Jess Lynch makes clothing kids can play in for years
Jess Lynch still remembers her favorite outfit as a child: a gray wool vest over a white blouse, a gray pleated wool skirt and argyle wool tights. She’s still quite proud of a quilt she made when she was 10, and she fondly recalls going to the local fabric store with her mom, buying yards of fabric to make a canopy for her bed. The canopy was gorgeous, but she had to get rid of it due to its heat-trapping properties.
The owner of Pip and Squeaks, a children’s clothing store on Main Street in Yarmouth, Lynch still loves the look and feel of fabrics and textiles. She learned to sew at a young age from her mother and her babysitter, who taught arts and crafts classes at her house every Friday. Years later, after she and her husband moved to Maine and started a family, she began sewing clothing for her own children, who are now 4 and 6.
Lynch says she would often get compliments and inquiries about where her children’s clothing came from, and was inspired to make more. At the same time, she began investigating the manufacturing processes of larger clothing companies and the garment industry. What she found wasn’t pretty: Many big box stores she’d bought from were guilty of unfair wages and unsafe working conditions. “There’s no way a shirt can cost $6 when factoring in employee wages, materials, manufacturing and international shipping costs,” she says. She began researching clothing companies that were transparent and socially responsible in their mission and “committed to making clothes in an ethical way along the whole manufacturing process.” Her findings led her to many “home-based, small-batch clothing collections, often parent-designed and created.”
In 2016, Lynch decided to pursue her dream of opening a children’s clothing store, a business that would combine her own clothing-making experience and the knowledge she’d gained through her research. She started by selling her clothing at local craft fairs, at baby shower events and pop-up shops. She purchased pipandsqueaks.com and set up her website to sell her clothing online. In January 2017, Lynch and her husband purchased the building at 358 Main Street in Yarmouth, which they renovated over three months and turned into a second-floor law office for him and a first-floor store and studio for her.
Two weeks away from a planned April opening, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was forced to take three months off to undergo surgery and recovery. This past July, Lynch opened Pip and Squeaks with a pop-up shop during the Yarmouth Clam Festival. Though still battling fatigue and the recovery process, Lynch has forged ahead cancer-free, with support from her family, friends and community.
Most of Pip and Squeaks’ business comes to Lynch via word of mouth and often as a direct result of her kids, who are her free marketers and brand reps. Her marketing efforts have focused on her website and social media presence, buying targeted ads on Facebook to attract a larger audience to her site. “My passion is in sourcing, designing and creating, but without marketing and advertising, I can’t reach my customers,” she says. “Automating as much as possible is essential in a one-person company.”
Pip and Squeak’s motto, “get more out of a smaller wardrobe,” is based on the durability and sustainability of the clothing Lynch sells. Because her garments are offered at a slightly higher price point, her goal is for children to have “smaller wardrobes and get more wear and tear out of a few durable and versatile pieces.” She creates a mix of solid-color basics, like T-shirts, leggings, long-sleeve shirts and sweaters, which can be mixed in with a few colorful, patterned accent pieces. “This is a great way to allow kids more choice when they dress themselves, but not have too many conflicting patterns,” she says. Lynch also designs her clothing for durability, making larger armholes and adding length to skirts and dresses to add to their lifespan, aiming for a goal of about three years of use out of each piece.
Lynch tries to buy sustainable, American-made raw materials whenever possible, but acknowledges a need for growth in U.S. textile manufacturing. She’s found it particularly challenging to find colorful American-made prints, and finds that American-made knits are more accessible. She has a passion for sourcing sustainable new materials, like Piñatex, made from discarded and recycled pineapple husks, which she uses in her line of adult bags and purses. She’s particularly fond of a recent prototype purse with a bright 70s-style floral print, brass zipper and durable black Piñatex bottom.
Lynch also has a passion for giving back to the community that supports her. Pip and Squeaks has a signature T-shirt with their logo of a fox and a mouse, and 100 percent of the proceeds from every sale benefit End 68 Hours of Hunger’s Sacopee Valley Chapter, a nonprofit that provides take-home meals to food insecure students in Maine. While Lynch knows she’ll never get “factory results” from her small business, she’s happy to be a socially conscious maker giving back to a supportive community that “appreciates things that are handmade.”
If you know any women who’ve launched new businesses in Maine, please email email@example.com
Mercedes Grandin is a freelance writer, editor, English teacher and tutor. She lives in Brunswick with her husband Erik and their chocolate Labrador Fozzie.