Hey, Fashion Designer. Preserve Your Archives, Protect Your Legacy!

Savvy fashion companies find ways to trim expenses without sacrificing quality and ingenuity.  However, in some cases proper preservation of past years’ collections and archives gets squeezed out in an effort to appease the bean counters.  Don’t let it happen to your precious collections!  In case you need reminding, your archives are sacred, one-of-a-kind, invaluable, irreplaceable and, most of all, destined for museum exhibits and studying by future generations of designers and scholars.  In order to protect your legacy, you simply MUST preserve your archives.

I realize most of you are knowledgeable about textiles and garment care having taken courses on these subjects in fashion school.  However, are you certain the person(s) responsible for managing your collections is as well versed in these subjects as they should be?  If not, here is a primer from the garment storage experts at Garde Robe with useful tips and suggestions for keeping your archives in pristine condition long-term.

Location, location, location

The most important decision you’ll need to make is choosing an appropriate, safe and convenient locale to keep your collections.  In the past, many designers chose to keep their entire archive on-site for accessibility purposes.  Unfortunately, square footage costs on Seventh Avenue and around the city are making this option less viable.  Plus, most office spaces and ateliers in Manhattan simply don’t provide adequate conditions for proper long-term maintenance of the garments.  Therefore, off-site storage has become commonplace in recent years.  Below please find a checklist of things to keep in mind when selecting a location for your archives.

Climate conditions

Avoid fluctuations in temperature and humidity at all costs.  Variations in temperature and humidity can wreak havoc on fabrics and cause quick deterioration.  Heat causes fibers to expand and cold temperatures forces contraction.  This back and forth damages the fibers.  Same deal with humidity; too much humidity causes mold and low humidity removes the fiber’s natural moisture. New York is terribly humid and hot in the summer and freezing in the winter.  Do you know if your office’s air conditioning runs all night and on weekends?  If it doesn’t, your archive is essentially being tortured.  And in general, stuffy office closets and/or basement lockers are not suitable for long-term garment storage.  Closets often have poor air circulation, and all fabrics need to breathe.  Basements tend to have moisture/humidity, which can lead to mold and damage that is often irreversible.

Similarly, if you decide to keep garments in an off-site storage center, be sure to choose one that provides temperature and humidity control.  Also, avoid keeping garments in storage rooms with “chicken wire” as a ceiling, because you never know what is being stored in the room next door.  If your storage “neighbor” has perishables or bacteria-stained articles in their room, you are very likely to have a material-damaging insect infestation before long.  Garde Robe has heard too many clothes moth nightmare stories to recount.  Choose your location wisely!

Keep the temperature and humidity consistent; we recommend 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit, 45-55 degree humidity.  If you choose to store on-site, invest in professional grade de-humidifiers and air purification systems, and maintain a temperature-controlled environment.

Proper lighting is also essential.  Some bulbs can cause fading, and sunlight is an absolute no-no.  Protective UV filters can be purchased, but your best bet is to limit exposure to light by turning off the lights and purchasing “blackout” shades.  Also, please remember to designate enough space so that items are not squashed together which restricts ventilation and can cause permanent wrinkles.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

Always make sure garments are properly cleaned prior to storing them for an extended period of time.  Even if the garment looks clean, if it has been tried on or worn it may have invisible bacteria and or body oils that will damage and stain the fabric if left untreated for several months.  I am not advocating dry cleaning garments just for the heck of it, but preparing garments for long-term storage absolutely requires a thorough cleaning.  However, if you have a vintage or very delicate piece that may not be able to withstand cleaning, there are alternatives to dry cleaning.  In essence, there is no “golden rule” when it comes to storing garments; each piece needs to be treated and handled accordingly.  A preservation expert is your best resource for advice.

Additionally, you must always remove the dry cleaner’s clear plastic bags immediately as these bags emit gasses that can cause discoloration, attract dust and don’t allow the garment to breathe properly.

Cover Up

On a recent visit to one of Garde Robe’s client’s atelier, I was shocked to see cheap plastic garment bags being used for last year’s collections.  The plastic garment bags most boutiques use are not intended for storage; they trap moisture and don’t allow the garment to breath.  For a day or week, those bags may suffice.  But for long-term usage, you simply must purchase and use the proper storage supplies, preferably made from archival-safe materials.

Muslin and canvas garment bags are great for hanging items because they allow the garments to “breathe” and provide protection from the elements.  Inert archival boxes are your best bet for folded items.    Almost all garments need to be wrapped in or stuffed with acid-free tissue.  Again, there is no formula; you will need to consider the best way to care for each piece individually.

Don’t get hung up!

Another important decision to make is whether a garment should be stored on a hanger and placed in a breathable garment bag or folded with tissue and placed in an acid-free archival box.  In general, knits, stretchable, delicate, sheer and heavily beaded items need to be folded.  Always use acid-free tissue in the creases to avoid permanent creasing and damage to the garment’s fibers.

Don’t forget that choosing the proper hanger is critical.  There are literally hundreds of shapes and sizes to choose from.  It is unlikely you will be able to utilize only one type of hanger for your entire collection, so always keep a wide variety of hangers on hand including traditional, padded, extra-wide, suit hangers, etc.  Take advantage of a garment’s support straps or loops to avoid stretching.    And it should go without saying, “NO WIRE HANGERS EVER!”

Always Use Protection

Once you see a moth flying by, it may be too late.  Therefore, always take the necessary precautions beforehand.  Garde Robe recommends using cedar and lavender sachets as a deterrent to material damaging insects.  However, always be extra careful that these products do not come in direct contact with the garments as they contain oils that can cause permanent stain.  Moth traps are also effective as they attract and kill the adult moths, which prevents them from laying the larvae that actually chomp the clothes.

In conclusion, choose a clean, dry and well-ventilated location, always use the proper supplies and take necessary precautions.  Following these simple steps will significantly extend the “life” of your collections.