BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | I’m thrilled to launch the Slow Fashion Citizen series with Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran, the founders of Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver. Many of you already know Fancy Tiger Crafts as a yarn shop, fabric store, workshop host, community space, or other craft-centered bricks-and-mortar but I’m most excited to talk about their role in sustainable fashion. I love the ethos of Fancy Tiger Crafts as an independent business dedicated to supporting other independent designers, farmers and businesses, but I especially love how Jaime and Amber embrace this ethos in their own wardrobes and their own homemade textiles.
When Jaime recently posted an image on Instagram of her most-worn homemade garments I was completely smitten. It was exactly the type of clothes I’d want for my own closet, and so I promptly emailed Jaime and Amber to ask them to launch this series with me. In the coming months I’ll share interviews with artists, makers, designers, writers and advocates for slow fashion. Some will be makers and some will not. Some will buy their clothing from ethical designers while others will shop secondhand and others yet will make their own garments — some will do none of the above or others all three. We each enter the slow fashion movement with our own life experiences, skill sets, aesthetics, budgets, schedules and lifestyles, and I aim to share a variety of these stories with you through my interviews.
There was something so joyful, so friendly, so accessible, so relatable and so refreshing about Jaime’s outfit in that post. It seemed to say, “Hey, I made these beautiful garments and I know you could too.” And that’s the spirit I wanted to offer as I begin these interviews. I absolutely love that Arthur Ashe quote, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” and I reference it often in my work with slow fashion. Typically, we just have to begin. So today we begin with Fancy Tiger Crafts to get a better sense of their history, sustainable fashion journey, and their incredible homemade garments.
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Tell us about the founding of Fancy Tiger Crafts — was it an impulsive beginning or was it calculated? Did you two already work together in some capacity or was the business partnership new? 10 years! Congratulations.
Thank you! Amber and I met in Galveston, Texas, in 2001 and were fast friends. I moved to Denver in 2006 to open Fancy Tiger when Amber was still in Galveston. She relocated to the Western Slope of Colorado to open her own yarn shop in early 2008 and that was when I asked her to partner with me instead. She did! The shop started very small and we’ve slowly grown over the 10 years we’ve been open. We moved in 2012 to a larger location where we are still located today.
Did you make clothing and then start a business or start a business and then start making clothing? When you started, who were your maker or handmade wardrobe icons? Who are they now?
We both started making clothing a year or two after we opened Fancy Tiger. I hardly sewed at all and was only knitting scarves and hats when I opened Fancy Tiger. Even though I was a novice crafter, my passion for crafting was limitless and I was motivated to inspire our customers so I poured my heart into learning more and more. It helps being surrounded by our awesome staff and instructors. In 2006 there was not this same movement, nor was there the same online community (no Pinterest, or Instagram) so I didn’t have any handmade wardrobe icons. There were some local makers here in Denver that were inspirational such as Christina Patzman and Sunne Meyer. They both began teaching at the shop early on and are still sharing their knowledge here today.
On your website you say Fancy Tiger Crafts is a “revolutionary shop”. Can you say more about the revolutionary part? (Because I agree and I love this part.)
Fancy Tiger Crafts is a revolutionary shop because it was the first of its kind when we opened. Before Fancy Tiger Crafts, shops were usually committed to one craft — just yarn, or quilting or needlepoint. We wanted to do it all, so we sold supplies and taught classes for a variety of crafts, including quilting, garments, knitting, crochet, spinning, felting, embroidery and cross stitch. We were also unique in our age (we were in our twenties when we opened) which gave us a different aesthetic than the typical craft store of the early aughts and before.
You have such a great aesthetic and a great sense of community. How do you decide which products to carry or which artists to invite to teach?
Amber and I have very similar aesthetics so it is easy for us to decide what to carry — we carry what we love! We are both passionate about US-made yarns, natural fibers, sustainable products, and supporting small designers, farmers and businesses. All of this informs our decision of what to carry. We love carrying products when we have made a personal connection with the company or people behind the company. We have become friends with a lot of the makers we support.
