at helping women look naturally good, with the right fit and the right clothing that’s going to enhance what they really have going on.” It’s attracted a surprising amount (or not surprising, depending who you ask) of loyalty. Mira doesn’t push herself to come out with revolutionary designs every single season. Rather, she refines, improves and updates what she’s already done, so that customers can always count on the complementary fit they’ve come to expect from the brand.

When I spoke to Mira on a Saturday afternoon, she was just waking up from a nap with her two-year-old toddler. “Normally, I like to get as much as I can done while he’s sleeping, but that didn’t seem to happen today.” Mira’s personal life, as well as her business, has been undergoing quite an expansion as of late. She warned that her brain was still waking up, but as soon as we started talking business, she got lucid and focused, excited to talk about all that’s been going on.

In the summer of 2014, Sweet Skin’s 10-year anniversary, Mira finally found a way to solve the company’s biggest problem when she got the warehouse: keeping up with demand. “It’s been my biggest problem since the beginning.” I laugh and tell her, “That’s a good problem to have.” She agrees, “But, it’s still a problem.”

The adventure that is Sweet Skins officially began in 2004, when Mira started selling her own clothes at the Saturday Market in Eugene, Ore. There was just something about the designs. Mira’s clothing sold quickly and over time she had repeat buyers who were regularly coming back to see if she had anything new. Mira was always one to listen to feedback, and the message was clear: keep doing this. Soon, Mira was making enough profit to rent bigger and bigger booths at the market. Before she knew it, she was renting the largest space available.

This didn’t come out of nowhere, though. All her life, Mira had been interested in design, being exposed to textiles and styles from all over the world. In high school, she got a crash course in the anatomy of clothing when she began to disassemble thrift-store pieces and remix them according to her own vision. It wasn’t until after becoming a mother that she decided to really pursue fashion as more than a hobby. Mira never went to design school. “I just skipped that part,” she says.

Still, the growth of Sweet Skins has been incredibly—no pun intended—organic. Originally, Mira was just focused on natural fabrics, but found herself drawn to organic hemp (a material unusually prominent in her line, even by eco-fashion standards), eco-fleece and organic cotton. Closely involved with whatever she’s working on, rather than sending her designs off to a foreign sewing factory, Mira decided to keep production of the clothing local, which meant fair-wages for the Eugene-based seamstresses.

Sweet Skins continued to be a hit with women in the Pacific Northwest, and Mira quickly found traction in the online arena as well. When Sweet Skins first began, eco-fashion was still a burgeoning business model that more and more people around the world were getting hungry to buy those types of
guilt-free clothes. Sweet Skins was selling clothing online before online shopping was even trendy. It was through that window that the clothing line found its way wholesale into stores around the world (now totaling 24 stores).

In 2009, Sweet Skins reached a milestone in opening its first brick and mortar store in Eugene, Ore. Since then, the company has slowly and carefully continued to expand in different ways. Since taking the seamstresses in house over the summer, Mira has started to see a benefit beyond keeping up with demand for the clothes. She says, “I can be more spontaneous, have more fun and have shorter lead times with designs. I’m definitely starting to get used to that.”

The growth of the company has been very much rooted in Mira’s natural life rhythms, which is certainly helped by the fact that she’s always been interested in finding what works for her. One of the most important facets of the line has been her accessibility to customers, something that’s been extended with the blog, which Mira personally updates. Rather than being just a mouthpiece for the company and touting the cool new products coming out, it actually gives some insight into Mira’s mind as a businesswoman.

Her posts chronicle her travels to Egypt and tie it back to her inspiration as a designer. A recent post talks about her trying to follow a work schedule based on the meanings of the week days (Monday is “Moon Day,” the perfect day for tackling domestic duties, while Saturday is “Saturn Day,” best devoted to hard work and goal-setting).

Now that the foundation for the company has really been laid, Mira is starting to tackle some long-awaited projects. For almost a decade, she’s been collecting the denim scraps of some of her designs, knowing that one day she’d find a way to use them. Now with seamstresses on staff she has begun to design pieces made entirely out of leftover textile. She’s also dipping her first toe into the waters of shoe design with the new organic denim slippers. Things are looking sweeter yet for this burgeoning eco-fashion company.

Studio photos by Sarah Giffrow of Upswept Creative

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