The Collective

Leslie Starks in her sewing studio "Instinct Creative Works" in Wray, CO. 

Leslie Starks in her sewing studio "Instinct Creative Works" in Wray, CO. 

Collective: (adj.) done by people acting as a group

(n.) a cooperative enterprise

A lot of people ask me, “what does Visantine Collective mean?” We first named Visantine a “collective” because we imagined a career of collaborations with our maker friends in NYC. I believe the best creative projects spawn from two challenging perspectives. After being quite transient the past few years, including a short hiatus from the industry from 2013-15, Visantine hasn’t yet evolved into the collaborative brand we’d first imagined. BUT. Then it dawned on me: every clothing company, unless you are a robot and do everything yourself, is a COLLECTIVE! The process is dynamic with multiple parties involved through each step: designing, making the patterns, creating the fabric, and sewing the product. Most times this cycle is global. Visantine is lucky to collaborate with local designers and seamstresses in the Laramie community as well as a small sewing room in Wray, Colorado. Our patterns are sized in New York City, and our textiles are sourced from vendors in San Francisco and British Columbia, Canada. The process from fiber to finished garment relies on a large network of makers and each one should be considered as you vote with your dollar. I’m a big advocate of introducing these folks to you, and I hope you always wonder about the collective of talent behind the label.

I had the luxury of chatting with Leslie Starks, the founder of sewing room “Instinct Creative Works” in Wray, Colorado. She has been sewing for over 40 years and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Textiles & Clothing and Fashion Design. Her sewing room is a small team of 5 women working collectively, un-phased by the statistic that only 3% of clothing sold in the US was actually made here. “Instinct Creative Works” is constantly evolving with the industry while providing their employees with a comfortable living wage and compelling training. They've got high hopes the “fashion revolution” that is upon us will influence consumers to demand transparency and American made garments.

" Instinct Creative Works " team after a hard day's work. 

"Instinct Creative Works" team after a hard day's work. 

How did you learn to sew and why?

My passion for sewing began at a very early age. I began sewing when I was 10 years old, as soon as my mother would let me. I saw my older sister create so many awesome things and I wanted to also. My mother, formerly a home economics teacher, allowed me to pursue my desire. I was blessed to be able to sew on my own and ask her for guidance when I didn’t understand. I made most of my clothes growing up and enjoyed being able to create things totally different from others.

What is your oldest piece of clothing? Can you tell me a memory in it?

The oldest piece of clothing I own is a red dress with black buttons that my mother had worn in the 1940’s/50s. while she was in college and teaching. It sat in her closet for years, and I fell in love with the classic lines and design. I wore it several times when I was in my 20’s while working in a fabric store and gift shop.

What is your opinion of the current fashion industry? What would you change if you could?

I don’t try to analyze the fashion industry. I think the fashion industry is like raising kids. As soon as you think you have figured out what works, they grow and change. You just have to be willing to grow and adapt with it. I am open minded to new technology. Internet and improved software has opened up amazing possibilities to new designers. However, I relish the traditional techniques and believe that there is great value in learning and sharing these skills.

What would I change? Improved collaboration and support in the industry and the respect of the skills needed to produce items. Celebrating the value of the people involved in the day to day creation of apparel.

Do you find “American made” garments important? Why?

Yes, I do believe “Made in America” is important to strive for. It can be a challenge to find all the resources here and with time, that will improve. Local production means immediate resolution of issues, accountability, transparency, and sustainability. It encourages connection to creative outlets, growth in the communities, and value in the people and finished products. We can benefit by learning from all areas.

From a consumer perspective, I am ever curious of the human behind the clothing I purchase. I think it's such an intimate connection to have someone make you a garment. There is so much skill, attention to detail, and care put into each piece. On the manufacturing side, do you also feel that connection or contemplate the end user?

We have often thought about the customers that might purchase the garment that we are making.  We visualize who might enjoy wearing or using the product and what type of event it might be appropriate for.  We feel a connection with each product and often consider that person who would be proud to own and use an item that we put so much care in creating.

Currently, only about 3% of clothing sold in the US was manufactured here. What inspired you to start your own sewing production company? And did this statistic ever intimidate you? 

I guess when you enjoy something, you seek to look past the obstacles and see the benefits that can be accomplished. Still, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to start a manufacturing company without the encouragement and support of our original investor group and the RCAM (Rural Colorado Apparel Manufacturing) network. Together the group developed a framework that should make any business successful. It was an incredible experience of learning the importance of connecting, sharing and collaboration.   It is not the easiest thing to start something from scratch with so many variables, but there was a wealth of business knowledge and experience in that group that was willing to advise or help in many ways. When the tough decision was made to change ownership, I knew that we had more to learn and give to the idea.  It just would take longer than the original plan had allowed for us. I haven’t thought much about the 3% except in the knowledge that there is possibility to do this differently than the norm.  There is much to learn from others in the industry and I believe there shouldn’t be an obstacle to producing in the United States if we value the skills of those who make. There has to be a balance of learning, growing and developing a system that works for the workers as well as the consumer and the environment.

As consumers I believe we can make a big difference by what and how we purchase items. Instead of looking for the cheapest items that we can get, it could be beneficial to be looking to reward innovation, style, quality and ethical standards.  

There is definitely a "fashion revolution" upon us. Consumers are demanding transparency and support for ethical, independent brands is rising. What does this look like for your sewing room and how will you grow with this industry shift? 

 Yes, I see a definite interest and benefits in ethical independent brands. Being a young company, we are flexible and open to improvements. In order to provide the best service for our clients, we will continue to train and encourage new skills in an engaging work environment and provide compensation at a decent wage. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing the employees working together seamlessly and enjoying producing quality items in a comfortable workplace environment. I also hope to develop more resource connections and will do what we can to encourage development of textiles produced locally. We welcome clients to visit the work site, visit with our employees and observe the operation.

We encourage sustainability and open collaboration with unique brands. We are all about quality, ethical standards, and the value of creation.

how does your sewing room work as a collective? and how is this beneficial to your process?

I see the collective as more than just our company. We benefit greatly from the mentorship of Carol Engel- Enright of CSU, area business people, manufacturing networks, and industry providers. Positive input is appreciated from many sources.
There are many components to the manufacturing of a garment. We are ready to assist with the development of the pattern, prototype, and sampling. We also receive finished patterns and markers ready to be cut and sewn directly from other patternmakers and designers that are immediately ready for production. Our operators have been trained on all of our machines, and yet, they have their favorite specialties. We work as a team. I enjoy all aspects of the operations, so that I am able to share by example and work beside employees. The cutters are also trained sewing operators. They understand the importance of precision and the necessity to respect each other’s work. Each contributes to quality control of the items in the process. We practice lean manufacturing as much as possible. Employee input is valued and encouraged.
Our mission is to produce quality products while “embracing the value of creating for growth,
health and sustainability”. (contact Leslie:

A global example of the many steps a simple t-shirt takes to make. By  NPR's "Planet Money"