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Did you know that fashion is the second highest polluting industry in the world, only behind the oil industry? Creating fabric requires a lot of chemicals, which not only harm the workers in the factories that make the fabric and/or clothing, but then those same chemicals are on your skin while you wear those clothesmakes you think twice about what you put on your body. It should make fashion designers think twice about the materials they are using in their collections, too.

Meet Amanda Dare Dougherty. She is someone who has thought twice about the fashion industry. A little bit of history about her: she was a theater major at the University of Louisville and taught herself how to sew and design clothing when she was involved in production and costume design for various plays. While still in college, she opened up her first shop and studio at a space in the Mellwood Art Center selling small-batch clothing, all of which she designed and made herself. After graduation, she closed her space at Mellwood and opened up a boutique on Bardstown Road, The Hanger, featuring all handmade clothing, some made by her, some made by other makers. However, it is nearly impossible to simultaneously run and operate a boutique while creating all the inventory from scratch. This business model was not sustainable and Amanda closed that business, but she learned a valuable lesson about fashion design and business operations in the process.

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Amanda behind her trusty Singer sewing machine from the 1950s.

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Tools of the trade

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Meet “Paula”, the Singer sewing machine from the 1950s, named after Paula Deen. Why Paula Deen? Because it “sews like butter” and Paula Deen loves her butter!

After closing her business, Amanda got married and took a break from the fashion design business. But after seeing a documentary called The True Cost, which shows the “true costs” involved in making fashion, her break was over. The film alarmed Amanda so much that she started researching how to ethically and sustainably create fashion from scratch. After much trial and error over six months, she found a company that sold a sustainable and viable cotton fabric for her to use. In March 2015, after lining up a fabric company and a manufacturer to create her designs, she launched a Kickstarter campaign. She named her business “The New Blak,” with the “c” purposefully left out of the word “black.” She wanted to turn this trendy fashion phrase on its head and challenge it. She wanted to be different and minimal, taking the word and the collection to the purest form.

Here’s her explanation of her company:

The New Blak wants to help consumers understand where their fashion is coming from, with a seed-to-garment mentality. We believe that every step of the process is important, from growing the cotton organically and without pesticides to working with women seamstresses and empowering a girl boss mentality. It is time for the fashion industry to go through an evolution … one Little Blak Dress at a time. 

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Amanda holds up her company’s mission statement.

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Amanda is starting to cut fabric here, under her “Cut” wall art. The letters are made from her wedding flowers that she made out of cloth, all by hand.

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

One wall of her studio, with four sewing machines. Two more sewing machines are on another wall. Note the two Singer 1950s machines, which are the gold standard for Amanda.

She was inspired to create a timeless piece as part of her first collection, and what could be more timeless than the Little Black Dress? It was this LBD that became the cornerstone of her business. She only designed black dresses during her first year in business.

As part of the graphic design for The New Blak, the “a” letter is a trapezoid, intended to resemble a skirt or the symbol for girl.

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

All workstations at the studio have these tools.

By November of 2015, she had opened up The New Blak boutique on Frankfort Avenue in a space that she shared with Art & Soul Beads. A few months after that, in April 2016, The New Blak went on the road, literally, in a shuttle bus affectionately named “Betty.” This mobile boutique traveled all over Louisville and the surrounding area. Basically, anywhere there was a crowd of people and food trucks, Betty would be there as well. Amanda noticed that Betty did four times the business that the boutique did, so in May of 2016, she left the brick-and-mortar boutique and now sells her wares online and in the mobile boutique (Betty), and she has a small inventory at 5-0-Lou on Frankfort Avenue.

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Introducing Betty, which is The New Blak’s mobile boutique. Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

This is not your typical shuttle bus! Take a peek inside Betty. Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Fascinators and LBD’s pose in front of the mobile boutique. Image: The New Blak

Amanda expanded her repertoire that first year to include dresses, tops, outerwear and accessories. Now she is working on releasing the Spring collection for 2017 in February, so the inventory from the Fall 2016 collection is low. The Charlotte and Sophia dresses are on sale now, and it takes about two weeks to turn them around since each dress is made to order. Be sure to stay tuned for the latest collection, where she will introduce more colors into the fashion vocabulary besides black. She will also be introducing more bamboo-based fabric into this latest collection. For now, though, let’s take a look at the basics of her collection:

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Available in February, the Emma dress will be available for about $125 (price not set yet). Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Also available in February, the Kate dress will sell for about $125 (price not set yet). Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

The Sophia dress, for $82, will also be available in “Earl Grey.” Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

The Charlotte dress, $88, will also be available in “Earl Grey.” Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Sophia tank top, $38 | Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Charlotte tank top, $48 | Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Army green vest, $48 | Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Kimono, hand-dyed in navy, black and white, $56 | Image: The New Blak

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Girl Boss tee, $28

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Cozy headbands, $20 each

The New Blak: Ethically and Sustainably Made Clothing from right here in Louisville

Ready to shop The New Blak? Your best bet is to check out the website here. You can also find out where the mobile boutique (aka Betty) will be. 

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Check out our fashion and shopping articles here to get more inspiration on what to wear and where to #shoplocal.

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