Nowadays it’s easy to find DIY goods and community driven art collectives on any number of social media sites and in trendy boutiques. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, DIY appeared in the form of Better Homes & Gardens and Urban Mechanic, and later it was the punk movement’s push for self-empowerment. What you may not know, is that in the 80’s, it was Bumblewear! Est. 1986, Bumblewear was Harriet Taub, MFTA’s Executive Director, children’s clothing company.
Some of you may see Harriet on any given day, rolling up her sleeves and stocking bins or pushing shopping carts in our warehouse. Committed to reuse and recycle, and of course, the arts, Harriet has been at MFTA for almost 15 years! She’s seen MFTA move from the gentrified Chelsea Market to our current LIC location. Moreover, since the birth of Bumblewear, she’s seen an industry transform from a limited number of kids brands to the explosion of a market that ranges from mass produced and corporate owned to the unique one-of-a-kinds found on Etsy.
When Bumblewear began Harriet had just become a first time mom to Sarah. She told us it wasn’t easy to find cool kids’ clothing back then. (We concur, as evident in some of our own baby pictures, and perhaps you do too, dear readers! ) Having sewed since childhood (taught by her father Irving), Harriet decided to literally take matters into her own hands and make her own kids’ clothes! At a time when the market wasn’t about kids clothes looking cool, and there was only pink and blue, Harriet introduced black turtlenecks, animal prints and baggy pants. Sharp, fierce and cutting edge, Sarah (and later Jacob) were redefining hip. When asked about what they factored in when designing the line, Harriet said, plain and simple– we added what we would like to wear– natural fibers (no polyester); comfort (elastic waists); oversized (longer lifespan/ longevity—you roll up the sleeves and the kids grow into it). Not surprisingly, when out on the street, the clothes stopped people in their tracks! Thus began the commercial production of Bumblewear.
When asked about where she went for customers, Harriet told us you “start with your friends and neighbors”. Given the way MFTA started, we know very well how true that is! Bumblewear sales began with moms from a Manhattan playgroup eventually making it to a trade show (pre-Javits),and onto the swanky fashion racks of Fred Siegel of California. When sales took off, Harriet was joined by her NYU classmate Karen Feuer who is now the principal of PS 110M, an MFTA recipient and an inspiring and creative leader. Eventually, unable to compete with overseas manufacturers, Bumblewear was bought out by a larger company. Harriet still gets a buzz from being around all the wonderful fabrics and trims that are regularly donated to MFTA. Although these days – she is an observer only – she leaves the clothing and costume making to the talented recipients who walk through our doors every week.