Your handmade wardrobes are so inspiring. Did you consider sustainability or ethical fashion when you first started making clothing? It seems so central to your mission as a business.
We didn’t! We mostly started making clothes because we wanted to make a skirt out of that cute new Japanese cat fabric or something selfish like that. I think when you first get into making clothes it can be a bit of a novelty, and it’s cool to have fun with that. Of course, the more we make our own clothes the more the issue of sustainable fashion comes into play. Everything is a process and it’s been a journey to get to where we are today.
Jaime, you recently posted on Instagram about your favorite handmade garments, listing the patterns, fabrics and pieces that you were wearing in that image. I love your outfit! And I loved the blog post where you both share your most-worn handmade garments. How do you decide which pieces to make for your wardrobe — do you have a sense of your own fashion style, body type, material comfort or fiber preferences? Can you tell when you start making something if it will be a favorite, or is it a matter of serendipity that all the elements come together just so?
Thanks! I have very strong ideas about what I like and a good idea of what will fit my body. I’ve been making my own clothes for a while and they are not always a win, but it’s always a learning experience. Currently I’m into very simple and flowy, square-shaped tops. Sometimes I fall in love with the fabric or yarn first and then I have to find the right pattern to work with it. Sometimes I fall in love with the shape and fit of a pattern and have to find the right material. Since we buy for the store, I usually know what we have coming in and often have ideas of what I want to make with it before it even arrives.
I think so many beginning- to intermediate-level textile enthusiasts are scared off from making clothing. I think this is part perfectionism — fear we’ll get it wrong — and part that we’ve lost these basic skills and basic confidence because we can buy new clothing so inexpensively. Of course, cheap clothing comes at a high ethical cost but it’s often “cheaper” to purchase. So … how do you encourage students to take a risk on making garments? Was there a moment when you had to just dive in and start pushing outside of your own comfort zone? How do you calm the inner perfectionist as you sew or knit?
Absolutely, you have to take risks! It’s the only way to grow. We’ve made tons of mistakes. Sometimes we still wear things even when they aren’t perfect or didn’t end up how we imagined. If we’re not going to wear something, we will gift the item or put it on display here at the shop. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes instead of being defeated by them.
What’s your advice to other folks who want to make a garment or even an entire handmade wardrobe but haven’t yet taken the plunge?
Start small and then actually wear the thing you made! The confidence and excitement you get when you finally wear something you made will boost you to keep going — I promise. You are aware of every stitch in the garment and all the “mistakes” that might be there because you sewed every seam up close and personal; no one else will notice this. Your friends and family will all be impressed and inspired by your handmade garments, trust me.
You carry such amazing materials and you are at the center of this amazing crafter’s community but if you had to recommend just three crafters for current inspiration who would you each suggest? And three favorite products or tools you personally cannot live without?
Jaime’s three current craft heroes: Tara-Lynn of Good Night, Day; Devon of MissMake; and Julia of Woodfolk. Jaime’s three tools: Swedish tracing paper for sewing, rotary cutter (how I cut out all my garment pieces), and 40″ Addi Turbo needles so I can knit anything I want using magic loop.
Amber’s current craft inspiration: Jen Beeman of Grainline Studio; Carrie Hoge of Madder; and Kristine Vejar of A Verb for Keeping Warm. Amber’s three tools: Oh, man, I agree with Jaime’s three picks. Those are essential. If I had to choose three other favorites I’d say a nice sharp seam ripper, a steamy iron — I love the Panasonic cordless irons we have in our classrooms — and a dependable sewing machine. I’m in love with my Janome Skyline and its automatic thread-cutting magic.
Thank you SO much for joining me. I’m so inspired by your business, your products, your classes and your amazing handmade wardrobes!
PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Introduction
Photos © Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran