REDEFINING AMERICAN MADE
A Conversation with the Duo Behind BISHOP COLLECTIVE
By Mina Darius
Before enrolling at my university, I sat in a classroom for a brief workshop on trends and concept development. The workshop was led by Mai Vu, a fashion professor whose expertise was immediately recognizable. After this workshop, I decided that the fashion industry was the place for me. After enrolling, I also met Dimitri Koumbis. His passion is undeniable as both an educator and retail professional. I’ve had the continued pleasure of getting to know Mai and Dimitri in my journey to a life in the industry, and to discover their journey as well.
Bishop Collective is Mai and Dimitri’s current endeavor: a retail business that carries design goods that are exclusively American made. With a focus on small and up-and-coming designers, Mai and Dimitri are creating a space where shoppers can enjoy beautiful, contemporary fashion with a sense of pride in US craftsmanship.
Tell us about yourselves? The birth of Bishop? Where does the name come from?
We met when I was first hired to teach college level merchandising and marketing courses in NYC. Mai teaches fashion theory classes and I teach branded environments on the design side. We also have a combined professional history of over 18 years in the retail and fashion industry; having worked for several large American based fashion companies at both the corporate and store levels. Originally though, Mai is from San Jose, California and I am from Houston, Texas. Work and school brought us to the Big Apple.
I saw Mai in a faculty meeting and thought to myself, “oh this one’s got a story…I need to know her.” We quickly hit it off and ended up sharing an office together on campus. We would chat about; among other things, industry topics our students would address in class. This led to the topic of retailing and specifically, the onshoring of American garment manufacturing. We knew we had the forum to facilitate change that would not only inform our students, but also our industry. It was also a chance for us to maintain our professional presence in the industry, marrying our academic/professional workforces. This led us to hone in on redefining the idea of American made. We decided to curate an ecommerce site that focuses on American made apparel and lifestyle goods that is everything but Americana.
The name Bishop Collective materialized when we first started the research process for the ecommerce site. I was teaching myself to play chess during some down time and became more interested in the history of the game. It is a game about strategy and making its players think. As instructors, we use similar principles in the classroom and now as entrepreneurs with our business. Truth be told- we found this amazing image of Tilda Swinton on the cover of AnOther magazine dressed as the black and white queens on a chessboard. Really, it was Tilda who helped solidify the name. Who doesn’t trust Tilda?
Why American made? What do you think is the relevance of made in the USA?
Why not? This is an industry that was once so prolific, with factories all across the country making everything from textiles to finished garments. We do so many things well in the States, but the one thing we don’t do, is capitalize on the talent and work ethic of our working class. It is not just about creating job growth within our communities, but allowing for transparency in the system, which will enable us to make better-informed decisions for those communities in the future.
What advice would you give brands/companies who are made in America or interested in being made in America?
It is not just about being made in America. It is about the quality of the garment and the labor practices that are associated with it. Mai is always saying, “who is really getting paid from a $10 tee shirt?” and she is right…there is no way after materials, transportation, taxes, etc., that workers are being paid fairly, if at all. The U.S. is close to a tipping point for which American made will no longer be a catch phrase but a norm. We have a large country with many people to employ and this industry will only foster positive growth if we start by looking at potential work opportunities here first. As a start-up fashion company, our advice is to look at the bigger picture. Who do your business choices affect in the short term? How about in the long term? Corporate social responsibility is not just a plan to suffice that small percentage of individuals who are familiar with the term, but a greater initiative to positively impact all stakeholders in your business- company members, consumers and the community.
Do you hope to inspire other retailers and companies to bring back manufacturing to the States?
We hope to do what we know best and what we feel is right for our consumers and the industry. We never went into this hoping to be millionaires. We went into it hoping to facilitate change in the industry while bringing really amazing American made design to the masses. If it inspires anyone along the way, then that is a bonus.
Being an online retailer adds a unique social element to your business. How do you build a community around Bishop?
As a good friend of mine always says, “You do you,” and that is exactly what we are doing. By being ourselves, we have already created a strong fan base. We hope to cultivate many more consumer friendships throughout the journey.
What is the best part about starting your own business?
Watching it grow. With each Facebook like, online order or shout out on Twitter, we jump a bit higher in the air to catch that high five.
What would you say is your biggest challenge moving forward?
Being patient and not moving too fast. We are constantly telling our students to do their research scan the environment and trust their gut instincts, but sometimes it is hard to not rush ahead of the game ourselves. We are about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for our private label basics and need to remain focused on this before we start solidifying plans for our brick and mortar store. All of it is exciting, but prioritization is key!
Bishop Collective is a retail business that carries design goods that are exclusively American made.
Written by Mina Darius
Photography Courtesy of Bishop Collective
Design by Mina Darius
Photography Courtesy of Bishop Collective