Albion began long before our store launch in 2012.
I was born and raised in California but my dad was from Utah and my mom from Guatemala. They always longed to give us kids an international experience, and when I was 8, I came home to see a "For Sale" sign in front of our home; my dad announced he was ready to retire and we were moving to Guatemala. A few days later, I remember seeing our stuff drive off in a moving truck, and us packing ourselves into a jeep for an adventure South (yes-- we actually drove to Guatemala!). Once we arrived, it didn't take long for my dad to realize the retired life wasn't for him, and he bought a small factory as a fun side project for my mom. But before they knew it, the fun "side project" had evolved into a full blown business, paving the way for manufacturing in Guatemala, working with fitness and swim industry leaders like Nike, Reebok, and Jantzen. Their sewers were the best of the best for quality and timeliness and my parents had built a reputation for treating their staff with respect and more than fair wages. However, we all quickly learned that apparel is a hard business. Very hard.
Deadlines, quality standards and economic changes make it a rollercoaster of a ride but my parents had done well and I grew up hearing about sewing, efficiencies, quality controls, fabrics, and all things that had to do with manufacturing, at the dinner table every night (and morning and any family vacations). Witnessing their late nights, stresses and sacrifices to find success convinced me I'd never pursue a future in the family business. But things change, and often fast, and usually it's totally beyond our control.
Not long after Dave (my devastatingly handsome, graphic-designer of a husband) and I married, we moved to San Diego where he took an opportunity to be a Creative Director and I pursued my PhD in English. In my 3rd year of the program, as I was preparing to take my qualifying exams, Dave and I found out we were expecting twin girls. We were ecstatic to say the least. Amidst the excitement of all things babies, we got the life-changing and devastating news that my sweet mom, Lucy, had Stage 4 breast cancer. Suddenly our immediate futures were simultaneously incredibly exciting and wonderful, but terrifyingly unsure, and so very sad. On top of that, I was put on bed rest at 20 weeks right around the time my mom had moved in with us to begin her treatment at a nearby hospital. The twins eventually made their triumphant appearance just as my mom's wig had made its way on her beautiful but bare head. All of a sudden there were 6 of us living in our tiny 2 bedroom apartment, but we were too busy to care as there were babies to feed and kiss and fawn over. Despite being in the throngs of chemo and intense radiation therapy, my mom would take a baby every night for feeding duties so that I could get the sleep I needed. She'd take them on walks every day and spent only one day in bed throughout her whole treatment-- the woman was facing death in the face but those babies were giving her a reason to live.
As hopeful as we all were, the reality quickly set in that we didn't know how long we'd have my mom around-- her prognosis was grim to say the least: 20% chance to survive 3-5 years at best. I needed help with the twins to finish school and my dad needed help at work so he could spend more time with my mom. So with that, we packed up our things and with 2 adorable, chubby and healthy 6 month bundles of joy in tote, we moved to Guatemala. Dave went to work to learn about all the aspects of my parents' company: pattern making, cutting, inventory, sewing, accounting, logistics and more. He was passionate about working with the team members to really understand the ins and outs of the business but also knew that he wanted to do something on his own. So he began finding work where he could design the actual garments and source the fabrics and trims to sell companies a finished product. His timing couldn't have been better because within 6 months of us arriving, work started leaving Central America in a hurry for China, and the factory needed new profitable work to stay open. Times were getting tough and work was hard to come by.
After a couple very difficult years with moments where we weren't sure how we could survive another week, with credit cards maxed out to make payroll and pay rent, Dave decided it was time for us to stop depending on other companies to provide work for the factory. His answer was for us to design our own line. Right around the same time, we began manufacturing for a couple of my friends who had an online business selling dresses. We eventually designed a few dresses for them and sewed them at our factory but everything was under their label and it was all on consignment. Our sales were solid and with a factory full of the best operators in the world at sewing fitness and swims, we decided to take a stab at starting an activewear line, and with that, Albion was born.
We designed suits that were sophisticated and timeless, made with only the best fabrics, and world class craftsmanship. I drew up sketches of things I'd love to wear but couldn't find, and Dave created patterns and a logo, and before we knew it, it became clear that we were onto something. This could be the chance for us to provide work for the factory year round, to keep our talented operators, and not be dependent on a big corporation for our next pay check. We could do both and it would change everything. The swim line had taken off and the fitness line was also doing very well thanks to Dave's unique and artful designs. By then, I too had become fully immersed in the company, trying to help in any way that I could--the PhD would have to wait. Once again, Dave and I were working side by side and it just felt right.
We eventually moved back to Utah, longing for those gorgeous mountains. We were still sewing for other corporations and doing Albion on the side at that point. A couple years had past when a huge, luxury retail center (City Creek Center) was preparing to open downtown. A dear friend spoke to one of the managers of the project and it just so happened they were looking for a local fitness company to feature at the mall. We were quickly introduced and just 4 weeks before the mall opened, we signed a short term lease to open a retail space even though we had absolutely no retail experience whatsoever; all we knew was how to sew high quality, unique swims and fitness, and as fate would have it, at that very moment, that was enough.
6 months later, in 2014 Dave launched our website and 6 months after that, we signed a permanent lease at City Creek and opened our current space just off of South Temple, next door to the very building where Dave and I met 10 years before in the copy room. The factory is thriving thanks to wonderful friends and our amazing customers. Today, our factory ONLY sews for Albion and it's still hard to believe as I type it right now. We've come a long way. My mom is alive and well and our Guatemala team is thrilled that they get to be a part of our own line. They truly love what they do and it's wonderful to experience this journey with these people I've known since I was just 8 years old. We've made a concerted effort to make sure our SLC Team knows just how talented and hard working they are. It's all very overwhelming really and hard to grasp where we came from, where we are, and the highs and lows in between, but we are so very grateful for it all and are excited to see what the future brings.
- Liz Findlay