Behind The Scenes:
Finding the Perfect Fabric



“The new flannel is so incredibly soft. The construction is so beautiful and well done. It’s a twill weave that is then brushed to make it soft. It’s everything I was looking for. I didn’t even know if a luxury version of flannel existed, but I found it. I asked the universe for this specific thing—this fabric—and it was delivered.”
-Althea Simons

When Althea founded GRAMMAR, she was on a mission to find the perfect organic poplin—a classic shirting fabric made of tightly woven cotton. Since the brand’s beginning, its iconic white shirts and timeless dresses have been produced in Global Organic Textile Standard-certified (GOTS) poplin. This certification guarantees that all stages of production from growing the cotton to making the garment are ethical and sustainable. As a designer, Althea understands her signature poplin inside and out: its structure, its weight, its drape. While she considers it to be a year-round fabric, she recognized the need for a warmer and cozier option for cooler weather.

For the Fall/Winter 2021 collection, Althea went searching for a new GOTS-certified fabric: a luxurious cotton flannel. She had no idea if such a fabric even existed. In the following interview, which has been edited for brevity, Althea shares her process for finding a fabric that she loves and that reflects GRAMMAR’S commitment to sustainable and ethical fashion.

Flannels on the Go

Althea's Mom, Ruth, is keeping warm and cozy while she enjoys the sights of London.

Callie: Before we get into the details about your research process, what has been some of your favorite feedback about the new Fall/Winter 2021 collection since its release in September?

Althea: My mom says the new flannel feels like a hug, which is exactly what I wanted. I'm trying to convey my love through these products, and the fact that my mom felt that makes me feel happy.

Callie: Aw. So sweet. I love that. Alright, so I am very curious about how you found this magical new fabric and why you chose flannel?

Althea: The decision to find a new, warmer fabric started with a practical business need. The fabric that I've been working with since the start of GRAMMAR is poplin. While I think of it as a year-round fabric, most people think of it as only for spring/summer, so my sales would go down in the fall and winter. I wanted to offer something that would fulfill that “sweater weather” desire to have something more cozy that’s warm against your skin.

Flannel was the first thing that came to mind as it is the classic winter fabric for shirting. I also have strong associations with flannel from growing up in Maine. The headquarters for L.L. Bean is in the next town over from where I grew up, so that sort of outdoorsy kind of vibe of traditional plaid flannel is something that's very familiar to me. It makes me feel nostalgic.

Cozy Fabrics for Winter Days

Lisa wears the Novel Jacket in Black Flannel

Callie: Where did you begin your search?

Althea: I basically went out to the marketplace. As a designer, there are trade shows where you can walk around, browse fabrics, and talk to representatives from different mills. Each mill has a booth where they have swatches of fabric that you can see and feel. And, you can ask the representatives questions about how the fabric is sourced and made. You can order swatches, have them sent to you, and then choose what you want from several options.

Callie: How is your search for a new fabric similar to or different from other designers?

Althea: So, for designers that do a full collection every season with several different fabrics, they'll go out and get a whole bunch of different things and then select from there.

For me, it's different because I'm always looking for something very specific, and so I don't order a ton of swatches. I find what I want by basically going around and saying “This is what I’m looking for, do you make it?”

When I was looking for the poplin, I searched high and low because I knew that it would be the foundational fabric for GRAMMAR; it had to be high-end with a very specific weave and hand—meaning how the fabric feels. There's like a million different kinds of poplin because it is a core fabric; there are countless variations in yarn size, the twist of the yarn—all of these very specific things. I was going to any milI that I could find in the world that made poplin and asking if they had an organic poplin with all of the specific qualities that I was looking for, or if they could make it.

I was not only going to the trade shows and talking to anyone there who made cotton shirting, but I was also doing a lot of online research and calling people. I talked to anyone that I could find because it's not that easy to find organic, fair trade cotton, especially five years ago when I was first starting GRAMMAR. Luckily it's becoming more and more popular.

Callie: Is there a GOTS-certified database that you can use to search for mills?

