EDITOR’S NOTE: Managing the Ivy Style and Ivy Live Facebook groups for the last year has been something I wish I had done earlier. I love it. And one of the things that I love is seeing the influx of women into both groups. After interviewing Cara Marquis, I feel even more strongly about continuing that work. Cara is a no-nonsense business person and an excellent craftsperson managing a family, sales, design, production, and her golf game. All photos credit: Emily Elisabeth Photography. Read on.
Cara Marquis and her son, Bo.
Making a life change like moving to Nantucket year round is a serious decision - I know, because I am going to try to do it at some point. Taking your graphic design business that is labor intensive and paying your bills, and moving it to the island with your then-boyfriend who just quit being a lawyer to rent boats, moving in with him, and betting that you will be able to make a go of it in a place where a granola bar costs the same as a hardcover book - that’s monumental decision making, for serious thinkers. Then, get a dog, get married, have a baby, do beekeeping (or live with someone who does). It’s, um, demanding.
So what would any up-to-the-brink Tabor Academy and St. Lawrence grad do? If you guessed take up drinking, you would be wrong, but I don’t fault you for the idea. Cara Marquis instead started Piping Prints, a clothing brand from Nantucket that designs and manufactures “embroidered seersucker clothing inspired by classic styles for the entire family.”
And she got it right. More on that in a minute.
Piping Prints also lines up right, ethically. I talked to her on the phone about it.
“I started Piping Prints because I had a son,” she said. “And I couldn’t find comfortable, casual boys clothing that had some New England roots but that you could also fight a dinosaur in.”
“I remember when we had our daughter,” I answered. “I couldn’t find food she liked. But I didn’t start a farm.”
Cara laughed. I made a St. Lawrence grad laugh.
“And from the start, I wanted the company and the clothes to line up with my ethical standards, and my experiences and thinking about business in general. In my graphic design life, I spent a lot of time helping women-owned start ups, and I developed some opinions. So my choice of factory, that’s one thing, but my choice of factory, it had to meet my standards for fair pay. And empowering women, and enriching impoverished communities. And you would be amazed, in an industry dominated by women in the labor force, how hard it was to find a factory that checked all those boxes.”
She went on to tell me about the factory she started with in Kentucky, and the challenges she faced there, and she was right. I was amazed.
“So you moved to Nantucket for a guy?” I asked.
“Kind of. I mean, the guy was a big part of it. He said to me, ‘I want a job like yours, you know, where you can work when you want, make your own schedule.”
I could hear her roll her eyes over the phone.
“In hindsight, it would have been good to hold on to one regular paycheck. But we made it.”
“How does it work now, with the boat rental business and the graphic design and Piping Prints?”
“The boat rental business is his. I do the web site and the marketing to some extent, but it is really his baby. The graphic design work I fit in around Piping Prints, since the two are so linked. But Piping Prints is my priority and true love.”
“Aside from him.”
Glad we clarified that.
Cara was kind enough to send me a pair of shorts so I would know what I am talking about when I review. For some companies, that is not such a good idea.
For Piping Prints, it was an excellent idea. I know from samples. This, ain’t that. The shorts were very well designed. They are fun, sure, they are unlined seersucker. To hear Cara tell it:
“I do unlined because seersucker is a casual fabric. In 90 degree heat, no one wants a lining. If you do seersucker right, there are times when it feels like you aren’t wearing any clothes at all.”
That’s perfect for me. I am the type of guy who wants to feel like I am not wearing any clothes at all. I am also the type of guy you never want to see not wearing any clothes at all.
The proportions are right. Somebody, apparently Cara, has spent some time at country clubs. I can wear them during the day anywhere, including the beach, but I can also wear them to fireworks at the club at night. Bravo. The production is well done - there is a balance, especially for start ups - between financial efficiency and quality standards. Put another way, it makes sense from a wallet perspective to cut corners you hope no one will notice to save a few dollars. You know, in case your husband wants to buy a boat rental company on Nantucket.
No corners cut here. Buttons, stitching - everything top notch. And the company is doing pretty well. They are in about 20 stores up and down the east coast, they have custom designs for private labels for Nantucket businesses, and they even have bandanas and masks.
“So what’s next?”
“I’ve always loved golf too, and my girlfriends and I are always wearing skirts with pockets,” she answered. “This line grows perfectly into golf and country club wear.”
She’s right, it does. She showed me a picture of a prototype seersucker blazer, and I WANT ONE. But thank god this woman isn’t an astronaut or we would all be watching Mars landings in unlined space suits.
Cara is a very good designer, her work is clean, and pointed with nautical elements. She is also a serious business person who is travelling once a year one her own dime to the factory she hired to make very sure that the fair pay is fair and that the factory maintains the standards that she set out at the beginning. And she took up pickleball. What’s not to love there?
To check out her work and get yourself some seersucker, visit pipingprints.com. For more information and other inquiries, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.