Lillis Taylor is an artisan, a designer, and the self-proclaimed proud daughter of local artist Tres Taylor.
Taylor, as the founder of the Bib and Tucker Sew-Op — described via Kickstarter as a multi-generational group of sewing enthusiasts who meet weekly to share their love of sewing at the Desert Island Supply Company (DISCO) in Woodlawn — has a vision for local manufacturing.
Taylor has a track record for setting lofty goals and carefully carving out a path by which to reach them through education and determination. An alumna of Altamont, Taylor left Birmingham for the University of Washington in 1998. After graduating in 2003 with a degree in industrial design, she remained in Seattle for a few years and landed a position managing design for a book and toy development company. Although she was overjoyed at this experience, it left her with a less-than-pleasant taste for certain aspects of the trade.
“The reality of manufacturing in this country is that we ship everything overseas to be made,” says Taylor.
After a few years in the industry, Taylor traveled to China to visit the factories in which these goods were actually being produced. Subsequently, she realized she simply had no desire to be a part of that particular system of manufacturing. Taylor then decided to attend graduate school to study labor relations. Upon her return from a 12-month hiatus teaching English in China, she received a master’s degree in China studies.
After completing her scholastic endeavors, she continued learning via self-education. Since she is, undoubtedly, one of her father’s leading fans, she came up with the brilliant idea of intertwining her art with his; she wanted to make clothing from fabric printed with his designs.
“I basically spent the next two years learning how to design textiles, print them, and then turn them into clothing,” says Taylor. With the first phase of her new project under way, she set out to teach herself the craft of sewing. Thus Taylor’s clothing line, Tré Lilli, was born. Together, the father-daughter duo toured the country, making appearances at art shows as often as possible.
In light of Taylor’s views on manufacturing, however, she knew that overseas outsourcing for the production of her clothing line was not an option for her or Tré Lilli. “I reached a point where I had to kick it up 100 percent or re-tool my path,” Taylor says. “And knowing that I didn’t want to go outside of the country for manufacturing, I went this path of putting the clothing on the side for a moment and developing a cottage industry in Birmingham.”
The root idea of the “cottage industry” — which was comprised of many part-time employees who mainly worked from home — was planted long before the Industrial Revolution. In this system, no single person is overworked or underpaid.
In her efforts to create a cottage industry, Taylor meets with a group of women — mostly residents of Woodlawn — at DISCO once a week to sew. “We’re called Bib and Tucker Sew-op,” Taylor says. “The idea is to give them the capabilities of manufacturing. This is a space that they can come to every Tuesday and work on a project or learn how to do a different technique.” These women can then take the skills they learn through the sew-op and produce something for themselves, or even to sell.
DISCO officially opened the doors to its new home about a year ago, thanks to its proprietor, Chip Brantley. Originally intended to be solely a creative writing organization, catering to the literary needs of the children in Woodlawn, the arts centers has blossomed into much more with the help of Taylor and other volunteers. In a matter of 12 joyful months, according those who’ve led the way, DISCO has become a community center for the cultivation of creativity and learning for both children and adults.
During the school year, DISCO serves as a field trip destination for teachers and students to escape what can be a stuffy classroom environment. “The idea is to get the vibe going so that people want to come in, and they want to collaborate. … Teachers want to bring their kids here for workshops or to get the kids out of one space and into a new space,” says Taylor, DISCO’s new director of programming.
DISCO’s community outreach is not just limited to writing, however. This past summer, it hosted a number of workshops, or “camps,” where local children could come and not only learn a new skill but also put that skill into practice as well. For instance, Taylor, joined by three other local designers and stylists, led a fashion “boot camp.” Throughout the week, campers were taught how to style, thrift shop for materials, and produce something as a take-away. As for the writing element, the kids conducted an interview with Megan LaRussa, a successful Birmingham stylist and camp guest.
And as for DISCO and the support from Taylor’s industry contemporaries, the artist is grateful. “The crowd sourcing thing is very pleasing, because if they support you, then you’ve got a good product…it’s very clear. And also there’s just transparency in what we’re doing — a love of local, a love of community — and all of these women are very much on that page,” says Taylor. “We think ‘local,’ we think ‘cared for’ is very important.”