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Made in America
From dress shirts to baby wear, how the friends behind Classic Childhood are giving clothes new life.
by Margaret Williams
Photographs by Kate Zimmerman Turpin
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It’s hard to ignore that Pamela Torres and Marta Vizcarro are in sync. They just are. Upon arrival at Pamela’s Circle C home, and after being warmly greeted with hugs and some unnamed yet delicious green juice, I can’t help but notice that the women are dressed similarly. Without planning (they promise) Pamela and Marta are both wearing bright-white shirts distinguished by voluminous proportions. That, combined with their choice of a red lip and face-framing bangs, creates an uncanny and striking impression.
Superficial similarities aside, the women’s pasts and presents intersect and overlap like a Venn diagram: Pamela and Marta are both from Spanish-speaking countries (Mexico and Spain, respectively), previously worked in finance, have husbands who work for the same international development firm, and are mothers to young sons.
More importantly, both share a passion for sustainable and affordable kids’ clothing. This interest and the women’s vision of creating timeless European-inspired children’s clothing are the twin engines that propel their business, Classic Childhood.
The idea for Classic Childhood sprang out of a life shift, a few actually. Born and raised in Chihuahua, Mexico, Pamela first moved to Austin from Dallas five-plus years ago after her husband, Paul’s, job brought them to town. The move allowed for a shift in thinking when it came to her work. “I had always wanted to be a fashion designer,” the former accountant admits.
Around that same time, Marta, a Barcelona native who moved to Austin with her husband, Enrique, in 2010 for similar reasons, was about to become a mother. The tech industry business analyst had recently begun taking graphic-design courses. The courses started out as an extracurricular interest subsidized by Marta’s company, but soon enough, and after the birth of her son, Marcel, in 2014, she left her job and accelerated her studies. Marta underscores the point by saying, “Having our son changed our lives.”
As both women stretched to find a career that aligned better with their interests and new life stages, they were introduced through their husbands. “Marta was my first friend when I got to Austin,” exclaims Pamela. This new friendship, combined with their collective love of design, led to an initial business partnership — ArTradition Purpose Market, an online marketplace for international artists and makers. Pamela led the sourcing and importing of one-of-a-kind pieces, while Marta handled all the branding and graphic design. The women had found a business model perfectly suited to their friendship and talents.
While APM did well, and is still in business, Pamela and Marta were just off center when it came to finding their particular niche in fashion and design. Then in late 2016 Pamela joined Marta in becoming a mom, with the birth of her son, Pedro, and somehow it all seemed to click. Both women already had many European friends and knew they loved the classic designs favored by Spanish and French mothers and their children.
For those of you who aren’t awash in examples of this look — which I can only assume was once limited to actual Europeans but can now be found all over chic Instagram feeds everywhere — the style is marked by clean lines, simple patterns, and detailed tailoring. Warm-weather pieces often have an open crisscross back, and in the cooler seasons collared blouses with tapered sleeves are paired with separates. Totally gorgeous but the style can be tricky to find in America, and when one does, it’s usually paired with an astronomical price tag.
Pamela refused to settle with this either-or scenario and decided to take a stab at sewing her own pieces. “I had my sewing machine that I got when I bought my vacuum cleaner,” she says. “I had fabric, since my husband was getting rid of some of his shirts, so I just started making things for my son. I dusted off the machine and just started sewing.” It wasn’t that she was necessarily an expert seamstress, but she knew she had to at least try. “My husband was very proud of my son wearing his shirt,” she explains. And it all grew organically from there.
The following summer Pamela and her family traveled to Spain for a vacation, and while abroad the budding designer picked up clothes and patterns to take back home. Seeing this new concept — European designs made from unwanted dress shirts (which not coincidentally were typically cotton, usually wrinkle-free, and often designed with conservative patterns) — Marta quickly asked to once again work together. And just like that, Classic Childhood became official. Marta explains, “It’s more fun [to work together], and we balance each other.”
What began slowly was kicked into high gear this past fall as the entrepreneurs applied to participate in two design competitions. The first was sponsored by Rent the Runway with a focus on empowering female-led businesses, and the second was part of the City of Austin’s zero-waste initiative. Honing her technique, Pamela could now produce two children’s “bubble rompers,” plus small accessories, from a single men’s shirt. Marta, meanwhile, was furiously working on the website.
Since that push, their clothing has been stocked at local boutiques Picket Fences and Alexa James, and last December the entrepreneurs participated in the local shopping event Mini Market. And while Pamela and Marta are incredibly grateful for the local support, they have big goals that stretch beyond our city limits: national and international wholesale representation to start (this summer Classic Childhood is participating in the New York based Children’s Club trade show), hopefully followed by a two-outfit-a-month subscription service in the model of Birchbox, Kiwi Crate, and so many others. Despite their expansion goals, Pamela and Marta are committed to keeping their clothing in a “good price range,” which translates to approximately $35 per outfit.
Additionally and, maybe most important, the business owners are focused on growing so they can share their success with others. At the time of our interview, Pamela and Marta were working with two seamstresses and in the process of testing and training two more. They want to share the work-life flexibility they so coveted with working mothers in need of additional income.
As I am walking out the door, Pamela confidently explains, “We think we are filling a gap in the market that is not here in the U.S. Why can’t we be the Gap Kids for these European-inspired pieces?” Her energy and drive is infectious, but even more endearing is their female-forward model stitched together with sustainable artistry.
HOW IT HAPPENS
• The duo and South Austin residents collect 100% cotton men’s dress shirts (in mostly excellent condition) from their friends, friends of friends, and neighbors. They explain, “Usually a shirt has just a hole in the elbow or a small stain, little things we can work around.”
• The shirts get washed and are delivered to Classic Childhood’s seamstresses, who remove the buttons (which are saved for future use) and cut patterns.
• Pamela and Marta pay their seamstresses per piece, ensuring that the women they hire are always paid $12-$18 per hour.
• Each shirt yields two bubble rompers; the size made depends on the size of the donated shirt.
• Each piece is lined with brand-new fabric (100% cotton) and finished with closures (snaps for ease and buttons when needed).
• The remaining scrap fabric, plus scrap fabric sourced from a partnership with Stitch Texas, is turned into decorative “month-by-month” pillows, which are popular with new parents, and other accessories like bonnets and hair bows.