Inside a sun-filled studio space in Cohasset, Taylor Johnston lays a pair of jeans out on a table, turns over one of the cuffs and points to the stitching. “There is intense poetry behind the seams,” says Johnston, founder of the boutique apparel company Gamine Co. A professional gardener by trade, Johnston always struggled to find durable clothing that fit her body well and also had a sense of style—that is, until she started designing her own.
Inspired by the legacy of vintage American-made textiles, Gamine Co. aims to create “honest workwear for women” using high-quality materials. The collection includes jeans, smocks and other products that are designed to be comfortable, functional and also a little feminine.
Johnston started thinking seriously about the lack of women’s workwear in the marketplace several years ago when she was working as a horticulturalist at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston. On one particular day, while preparing to hang the museum’s famous flowering nasturtium vines (a floral spectacle that takes place in April each year), Johnston had a chance encounter with famed New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham.
“I was walking down the corridor from the new wing of the museum to the Palace with this plant in my hand, when I heard this older man’s voice say, ‘Child, let me see your face.’ Of course, I was wearing rags at the time,” says Johnston. “He grabbed me for a photo shoot in one of the galleries, put nasturtiums in my hair and we had a ball.” Finding herself in front of the camera lens—ratty clothes and all—Johnston concluded that there must be a better alternative to wearing men’s pants to work.
THE ARCHEOLOGY OF A GARMENT
With no formal fashion background, Johnston began searching historical archives and vintage clothing shops like Bobby from Boston in search of patterns and products with functional details that she liked. She enlisted the help of a pattern maker and had local farmers, geologists, gardeners and weekend warriors test out her prototypes and provide feedback on fit and function. With the help of her business partners, Johnston launched Gamine Co. in 2014 with a pair of dungarees made from White Oak “redline” selvedge denim.
The little red threads visible at the seams are a calling card that subtly indicate the quality and origins of the fabric. “White Oak denim tends to have a red dotted line on the twill tape,” says Johnston. “The twill tape keeps the fabric from unraveling.”
“I don’t like the feeling that if you walk by a rose bush and you’re going to tear your clothes open,” says Johnston. “I wanted something that will get better the more it was worn.”
Sourced from the Cone Mills in Greensboro North Carolina, the White Oak denim was woven on Draper shuttle looms from the 1940s. Founded in 1905, it was the last existing selvedge denim mill in the United States, until it permanently ceased operations in December of 2017. “All of the textiles we use are made using dead stock, meaning that when they’re gone they’re gone,” says Johnston.
Each pair of Gamine Co. dungarees is made by hand in Tennessee using specialized vintage sewing machines. Each pair of pants is custom sized to suit the individual customer’s measurements.
Back in Cohasset, studio manager Whitney Deane is a mother of two (soon to be three) who previously worked at Saucony and now handles fulfillment and customer service for Gamine. Dean works with customers to ensure they get the proper style and fit. “We don’t use tags so each pair has to be carefully measured,” says Johnston. “Whitney is like a crystal ball fitter.”
Johnston’s partner, Dave Johnston, is a Harvard geology professor who helps manage the company’s logistics and has been is an unwavering cheerleader from the beginning. “I remember the days when there were boxes piled up to the ceiling in the living room, he says.
Like all good things, a great pair of jeans only gets better with time and each pair of Gamine Co. jeans comes with a lifetime guarantee. Customers can send back their jeans in for repairs, free of charge. “Each scuff mark is a story,” says Johnston. “We follow the belief that if something is broken, you fix it.”
BREAKING NEW GROUND
Looking to the future, the Gamine team is preparing to push the boundaries of what is traditionally considered to be work-appropriate attire by launching a collection of shorts and dresses. “It’s fun to think about how short is too short for workwear and why can’t everyone determine where their own line is,” says Johnston. “We think deeply about every aspect of what we do, from the thread that we’re using to the paper we use to wrap our products.”
Despite the positive attention her products have attracted, Johnston isn’t the type to get caught up in the rush of the fashion industry. Gardening is still her first love and she currently splits her time between the South Shore and Little Compton, Rhode Island, where she works at a local greenhouse, nurtures gardens for private clients and occasionally commutes into New York City for installation jobs. Her most recent project required her to maneuver a live tree into a gallery at the Guggenheim. Surrounded by beautiful blooms and hands in the dirt—it’s just where she wants to be.