A Hybrid Manufacturing Operation Grows in Brooklyn

After several years of telling other people’s stories, Storytellers & Creators Mfg. Co. is ready to share its own.

Preferring to be under the radar until recently, the company has been manufacturing for private labels, brands and designers like Marc Jacobs and Bode’s Emily Bode. Founder Arturo Castaneda also has his own label, Arturo, which specializes in custom work and has been worn by actors as well as by NBA star LeBron James. Concerned about how clothes were made, when he started his own brand he also launched Storytellers & Creators.

Castaneda recently received some media attention for helping to produce the Christopher John Rogers ensemble that Vice President Kamala Harris wore on Inauguration Day.

Located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the origins date to 2015 and Storytellers & Creators became a separate business in 2018. Projects often start and end with Castaneda, who is a patternmaker and the quality check specialist. But in an interview, he was quick to note how the 12-person core team is essential and reflexively spoke in the plural.

To share the knowledge, he is developing a master class that either will be in-person or virtual. As a FDA-certified facility, each station, desk and sewing machine at Storytellers & Creators is 6 feet apart and enforces other regulations. During the height of the pandemic, the company produced 150,000 medical gowns for New York City, Castaneda said.

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Storytellers & Creators has been revamping its website and has jumped into social media to showcase its work. “It’s not normal for a facility to do that, but we’re kind of a creative hub that also manufactures. We also do consulting with designers,” he said.

A Los Angeles designer recently booked Castaneda and his team for four days to conceptualize and make patterns. That client also left with a few finished garments. Sourcing is also offered through the Brooklyn company. Not long ago another client was interested in creating a shoe so a third-party resource was brought in to discuss what that involves and to share the necessary language. “There is a lot of educating our clientele,” Castaneda said.

From the start the company planned to offer a myriad of services, creating everything from bespoke suits to making sweatpants and hoodies. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal just ordered 3,000 hoodies for a nonprofit and is expected to visit the Brooklyn site this week, Castaneda said.

The entire operation runs on German-made machinery from Durkopp Adler and Pfaff, which the founder prefers for the high-end quality. At the moment, Castaneda’s team is working on revamping Bode. “I was just with them at their store measuring them. I will be creating a new silhouette for their jackets and such,” he said.

All of his clients have found him through word of mouth or by seeing garments under the Arturo label. As soon as Castaneda started pushing the company’s work on social media, Christopher John Rogers reached out about the inauguration looks for Harris. The two creatives had spoken before and Rogers trusted the Castaneda-led team’s skill set and craftsmanship, Castaneda said.

He made the pattern for Harris’ coat and a blazer that she did not wear. Harris’ dress pattern was made by the team at Hidden in Plain Sight, or HIPS. The Storytellers & Creators team then sewed it, put it together and handled the alternations. “But the design decision was a private conversation between the vice president and CJR [Christopher John Rogers],” Castaneda said. “It was a great moment for us, because we’ve been doing this for a long time. It was good to arrive to this point. I’m a Mexican American and through the previous administration, [there were] tough times. But it’s good to see someone reflect diversity.”

Interestingly, no new business has been generated by the inaugural media exposure. Although he did very little media in the U.S., there was some significant international coverage. “Mexico covered it immensely that our facility had followed through. The whole country [was] behind it — Univision, Television — all the big networks. But we didn’t get much press on the U.S. side even though it’s prime to talk about U.S. manufacturing. We’ve been doing it for so long. We’re really proud of what we’ve created — to open a factory in New York City is not for the faint-hearted,” Castaneda said.

Young brands are using Storytellers & Creators, like Who Design’s War designer Everard Best, who also works with his friend Virgil Abloh. With a 6,000-square-foot space currently, Castaneda is looking to expand to add machines for quicker production. Already offering embroidery and hand-painted lettering, among other crafts, he would like to have more space that would be dedicated to concept design. By securing that, designers and Castaneda’s team could flesh out their ideas in a separate area in the building.

Having worked at Ralph Lauren for nearly 10 years, Castaneda was the head concept designer. At the age of 12, he decided he wanted to work for the company’s namesake after receiving a donated navy Ralph Lauren shirt from a church. Castaneda’s mother taught him how to sew.

“She worked in a sweatshop and I used to sleep by her machine. That’s why I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. Create a beautiful space and a wonderful team, and work right beside them.” he said. “Funny enough, she worked at a facility in Mexico that made Donald Trump’s [branded] clothes. When she was in the U.S., she worked in a facility in Texas as well.”

His appreciation for hard work was ingrained in him as a child. Growing up in a family of migrant workers, Castaneda said summers were spent traveling to pick watermelons, onions and cucumbers. “So it was very humble, humble beginnings for me,” he said.

His career in fashion started in shipping and receiving in the back of a J. Crew store. Much of his experience has somehow melded into his hybrid company. Growing up he helped provide for his family by working as a mechanic and now those skills have been put to use, too. He ordered and assembled 15 machines for Storytellers & Creators to reduce shipping costs. “I love what I do. I say I haven’t worked a day in my life since I graduated from Ralph Lauren,” Castaneda said.

Another Ralph Lauren alum, John Peterson, launched his label DJ4Animals at Storytellers & Creators. The idea for the master class to teach the next generation about patternmaking, sewing and other skills sprang from the fact that all of Castaneda’s former interns have launched their own labels.

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