Première Vision New York Tradeshow

One of the many places that designers can find their own perfect fabric.

Althea: Absolutely. On the GOTS website there is a database of mills that are GOTS-certified. It's not clear to me how up to date it is, but I definitely used it as a resource and reached out to several mills that way. But even if a mill is listed on GOTS, it doesn't mean they make fine wovens or poplin in particular.

So yeah, the whole fabric-sourcing world is its own little universe. Through the process of searching high and low for a perfect poplin, I developed my little database of mills, agents, and reps that make organic cotton. When I was looking for the flannel, I reached out to all of them and said, “Do you make organic cotton flannel? If so, will you send me some swatches?” Because there were no trade shows or anything due to the pandemic, I had all the swatches mailed to me.

Callie: Even though you were looking for something very specific, it still sounds a bit daunting to find the perfect new fabric in a world of so many options. Did you use any other resources to help narrow the search?

Althea: I used to be a part of this accelerator called the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator which unfortunately no longer exists, but it was a hub for sustainable fashion through Pratt. They had a sustainable textile database and a showroom where you could go through and see the different fabrics. This accelerator used to have mills and representatives come and give talks, or show their collections. There was this one mill, from Japan, that only makes GOTS-certified organic cotton fabric—that's their specialty. I didn't like their poplin, but I remembered that they had a lot of really interesting and beautiful fabrics, so I reached out to that contact that I still had, and it turned out that they had started working with a showroom here in New York that I also knew and had spoken with in the past.

Fortunately, I was able to physically visit the showroom, with masks and everything. It's a very small showroom; there's like three or four people who work there. I took a look at the collection, and they had a few different flannels. They were all really nice. The one I chose is just a bit heavier than the poplin, but it's still relatively lightweight for flannel.

The new flannel is so incredibly soft. The construction is so beautiful and well done. It’s a twill weave that is then brushed to make it soft. It is everything I was looking for. I didn’t even know if a luxury version of flannel existed, but I found it. I asked the universe for this specific thing—this fabric—and it was delivered.

Flannel Fabrics

You can see the twill weave of the fabric in the Sterling color shown here.

Callie: Did you start designing for the fall and winter collection before or after you found the fabric?

Althea: That's a great question. So all fabrics have different properties. There's the hand, for example, which is how the fabric feels. Then there are other things––like the drape––that are very important for the structure of the garment. Our poplin is very structured, and so it creates these shapes that stand away from the body—it adds volume.

The flannel falls differently on the body because it has a different weave and a different yarn. It drapes more so it falls closer to the body than the poplin. The flannel gives the existing designs a really different feeling, which is really cool to see. For example, The Pronoun Dress in poplin flares out more, whereas in the flannel it drapes over the hips then comes in.

Callie: Can you say more about how the different qualities of the poplin and the flannel change how a garment looks?

Althea: I can kind of intuit what a design is going to look like in different fabrics, but it's really nice to see it in real life. The differences between The Split Infinitive in the poplin and in the flannel is also a good example. In the poplin, the sleeves really have volume and structure throughout the whole arm, whereas in the flannel, the sleeves are slim throughout the top of the arm and then come out in a really beautiful way—almost like a bell sleeve.

When designing the new styles for this season, I was thinking about the properties of the flannel and how to make the best use of it—its hand, drape, and the fact that it's warmer and heavier than the poplin. I knew that the flannel was going to behave differently.

Flannel vs. Poplin

Both shirts are the Split Infinitive style but drape differently in the flannel vs the poplin fabrics.

Callie: The Poetry Blouse’s pleated cuffs and neckline are, I think, a great example of how the flannel’s weight gives the design an elegant drape.

Althea: Yes, absolutely. I wanted to make something very romantic. It's funny because I was looking at poplin shirts that have that kind of pleating in the collar and around the cuffs—I was specifically looking at old pictures of Princess Diana. But, there’s a fine line between pleats that look too prim and dated versus pleats that are romantic and chic. In the flannel, I feel like the pleats on The Poetry Blouse kind of have a nice flow and gravity that is not too severe or costumey.

