Finnlen Organic T-Shirt Part 1: Research

Posted by ML Duncan on
Finnlen Organic T-Shirt Part 1: Research  

We'll be developing a t-shirt pattern in June and we are going to share a lot of that process here on the blog. It will be a collaborative process between Kate and I (Michael), like most of our pattern design and development.

Long before we put pencil to paper or shears to fabric we spend a fair amount of time researching the garment; looking for ideas and inspiration. It would be easy and tempting to take a favorite shirt, rip it apart, and get started right now but we're hoping to create a shirt that's classic, comfy, and draws inspiration from several different sources. At Finnlen we want to make a garment with maximum utility and comfort, something special, so we're putting a lot of work into the research knowing that it will result in a superior pattern.

Maximum Utility and Comfort

The humble t-shirt really hasn't been around all that long. But in a relatively short period of time it has become an essential clothing item for almost everyone, all over the world. You'll be able to buy it as a finished product that's sweatshop-free and handmade in Kentucky. Or as a kit with all the materials you'll need. Or, as always, a sewing pattern.

We don't have ambitions to develop clothing lines that change with the season or with fashion trends. Finnlen has one, timeless, line; everything in it durable and comfortable.

The t-shirt is the most basic of basics. Essential clothing. So it makes sense that it's the first true garment that we will sell. Our tee is meant to be an antidote to fast-fashion, handmade to order, with organic cotton grown in the USA when possible.

A Very Brief History Of The T-Shirt

Cooper's Knit Underwear
The Cooper Manufacturing Co. of Bennington, Vermont was just one of many companies manufacturing two piece union suits; the long-sleeved t-shirt top was a precursor to the crew neck short-sleeved tee.

The T-shirt was born out of the need for a two-piece men's undergarment; not surprising since they still often do dual duty as undershirts.

The crew-necked, short sleeved t-shirt that we are familiar with was first worn in the early 1900s by US military personnel as standard issue. Not yet an everyday outerwear garment the t-shirt was also worn in peace-time by farm hands and other ranchers doing similarly back breaking work in hot temperatures. The simple utilitarian design that made it a favorite of people doing hard work is why we favor the t-shirt today. We wear t-shirts because they are lightweight and comfortable.

Army Issue T-Shirts
A white undershirt: Standard issue in the US Military. Here servicemen are seen relaxing in plain white t-shirts, something they would continue to do after being disharged from service.
Streetcar Named Desire
Marlon Brando wearing a t-shirt in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire, co-starring Vivien Leigh.
Air Corps Shirt
A wartime t-shirt appears on the cover of LIFE magazine. "made on loop-wheel, “body-size” looms which yield a shirt with no side seams, thus weaving a perfect tube." (

It took film to make the t-shirt an everyday garment, a fashion icon, and an essential wardrobe piece for nearly everyone. Marlon Brando in the 1951 movie adaptation of Tennessee William's play A Streetcar Named Desire is often credited with being the first movie star to appear in a t-shirt on film. The t-shirt continued to be a symbol of youthfulness, rebellion, and rugged masculinity throughout the 1950s and 60s.

Steve McQueen
Steven McQueen (front, right), now a men's fashion icon, helped make the plain white tee a symbol of masculinity.

The Contemporary T-Shirt

After decades as a daily wear garment the t-shirt, for the most part, is a diluted form of rebelliousness; a part of popular culture in a way that it wasn't in the 1950s. Like blue jeans, the t-shirt, once a symbol of rebellion is ironically anti-fashion to many. It is a ubiquitous piece of clothing, the default, almost everywhere. And unfortunately also the most representative of our cultures acceptance of fast-fashion and sweatshop labor because it's so cheap and completely disposable.

An Ethical, Sustainable T-Shirt Made-To-Order

With our research nearly complete, we will begin making prototypes in the next couple of weeks. Our goal is to create a white shirt with classic fits and cuts. It'll pay homage to those original t-shirt designs from both classic film and military standard issue. It'll be simple, comfortable, and versatile. There are, of course, quite a few companies out there manufacturing classic fit, high-end t-shirts. Very few of them have managed to manufacture ethically and even fewer also source more sustainable fabric. This may seem ambitious but all of our products are made with organic thread and fabric, all ethically produced--handmade in Kentucky; that's what makes them special.

We're excited to fire up the sewing machines and get to work. You can see some of our reference material on Pinterest. Watch Instagram for a peak into that process and here on the blog for longer articles on how we develop the pattern.

That's all for today.



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