Grads are Co-Founders of Sustainable Children's Wear Brand Mightly
Although Mightly CEO Tierra Forte ‘99 (pictured at right) and Creative Director Barrie Brouse ‘00 studied Fashion Design at FIDM San Francisco, they didn’t actually meet until they both worked for the children’s wear brand Sweet Potatoes in the early 2000s. Throughout their careers, the FIDM Alumnas have worked together at three different companies. Last year, they struck out on their own, along with Anya Emerson, to launch their Oakland, California-based organic cotton and ethically made kids collection. Together, the trio of Mightly Co-Founders have two boys, four girls, and more than 40 years of apparel industry experience between them. We recently caught up with Tierra and Barrie to learn more about their paths to FIDM, industry experience, sustainability, and where Mightly is headed in the future.
Where were you born and raised?
Tierra Forte: I was born in Lansing Michigan, but we moved to the Bay Area when I was just a few months old. I grew up in Oakland and Berkeley.
Barrie Brouse: I was born and raised in Orange County, and knew from an early age that I would move at my first chance. This meant, upon graduating high school, that I had my bags packed with my treasured fabrics, notions, and trusted sewing machine.
What was your path to FIDM?
TF: I have always been creative and loved costumes and clothes. My grandmother taught me how to sew from a pattern when I was 10, and in middle school I discovered thrift stores and began customizing and remaking thrifted pieces. I had my older daughter when I was 19 and spent the first couple of years of her life being fairly unhappy in a fairly boring job. When I made up my mind that I needed a career instead of just a job, I was drawn to Fashion Design, just as I had been as a little girl. I visited all the design schools in the area and selected FIDM because it seemed like the most practical. I liked the focus FIDM put on learning the industry, not just the art.
BB: Growing up, I was very interested in learning how to sew and the construction details of garments. While sewing remained an ongoing passion project, I attended college to study Art History and Museum Studies. It was during this time that a friend of mine suggested I “just become a fashion designer.” It being the mid-90s, I made a trip to the local library and started researching colleges offering Fashion Design majors. I remember calling the FIDM office and within a few weeks, I had purchased a plane ticket to San Francisco, and toured the campus. The rest fell into place quickly, including being awarded the Designer of Tomorrow Scholarship, which gave me confidence that I had made the right change of course from studying art to becoming a designer.
What were some valuable lessons you learned at FIDM?
TF: That hard work matters. I was definitely not the most talented designer in any of my classes, but I was diligent. I took every assignment seriously and was willing to spend however long it took to do something well. That lesson has served me well in my career and as an entrepreneur.
BB: This is an easy one – Measure twice and cut once!
What is the most rewarding part about being part of Mightly?
TF: What I have most appreciated about Mightly is being able to work with other women to build a company on our own terms. One of the first things we ever did as a founding team was to develop our company values, which includes things like “We will only work with ethical suppliers and our goal is to have long term, mutually beneficial relationships” and “We think about kids, not trends, when we create our clothes.” Knowing that we have infused our company with our personal values is extremely rewarding.
BB: From the start, the bar keeps rising and that’s a great feeling. Tierra and I, alongside our partner Anya, talk about what we have proudly accomplished, and what is next for Mightly. Whether we are discussing a new product, the brand’s message, or collaborations, this is all decided on what we want to build, and not what someone is telling us to do.
How has Covid impacted your business?
TF: Our entire supply chain is in India, which has been particularly hard hit by the crisis. Our main factory was closed for several weeks in the spring and then operated at significantly reduced capacity in the summer and fall. Although this was certainly challenging and delayed the full launch of our product line, it gave us the opportunity to hold true to our fair trade values. Rather than canceling our orders or switching to another factory, we worked with our suppliers to prioritize critical products and items that could be made by small numbers of workers in separate rooms, such as face masks.
BB: Our kids’ face mask is a great example in finding a way to support our partner factory. Once the Kolkata area started opening for business, returning to work presented challenges for many staff, especially those traveling outside the area. With safety precautions being a priority, our suppliers were eager to restart production, even at a limited capacity. To help support the staff immediately, we came up with a kids’ face mask that is fully adjustable and easy to put on and take off, even for the smallest fingers. Once we launched our kids face masks, we had a great response and already have more colors and assortments on the way.
Where do you see Mightly headed in the future?
TF: Our goal for Mightly is to make organic and Fair Trade Certified clothing more accessible to more families. We believe that all kids should be able to wear natural organic fibers that are free from toxic dyes and chemicals, and that the people who make our clothes should have a safe and healthy working environment and be fairly compensated for their labor. To achieve this goal we are expanding our product line and size range, as well as our distribution channels. We are also working on other projects to better support our sustainability goals. We have completed mapping our supply chain and will be updating our website to provide our customers full transparency into our business practices. Another issue is packaging; we are working to reduce our plastic waste and completely eliminate our use of virgin plastic. Lastly, we’re going carbon neutral in 2021!
BB: My vision for Mightly is to go beyond seeing kids everywhere wearing our clothes and sleeping in our pajamas. There are many exciting product categories that we have plans for, but beyond that, I see Mightly as a brand that grows with families and one that families can rely on for uncompromised quality when it comes to affordability, while staying true to the core principle of being a truly sustainable brand. As a mom and as a business owner, I have the unique opportunity to show my kids how a company can scale, but at the same time, be good for people and the planet. That’s not only my vision but my commitment to doing good.
Learn more at mightly.com and on Instagram @mightlyme.