Finch: Shanghai’s Local Design Movement

Heather Kaye and Itee Soni: Founders of Finch

Finch uses 100% certified organic and sustainable fabrics.

Finch uses 100% certified organic and sustainable fabrics.

Finch is an eco conscious brand based in Shanghai

When fashion designers Heather Kaye and Itee Soni decided to leave New York and New Delhi respectively to head for Shanghai, they had their own reasons. But when they met, they had only one reason to start a small scale local design movement: social and environmental responsibility.

Heather and Itee founded Finch in June 2010. All Finch clothes are designed and produced in Shanghai, using 100% certified organic and sustainable fabrics. Heather and Itee have a combined experience of 22 years in apparel design and manufacturing experience and they are excited to put every bit of it for a sustainable design process.

You are from New York and Itee is from New Delhi. What made both of you move to Shanghai?

Heather:  In 2005, I was a newly married designer at Liz Claiborne, in NYC, working with an amazing boss and mentor, Lauri Michael.  She would come back from her sourcing trips and rave about Shanghai.  As the end of apparel trade quotas approached and even our pattern and sample making process moved over to Asian factories, I started to realize how little I knew about the manufacturing process.  Thinking I could act as a bridge between design and manufacturing, and do more local approvals to save time, I asked for a transfer to the Liz Shanghai office.  My husband and I arrived with 2 suitcases in January 2006, just in time for Chinese New Year.  Total insanity, that first month!  Six years and 2 children later, Shanghai has become our home.

Itee:  I was heading up product development for UK high street brands Paul Smith, Whistles, Karen Millen and Reese at a buying house in Delhi, when I was offered a design position with a Canadian retailer in their Shanghai office.  My parents were a little rattled when I decided to accept, but they came around and now prefer Shanghai to New York, even.  How about that?

What are the challenges you face in the area of textile sourcing?

Heather:  EVERYTHING regarding textile sourcing is a challenge!  We have the main challenge that all small designers have – smaller quantities equal a much higher price – and we can really only work with one or two mills.  Otherwise, we just cannot give them enough business to keep our brand a priority.

We feel very fortunate to have great industry contacts with suppliers from our previous companies; so many of them have supported us through our launch.  But finding certified, eco-conscious fabric and dye suppliers is a real challenge.  There just aren’t that many of them.  Our main supplier of organic cotton, hemp, rPET, silk and wool is Hempfortex.  They have been wonderful partners, and deal exclusively in sustainable fabrics so they get where we are coming from and what we are trying to achieve.

What made you decide to open a printing facility next year?

Heather:  In an effort to have a totally transparent supply chain, and more direct control over what is being used to create our garments, we are working towards building a carbon-neutral manufacturing facility that welcomes all small-scale independent designers to print, dye and manufacture garments and accessories in the Shanghai vicinity.  We aim to have an expertly trained team of sewers, pattern and printmakers – a really high-level design incubator and collaboration zone.

Would you be expanding outside Shanghai?

Itee:  In December, we made a big leap to Singapore and have had great success with our retail partner, Nana & Bird.  We hope to open in eco-conscious boutiques in Hong Kong in May, and generally around Asia within the next year.

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