Discussion 24: Embracing Slow with Emma Brooks
Meet Emma Brooks, creator of Pair Up, a slow fashion clothing line that brings thoughtful basics to life through the power of color. You may recognize the gorgeous Pair Up deadstock sun hats from our shop...guess what, they're designed and made locally. It always happens that our favorite products in our sustainable shop land here organically, by some connection or relationship or blip in the matrix, and Pair Up is no different. You may notice our Shop Manager, Jo, in Pair Up photography, and Emma was even kind enough to mention Thread Spun in her Audi Keys to the City Guide.
The name "Pair Up" was inspired by the process of getting dressed. You pull a few special items from your closet and pair them up together, as an expression of your own unique self. And isn't that the truth? We are endlessly inspired by Emma's slow fashion designs and approach to business, and we wanted to catch up to see how she is juggling a new addition (sweet baby Penny) to the family while nourishing her entrepreneurial spirit. We were able to visit Emma at her Pair Up work space/home in Escondido to chat balance, slow fashion and a lil' bit of parenting. Read on and don't forget to embrace slow.
You recently moved to Southern California, what drew you here?
Yes! We’re so happy to call San Diego home — I have a feeling we’ll be here for a while. We’ve moved around a lot over the last few years, as my husband wrapped up graduate school and took on a few different jobs. Before SD, we were in Boston, MA and Oakland, CA. We’ve always known we’d call California home, it was just a matter of when and where we could afford it. We now own a small 1950s Adobe Home in a town called Escondido. We’re surrounded by orange trees, sunshine, and amazing neighbors.
Tell us a little bit about your slow fashion brand, Pair Up. How did it start? How did you decide to sew and dye in California?
We only use fabric and textiles that already exist, meaning we don’t create anything custom from virgin materials. The two categories we pull from are deadstock (abandoned rolls from mills and other brands) and upcycled textiles (fiber scraps that have been broken down and respun into new yarn). Limiting ourselves in this capacity was the only way we felt comfortable starting a clothing brand. It's a creative challenge we welcome with open arms.
I started Pair Up right around the time Covid kicked off so it was impossible to connect with a factory. I decided to take on production myself, until everything was back up and running. No big deal, right? I truly didn’t know what I was taking on. Now we handle almost everything in house. It allows us to be super flexible and creative. I’m currently sampling some pieces with a new factory to see if we’d be a good fit. I definitely need help as we grow.
What are your favorite garments to create and why?
I really love our scrap bags and pillows. Inspired by quilting and patchwork techniques, we slowly piece them together using our cut-off scraps. Each one is uniquely different.
What is your favorite part of the process of designing and fabricating garments?
I’m currently teaching myself pattern design. I really love being able to own every single step in the production process and that is the only skillset I haven’t learned. Bring it on! There’s a lot of iterating, trial and error, and experimentation. It's really fun.
I also love garment dyeing using a low-water immersion method. You take a completed piece of clothing and hand dye it in as little water as possible. It creates this really uneven finish that creates a worn in vintage look.
What does sustainability mean to you?
I view fashion as an opportunity to create mindful art, not disposable waste. My goal is to create environmentally conscious clothing that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the health of our planet for future generations. Natural resources are a gift that we do our very best to honor and respect.
To build on that, we are very conscious of the waste we produce. We’ve created a scrap program that strives to use our fabric cut-offs in creative ways. I’d also like to build in an educational element that helps shine some light on the deeply complicated world of clothing production, upkeep, and disposal. Everyone wears clothes but the average consumer is so disconnected from it. I’d love to help people break away from unconscious consumerism.
What advice do you have for women wanting to start their own small business?
This is hard. I'm immediately like well… I have questions, ha!! What’s the product? What’s the industry? Are you self-funded? Do you have a business partner? Something I’d urge everyone to do, no matter what you’re selling or how you’re funding it, is to consider the environment. What materials and resources do you need to make your offering? What impact does using them have? What is the lifecycle of your product? Who is making it and how are they treated? Ask yourself all the hard questions before you begin.
You’re a new mom to Penny! She’s amazing. What have been your peaks (high points) and pits (low points) of motherhood? What are you most looking forward to?
Yes, Thank youuu! I still can’t believe she’s real… Parenthood is wild. I knew it was going to be ALL the things wrapped up into one big insane life long experience but it's hard to wrap your head around it until you’re experiencing it first hand.
I’ll start with my low. The depths at which our mind and body are challenged during gestation and birth is impressive, to say the least, ha. I experienced a lot of discomfort while carrying, as I think most women do — morning sickness, major back pain, indigestion, swelling, lack of sleep, lots of needles and tests, etc. For me, it was the longest 9 months of my life and I’m happy to have it behind me, ha. When it came time to give birth, I ended up needing an emergency c-section where I lost a lot of blood and almost needed a transfusion. All in all, everyone is healthy and has recovered but it was not easy. Now we’re 9 months into Penny’s life and there are new challenges every single day — Mental health, finding balance, fatigue, childcare, etc. We’re taking a lot of deep breaths over here. One day at a time!
My high… Seeing Penny for the first time was pretty magical. When they brought her over to me on the operating table, they held her close to my face and she stopped crying. I spoke to her and touched her tiny face with my fingers and we definitely had a moment. I felt like she knew me.
Any tips for those balancing motherhood and running a small business?
Get help. You can’t do it all by yourself — well, you can try but you’ll burn out FAST!! I now fully stand by the saying “it takes a village…” All of our family lives in Oklahoma and Texas so we’ve had to budget for some in-home care while she’s really little.
Any other projects in the works we should know about?
Within Pair Up, I have so much I want to do. I need 10 more hands! Outside of Pair Up, I’m completely obsessed with Artificial Intelligence, specifically image creation using MidJourney. You can see my weirdo work on Instagram @fluff.mountain — who knows what will come from it. Maybe nothing, maybe a whole new product line. I’m circling a few fun ideas!
Top 5 favorite songs right now?
- Dorado Valley by Hermanos Gutierrez
- Como Me Quieres by Khruangbin
- Any kind of Binaural Beats that will help me stay relaxed
- Anything by the Allah Las make me smile :)
- And because I’ve been exploring random music for Baby Penny, I gotta throw a kids song in here. When was the last time you listened to The Bare Necessities from The Jungle Book? The lyrics are amazing! Ha.