You'd be forgiven for thinking that the new neve/hawk space on Rutledge Avenue, close to Hampton Park, is a boutique instead of a working studio. The steps are painted an inviting shade of green, the logo is neatly printed on the door, and the large windows display two of the adorably bohemian outfits that have made this local children's clothing line famous.
Once inside, though, it's clear that this is a work space, albeit a picturesque one. There are bolts upon bolts of fabric stacked halfway up one wall. Opposite, tiny, flowing dresses, soft jersey sweaters, and reversible patterned jackets hang in two rows. The centerpiece is a huge wooden work table covered with scraps of fabric, sample prints, rulers, and other tools of the designing trade. The space is bright, airy, and proof of how far neve/hawk has come in just a year and a half.
The clothing line started out in the home of founders and parents Bob and Kris Galmarini, who used to screen print T-shirts at night together for fun. "When you have kids you don't get out much ... so we would just create T-shirts for our daughter, [Neve] or create illustrations and screen them on things," Kris says. While Bob screen-printed, she would design and sew outfits for Neve. The hobby spawned a small T-shirt line, but neve/hawk didn't truly take off until the family took a trip to New York in the fall of 2011, which happened to coincide with the international children's clothing trade show, ENK International. The Galmarinis decided they may as well go and take a look. "I had a dream of having a kid's clothing line, but I was running a restaurant at that point, working at Five Loaves. So we went just to see, and I put my daughter in an outfit I had made. [I was] thinking maybe no one will notice — probably no one will notice," Kris says, laughing. "But then maybe someone will notice because everyone there is in the industry."
It turned out that the industry folks did notice what Neve was wearing, and several of them urged the couple to turn their creations into a full clothing line. So, despite having no experience in the fashion industry, the two decided to go for it. They headed to Kickstarter to raise funds for their first line, and from there, neve/hawk took off like a rocket. "We started our Kickstarter [campaign] in November, we were funded by December, and debuted our first line by March ," Kris says. "At the time it was exciting and stressful, but looking back it was comedic ... We laugh about it and people think I am exaggerating, but I'm not — we had a couple of people take us under their wing and give us advice. Then I literally took their leads, flew to L.A., got off the plane, and went down to the Fashion District and knocked on doors."
Apparently, the fashion industry isn't quite as cutthroat as people make it out to be, because instead of endless door slammings, Kris got the tips and help she needed to take her and Bob's ideas from their own one-off creations to replicable dresses, shirts, pants, and sweaters. And there are a whole lot of steps between those two points: sketching, measuring, patterning, mocking up, and creating samples. "Within two weeks I had my first collection mocked up and patterned," Kris says. "Sometimes I surprise myself with the fact that I would ever do that, you know? That's how it all began."
Since then, the Galmarinis have created two more collections, the second of which just debuted to industry buyers on March 1. The spring/summer 2013 collection is filled with beautiful creations like an orange-and-white bustle dress with removable straps, a pretty patterned maxi dress that converts to a skirt, and a loose, flowy reversible sweater (Kris and Bob, sensible parents that they are, try to make as many reversible, convertible pieces as possible). For boys, there are comfy pants with hand-screened details, harem pants, and detailed screen-printed T-shirts. They look like clothes that beachy, outdoor-loving kids would wear, but they've got an added element of style that's organic and totally unpretentious.
Though their line has grown like crazy in a short time, the Galmarinis still hand-screen all of their T-shirts, and they illustrate and print certain fabrics. They also create illustrated patches that they add on to garments to maintain that handmade feel that is integral to neve/hawk clothing. "It's kind of our way in a mass, U.S.-based production system that we can still have a piece of it from us," Kris says.
With their unique designs and handmade touches, it's clear why people have been snatching up neve/hawk garments like hotcakes. And that's despite a price range that places them in the higher end of the children's clothing market — a jacket will run you around $98, for example, and dresses can cost between $60 and $90.
There's a good reason for those prices though, which is doubtless part of the clothing line's popularity. neve/hawk makes everything in the U.S., specifically in Los Angeles, North Carolina, and locally with Heather Koonse of the Charleston Garment Manufactory. "Being made in the U.S. is a hard line for us. When we were talking with our investors, they were like, 'We don't think you should really say that, because you can make more of a profit if you go overseas.' I understand, but that is not an option for me," Kris says. "I want to support good working environments and I want to grow [the American] textile industry." Hopefully, she says, as the local and U.S.-based industry grows, prices can begin coming down.
Though neve/hawk does sell items through its website, neveandhawk.com, the Galmarinis also do a lot of business with fashion buyers. As of now, they're selling in stores across the country and around the world — interestingly, South Korea is a big fan. They've recently been in talks with Fred Segal and Barney's, and they hope to expand to the European market next year. They've launched a new T-shirt line, Creatures and Features, and they're even debuting a neve/hawk home line in 2014. They'll also be a Featured Designer in this year's Charleston Fashion Week, after presenting as an Emerging Designer last year.
It's exciting — thrilling, really — for the Galmarinis to be expanding so rapidly, but it's also exhausting, considering that neve/hawk's staff consists of the two of them and one part-time person. "We are really tired," Kris says. "But you can't quit. We have a good momentum going. We don't have the overhead yet to hire more people to help us, so it's just work your little tail off until that happens, and then you'll get some relief hopefully."
But no matter how much they grow, one thing is certain. The Galmarinis will always be the creative forces behind neve/hawk, though they will happily give away many of the administrative tasks that currently fill their days. "I have a vision of being more of the creative director," Kris says. "I need to be pulled away from these other tasks so I can spend more time designing. I have a vision that we will grow, and that we can get other people in there that, say, love to update Facebook."
In the meantime, Bob and Kris Galmarini will just keep doing what they've been doing for the last year and a half — working their little tails off, and reveling in how lucky they are. "I feel really, really blessed," Kris says. "[Doing something like this] is a leap of faith, and you just hope it works. If it doesn't, then you figure something out — or cry."
And there are no tears in neve/hawk's future.
Find neve/hawk garments locally at Worthwhile on King Street, and shop online or view their spring/summer lookbook on neveandhawk.com.