Welcome to the second installment of the Makers Series. Over the next four weeks, I’ll be taking you inside the workspaces of some of my favorite brands. Kicking things off, a visit to New York’s Unis.
Eunice Lee, founder of Unis, doesn’t mince words. She doesn’t have time to. From sourcing, to production, to her store, to wholesale, there’s not a single facet of her business she doesn’t have a finger in – and most she handles entirely on her own. On the day we met, she had spent the better part of her morning on the phone, dealing with several of her stockists, all of whom were late on their payments. When I asked why she didn’t have a showroom, or some take-no-prisoners rep to handle that, she replied, “because I want those stores to know who they’re hurting. I want them to know there’s a person behind this stuff. And that by not paying, they’re directly affecting me and the people who make my clothes.” Her sincerity was palpable.
“It’s taken years for me to build the relationships I have now,” she says. “My fabric supplier in Italy, for instance. When I first started buying from them, they didn’t know who I was. They supply a ton of brands. But now, they know me. They know I come back every year, and that I’m loyal. They’ve actually started to take an interest in my line.” It’s clear that she values the relationship. The same as she does her relationships with her pattern-makers, her sewers, her factory owners. For Lee, the last ten years haven’t just been about building and sustaining a brand, they’ve also been about building and sustaining meaningful connections. And it’s because of those connections that she’s able to make a product she’s proud to put her name on.
When it comes to her clothes, Lee has one goal: for you to love them. “I want to make stuff guys get excited about wearing. Because it fits well. Because it’s super well-made. Because it makes them feel good to have on. The stuff they want to wear more than anything else. I want to make their favorite pieces.” Buying something of hers, wearing it until it dies, and then buying it again is the best compliment her clothes can receive. It means that you’ve made a personal connection. That the garment isn’t just another item in your closet, it’s a piece you actually care about. Just as she has forged a relationship with the women who sew her shirts, she wants you to forge a relationship with the shirt itself.
“Some friends of mine were biking across the country, and stopped by my place along the way,” she tells me. “Some of their laundry got mixed in with mine while they where there. And so, I’m doing the laundry, and I pull this perfectly worn-in vintage t-shirt from the dryer, and I’m looking at it thinking, ‘wow this is great,’ and suddenly I realize that it’s a Unis shirt. My friend had been wearing it for a few years. It looked amazing. Like a perfect vintage piece. It made me really excited.” Once again, her sincerity is palpable. And in that moment, it makes perfect sense to me that she would handle her own delinquent accounts. Lee speaks on her own behalf, and on behalf of her suppliers and makers, better than anyone else ever could.