I also think the flannel wonderfully serves The Poetry Blouse’s silhouette. The bodice’s hem is really big around. The design’s width exploits the fabric’s drape which creates these romantic, wide ripples around the body.

So when you move, the blouse is moving around your body—it's draping against your body. By contrast, in the poplin, it would just really stick out and be very far away from the body.

Callie: I love learning about the fabrics’ different qualities. Can you say more about what it was like to design with the new flannel?

The Poetry Blouse

The soft drape of the flannel fabric makes the pleats romantic and chic

Althea: In designing each piece for this collection, I was thinking a lot about where and how the fabric would be touching the body. For example, The Inflection Jumpsuit, like The Inflection Top, is just one piece of fabric that wraps around you. The jumpsuit looks really chic, but for the wearer, it basically feels like really soft flannel pajamas—it’s just so cozy.

The Inflection Top and Jumpsuit

The fabric wraps and fold over itself in unique ways depending on the fabric.

And then, with The Novel Jacket, there’s a scarf that you can wrap around your neck to keep you warm. The jacket has a relatively simple shape, but the scarf adds a dramatic element that allows the wearer to create a sort of cocoon. I love the gesture of wrapping the scarf—which wraps around at least two times. When designing, I also think about the experience of putting something on. Getting dressed is a kind of ritual. It should feel good—it should be a good experience.

Callie: Each design we’ve talked about—The Poetry Blouse, The Inflection Jumpsuit, and The Novel Jacket—are undoubtedly some of the most elegant pieces in the new collection. I wanted to shift gears though and talk about The Prose Tunic. It is an undecorated, very straightforward piece—a quintessential classic. I’d love to hear more about it.

The Novel Jacket in Natural Flannel

The fabrics drapes around the neck gracefully to create a cocoon for the wearer.

Althea: The Prose Tunic is sort of based on a more traditional flannel top that I have and that I love to wear in the winter because it is just so big and warm and comfy. I wanted to make a GRAMMAR version that just felt like the perfect go-to winter top. I wanted it to feel like a hug.

Callie: Aw, yes! I love this idea that each piece in the collection is its own special hug. Do you have plans for introducing new fabrics in future collections?

Althea: Adding new fabrics does expand the design possibilities of what I can create. Since the start of GRAMMAR, I've loved the specificity of the poplin, exploring what that fabric can do, and really understanding it. In so many ways it's a perfect fabric and I'll always work with it. But I do love the idea of opening up the brand to other possibilities.

The Prose Tunic In Natural

A more traditional and simple flannel shirt.

Callie: That’s so neat—how you’ve developed a relationship with the poplin. It’s exciting to hear about how you are getting to know with this new flannel, too.

Althea: It gives it a totally different look and feel, which is really exciting. Someone could have The Pronoun Dress in poplin and in flannel and it would be two different experiences because of the qualities of the two fabrics. I also think that producing original favorites, like The Pronoun Dress, in the new fabric is helpful for customers. The poplin and the flannel are two different sensory experiences, but customers can trust that the fit and function of the design is consistent.

Callie: What have you been wearing now that the weather is getting cooler?

Althea: I’m a sucker for the classics, so I’ve been wearing The Agent and The Prose a lot. They’re just so easy to throw on with a pair of jeans, and that’s usually what I’m going for in the morning. When I’ve been dressing up a bit more to go out to dinner or something, I’ve been loving the Inflection top with a skirt or a pair of trousers and a little heel.

Callie: Thank you for this in-depth discussion! I very much enjoy and learn so much from these BTS chats.

Althea: Of course! Thank you.

The Schwa Tuxedo shirt in Poplin

The Schwa Tuxedo Shirt's high-fashion bow showcases our signature poplin's volume and structure.

The Poetry Blouse in Natural Flannel

The new flannel fabric flows and wraps around the body with ease.

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Read about how Althea was inspired to create this years fall collection.

Maine Lookbook

See our latests lookbook featuring our new flannel styles.