Now in its third year, the “American Made” competition sponsored by Martha Stewart provides a 21st Century digital platform to showcase the homespun talents of crafters and artisans of all kinds — what Martha calls the new “maker” economy of creative entrepreneurs.
It’s also a bit of a free-for-all, since people nominate themselves for a chance to win one of the $10,000 prizes and a priceless publicity boost in the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine.
Thankfully, there’s a jury panel (including Martha) that chooses finalists in four categories before opening the awards up to online voting — which started yesterday and runs until October 13.
One of those keeping her fingers crossed (and her social media network buzzing) is Courtney Kates, whose homegrown luxury sleep and loungewear label Maison du Soir is among 65 finalists in the American Made fashion category.
“I got very teary when I got the email saying I was a finalist,” Courtney told Lingerie Talk. “I’m a very humble and grateful person, and this is so meaningful to me. It would be a life changer for me (to win).”
Courtney already knows a fair bit about life-changing. She spent 10 years in corporate merchandising and design for a well-known west coast swim-and-surfwear label before leaving to start Maison du Soir a year ago.
“I just took the plunge,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why am I doing this for someone else?’ I knew if I did this on my own, even if I made mistakes, it would still be okay.”
It’s that kind of entrepreneurial boldness that the American Made panel loves, and Courtney’s stylish original prints also caught the judges’ eye. But what really elevated Maison du Soir above thousands of other entries was its unique approach to local provenance — a key aspect of the American Made value system.
Courtney struggled to find a qualified seamstress to craft her elegant silk and cotton sleepwear pieces, many of which feature tricky asymmetrical cuts and scalloped hems. “My first sewer almost gave me an ulcer,” she said. “A lot of people wouldn’t do it because it was difficult to sew.”
That’s when she was introduced to a large Orange County family that shared her passion for artisanal tailoring — and agreed to take over production, en famille.
“The mother, father, brother and sisters all work together,” she said in her American Made entry. “When their father was sick, the whole family stepped up … sewing, pressing, tagging, bagging, working extra hours. Anything they could do to help while their father recovered, as he typically carried the bulk of the work. Every single one of them had a smile on their face.”
Courtney doesn’t want to identify her work team (the dad is still recovering from major surgery), but she’s clear about one thing: “Nothing would make me happier than to have their business grow along with mine.”
“I guess that’s what “American made” means to me,” she added, “bringing people together and providing work.”
Courtney has already made big strides since launching Maison du Soir 1½ years ago, with an assortment of west coast stockists like Largo Drive and Naked Princess, as well as the online shops of Nordstrom and Revolve Clothing.
Her long-term goal, she says, is to see Maison du Soir become “the Lululemon of sleepwear.”
“People have a hard time spending money on sleepwear,” she noted, “but I’m hoping people will realize that if you spend a little extra on your sleepwear you’re going to feel better all day long.”
The products currently available on the MDS website and online shop are from the brand’s second collection, and it’s also notable for its quirky photo campaign. The shoot features real stuffed animals (even the butterflies!) borrowed from a taxidermist, and was inspired by Snow White … and Brigitte Bardot (the deer photos).
The company’s next collection, due this fall, will have a slightly darker tone as it continues the fairy tale theme. “The first collection introduced the girl,” Courtney said. “The next collection will show what happens to her in her dreams, in her sleep.”
The 10 winners in the American Made competition will be announced on October 17, and will attend a two-day promotional event and ceremony in New York City in November. The public vote determines the overall Audience Choice Award from up to 1,000 finalists, while the 9 category winners will ultimately be selected by the contest’s judges.
In addition to the prize money and trip to NYC, winners will get business support and advice from Martha’s team and a chance to have their products sold via the American Made eBay store.
Last year’s competition attracted more than 2,000 entries and more than 3.5 million online votes.
Maison du Soir isn’t the only California sleepwear brand to make it to the finals. The colorful (and extremely popular) BedHead Pajamas is a finalist, too — and, as a one-time startup that now employs dozens of people in the L.A. area, provides an exemplary business model for new labels like Maison du Soir.
As for Courtney, she has no regrets about leaving the security of a high-stress corporate job to follow her fashion dream.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” she said, “but I couldn’t be happier. I’ve loved every single minute of it.”
Below are more images from Maison Du Soir‘s ‘Snow White’ lookbook. Follow this link to vote online for your favorite American Made finalist.