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Talking Heads #4: Tarboo

We caught up with Matt and Maikoiyo from Tarboo at their studio in the historic Yesler Building in Seattle’s Pioneer Square while they were working on our collabo Chambray project.

Pulp Lab: Can you talk to me a little bit about your journey towards the perfect shirt?

Matt: I’ve always worn button-up shirts, but they weren’t keyed into the way I wanted to wear them. I don’t wear them in the traditional sense, like with a coat and tie. I thought of them as an outerwear garment, something I could wear everyday that would hit all different areas of my life. Business casual, casual, play. But everything I found was too boxy; they didn’t fit the way I wanted them to fit. Most men’s shirts are made with an extra 2 to 4 inches around the belly. I’m pretty slim. I wanted it to fit. So I took time to learn about fabrics and finally drafted a pattern for the shirt, and then I met Maikoiyo.

Pulp Lab: What does “handmade” mean to you?

Matt: I think that when considering the concept of handmade it’s important to bear in mind the hand that’s involved in the doing. For us,handmade denotes that we, the owners, designers, minds and bodies behind Tarboo are ourselves making the clothing. The Tarboo factory is modeled after a sample and small-lot production factory that I used to work at out in NYC. We find that keeping all aspects of garment making inside our walls allows us to keep costs low for the quality of garment we’re making, guarantee a high pedigree for the construction and long-term durability of our wares, all while building an ethical model of production that’s lacking in the large-scale aspects of the garment industry.

It’s also important to note that sewing’s a skill we place a high value on within our walls. I learned to sew while working out in NYC. One of the first steps Maikoiyo and I took was to teach Maikoiyo the skills required to create our pieces. When another team member came on board, both Miakoiyo and myself have been passing down our knowledge of sewing. This process gives everyone on our team the skills necessary to create our garments and ensures a quality of workmanship and general care for our pieces, a fundamental building block of Tarboo.

Pulp Lab: How did the collaboration come about with Pulp Lab?

Matt: Well, we’re interested in collaboration with partners that understand and respect the process of slow production, which Kate totally gets. She’d seen our capsule line for women and was interested in having us create a shirt dress, and then we started talking about a limited edition handbag as well. There wasn’t a lot of back and forth, right from the beginning we knew what fabric it needed to be; the color of the stitching detail—it was a very synergistic process.

Pulp Lab: So how did your yearning for the perfect shirt translate into Tarboo—an actual business?

Maikoiyo: Matt was in NY, and I was in Seattle where I’ve spent the last 10 years finding really fine examples of vintage garmentry for people as a service. I was running—and am still running—a mixed use space as the creative director and had wanted to produce clothing out of that space for quite some time. We had a lot of mutual friends; that’s how we met. We started the discussion about a year and a half ago while Matt was still in NY. Then he moved back to Seattle and the discussion began in earnest.

Our aesthetic is similar. We appreciate things produced out of the Northwest and both recognize that production in this area is not the focal point that it had once been historically. As Seattleites, we felt like there was a necessity to invigorate this space and also to find something that worked well on both of our backs. We wanted to make something for the type of people we knew who weren’t being catered to.

Matt: We’re a function-based company, not a fashion-based company.

Pulp Lab: What about the Tarboo name—I know it’s a place that has a lot of meaning for you.

Matt: The name was derived from me trying to find a name orientated around the traditions of clothing that I experienced growing up here. Plaids and flannel shirts and the kinds of things I grew up wearing as a child in this place called Tarboo. I thought about the place where I first experienced these garments and the history they have, and I was also attracted to naming the company after a place that was very rooted in the Northwest. Tarboo is very special, very uniquely Northwestern, and it’s become a preservation. I loved the idea of something that will last, something that is going to be preserved for the long term.

Maikoiyo: Tarboo is synonymous with fecundity. It’s one of the most untouched places a person can be. There are human beings functioning in the space reflectively, which, sadly, is less and less the case. That’s why the name that really resonated with me. It’s about finding balance. Finding a place where there is a richness that’s respected.

Matt: It’s “Northwest odd.”

Pulp Lab: Can you share a limited edition story with me? Something that involved deadstock fabrics, unique garments…

Matt: Until last October, we were a one-off shirt company. I was in a small room making shirts for people. Then Maikoiyo and I sat down and said, let’s pool some resources and buy stock and make a line.

We hunted around and found this one green fabric, really striking.

Maikoiyo: It had chestnut in it, some blue.

Matt: (laughs.) We got a little piece of deadstock wool—enough to make four shirts with. It was the first shirt we ever sold and now there are four of them running around. One belongs to a local entrepreneur; one to Maikoiyo’s cousin; one is a commercial fisherman; the last guy is a local musician. That fabric will never come back.

Pulp Lab: Alright. Last question. What’s your favorite snack for a road trip?

Maikoiyo: Does it have to be one thing?

Pulp Lab: No. It can be a whole package. A snack pack of sorts.

Maikoiyo: I’m a big fan of dried green mangoes

Matt: Oh man, you totally took mine!

Maikoiyo: …and I have a thing about cashews in various forms.

Matt: I could eat a box of dots pretty quickly.

Maikoiyo: He can keep most of those.

Pulp Lab: It works out, then. You’re ready for a road trip.

Matt: Indeed, we are.

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