Fashioning function | Working Waterfront

Sailor’s dreams from tailor’s seams

Laura Jean Schneider
ljschneider@ptleader.com
Posted 11/18/21

 

 

Fashion school drop-out Randi Whipple has found a way to seamlessly transfer a love of textiles into a sailor’s dream.

All but trapped in Ilwaco, Washington during COVID, …

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Fashioning function | Working Waterfront

Sailor’s dreams from tailor’s seams

Posted

 

 

Fashion school drop-out Randi Whipple has found a way to seamlessly transfer a love of textiles into a sailor’s dream.

All but trapped in Ilwaco, Washington during COVID, where her sailboat and business namesake the Windwitch, was hauled out, Whipple buckled down to sew face masks – with her designer’s touch, they were spotted by the fashion blog Refinery 29.

Recently, Whipple has been able to return to her pre-pandemic product line. While housesitting in Portland for a friend with a leather sewing machine, she fashioned totes, sailor’s tool bags, zipped pouches, you name it. Using stainless hardware, reinforced bases, and a big ol’ zipper tracking across the mouth, she honed a bag line that wasn’t exactly what she’d thought of in fashion school.

“I’m not a traditional learner,” Whipple said. In Portland, she found fashion school confining, and found a niche apprenticing for a car upholstery company in the city instead. She continued to work in the fashion industry doing makeup and hair, but she loved textiles.

Whipple stepped on her first boat at age 25, and spent significant time as a crew member on boats from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. 

“I could find work in any country,” she said, because she could sew.

After living on small boats for five years, mold had destroyed half of her belongings. One item, however, had taken a beating yet still functioned beautifully: her tool bag.

Whipple made it herself, using scraps of bright orange leather leftover from a series of neon furniture. There seemed to be something magical about the material: come hell, and certainly high water, it held up beautifully, and was impervious to mold.

She’d grown tired of canvas sea bags that disintegrated over time, bags with rusted parts, bags with gaping pockets where tools seemed to jump out and disappear. She spoke to the need for everything on a boat having multiple uses: when pared to the minimum, anything that makes it on-board needs to earn its keep. As a descendant of mechanics and carpenters, Whipple was adamant about practicality.

“I’m a minimalist,” she said.

She’s spent half of her lifetime sewing, and she’s been working with leather from the age of 21. Whipple insists on using only stainless steel for the metal components of each bag. Anything else will corrode over time. One of her trademark attributes is a zipper closure to keep contents from spilling out, something that has happened to her more times than she’d like to admit. Always with the working person in mind, Whipple added four attachment points to her tool bag, allowing it to be rigged and sent up a mast.

While she has expanded to include two semi-waterproof leathers in brown and black, she stands behind the high visibility orange as being mold-proof.

“I destroy things,” she said, laughing. If they pass the Randi test, then she feels confident that her tool bags can hold up to whatever else comes their way. “It makes me feel really good,” she said of creating a high quality product. “I want to make something that’s useful.”

Windwitch bags are truly slow fashion: each one is made by hand, and it takes about a week to finish each tool bag. They are made to order, and range from $65 for a large pouch, to $750 for the largest tool bag/tote. Her materials alone cost what many high-quality canvas bags fetch retail, and she stands by her products. Zippers can be replaced, and repairs can be made, keeping the bag out of the landfill and in working hands. They are bags for and by a sailor, and she’s proud of that fact.

Whipple moved to Port Townsend in July, and she already feels at home. She noted that the city is known for its openness to women in the maritime trades. It’s nice to be part of a community that cares about craftsmanship and art, she added. After seeing the response to her product line, she said she’s making this gig her full-time job.  “People are going to want these, here,” she said with confidence.

Find Whipple’s full line of hand-sewn leather goods online at thewindwitch.com.

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