Women of Northern Grade: Grace Gouin

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Grace Gouin hopes that her Asheville, NC based outerwear brand Appalatch (with co-founder Mariano DeGuzman) will be a contagious business model. Ethical, sustainable, and honest, Appalatch is trying to change the way businesses in the USA operate – by proving that a conscious business can succeed, and is better for all of us. Grace is obsessed with the technical craft behind the garments that Appalatch sells (she’s currently studying knitting at Stoll in Germany) making her not only a woman with a passion for craft, but a bona fide pro at it. Read on to learn about this incredible woman and her brand which will be at the Northern Grade NYC pop-up this weekend.

Q. What inspired you to start Appalatch?
A. The inspiration and motivation to start Appalatch came out of a shared desire, between my business partner and I, to create something we terribly wished existed. We were each independently searching for ways to make really beautiful and high quality clothing in a way that matched up with our values and commitment to social and environmental responsibility, and when we met and got talking it sort of steam rolled into something we both really liked.

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Q. You take the approach of sustainability, but not because it’s a buzzword, because it shouldn’t be a buzzword. How are you making your business be a model for other businesses?
A. Of course, the big fear is that if sustainability is that it’s a buzzword. It will eventually be an old buzzword and efforts towards a more sustainable apparel industry will end (in fact I think it’s already “out”, so to speak). The other challenge with sustainability as a buzzword is you see sustainability being used as a marketing tool for a product that is not really all that sustainable. For Appalatch, we want sustainability and ethics to be simply a given in the manufacturing of each product, so that we’ll never need to try to lay those values on retroactively as new initiative. We use the direct to consumer model to keep the prices reasonable, and to give us the flexibility to try out new practices that currently evolving in the world of sustainable manufacturing. It’s a model that we are finding works, and we hope to goodness other business will try it!

Q. How many Northern Grade pop-ups have you and Appalatch attended and what’s your favorite part of NG?
A. We have attended 2 other Northern Grade events so far (Richmond and Chicago), though this will be the first one I am not personally at. I’ll be sad not to be there, it’s really such an incredible experience. The customers are so excited to be there because it’s such a curated experience; each table seems like a dream. It’s so rare to find such a collection of things that you can feel really good about buying. We were also happy to find that all the other brands are so nice! The world of domestic apparel manufacturing is so small that everybody there is in the same boat, on one level or another, and it’s nice to feel that kind of support and camaraderie. You leave each event with new friends!

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Q. You will be unable to attend this year, but are you excited about the opportunity of having the brand represented at the NG NYC pop-up with GQ? How might it differ from NG pop-ups in other cities?
A. This is a hard question to answer – I feel like so many of the details of this Northern Grade have developed since I have been here in Germany (training at Stoll), that it’s hard to grasp the scale of it. Northern Grade itself is such a fantastic opportunity for Appalatch, that to have it partner with a behemoth like GQ . . . well, it’s really exciting! It makes me excited not just for our brand, but for everything that NG represents – a return to domestic manufacturing. We don’t even have access to an American GQ over here, so really it seems like a dream. I think that NYC is going to be more crowded than other events just by nature of the location, but it’s going to be interesting to see how Brooklyn reacts to the spread. Gosh, now I absolutely wish I was going!

Q. You’re a women leading a sustainable American-made brand in the outdoor apparel industry – What advice do you have for other women looking to do something similar?
A. I would suggest that they learn the basics of the technical side of each step of their manufacturing process. Unless you find some fantastic and mysterious middle man, you’ll have to coordinate so many of the details directly with each one of your suppliers, so a healthy understanding of the technical side of our business is really essential. A domestic supply chain is hard to work out in the first place, and if you are going to communicate directly with the mills, be prepared to learn a lot and to ply them with chocolate – because you want to understand them and you want them on your side. Knowing how each step operates is going to tell you exactly how much flexibility you have to change a couple ingredients and come up with something really innovative. On a more intuitive level, go with your gut and follow your instincts – some relationships with suppliers don’t work out well, especially when you are just getting started, and you have to listen to that little voice that tells you to just back away.

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