Roofing, come to find out, has more in common with swimsuits than you might think. “You have to make sure the construction of both is sound, especially when you’re dealing with materials that expand and contract and have to withstand the elements,” says Sandra Tory. “And hey, these are important parts you’re covering!” During the day, Tory, along with her three brothers, run Tory’s Roofing, a company started by her father in 1972 that has grown to become one of the largest roofing contractors in the state. Then after work, when most reach for a pau hana beer, Tory retreats to her home studio to cut, sew and ship the custom swimsuit orders that have been streaming in since her S.tory Standards website went live in November 2012.
“I recruited my mom to help me now,” says Tory. “My mom is the one who taught me all the basics of sewing – but with cotton. She hates stretch material, but she’s been helping me cut all my fabric.” Growing up, Tory was always surrounded by family members who were seamstresses. Her dad had nine sisters, and her baby sewing machine could always be found right alongside theirs. She got her first taste of design while dancing keiki hula and prepping for Merrie Monarch, where they were responsible for sewing all their own costumes. It was here that Tory gained a greater appreciation of garment construction.
Be that as it may, Tory admits that her first suit was not constructed properly. “When I first started, I didn’t care what it looked like on the inside, I only cared about what it looked like on the outside and that it didn’t fall off,” she remembers. “I just wanted to have this look for this day, and I didn’t even care if it was reusable.” But soon enough, that was not good enough for her. “I always have these ideas; before swimsuits, it was jewelry, before jewelry it was beanies, but this has been the most challenging for me. I cannot get into something I can conquer really fast. I need something that can fight back.”
And fight back they did. Tory spent hours trying to perfect her stitches, patterns, seams and fit. She would call her aunt, who’d been a seamstress her entire life, who would suggest different machines, different needles or different tensions. “It was like I had a professor at my disposal that I could just ask questions,” says Tory. But soon, even her family of teachers could no longer help her, and in trying to create new techniques of sewing, Tory was left to figure it out on her own. “It became an obsession,” she says. “I knew I could do it better, hide this seam, make the fit more flattering. … Pretty soon, I could sew the whole suit with no seams showing.”
The quality of her first collection, released last August, was remarkable. Soft lines accentuated by even softer stretch fabrics in bright hues and vivid prints hugged every curve and cut in all the right places – all without one visible seam inside or out. It’s hard to believe that this is her first crack at swimwear, but Tory acknowledges that it wasn’t easy getting there. “Seventy-five percent of the time, what you see in your head does not come out how you want it,” she says. “I’ll draw it out, write out the steps, draft a pattern, sew it, find out it doesn’t fit right, go back and adjust. … I’ve been working on a one-piece suit, and I’ve sewn three full-on suits that are almost there, but say for example I don’t like how it pulls too much on the chest, then I gotta go back in and tweak the pattern.”
Her second collection, which she hopes will be released in April, is inspired by Morocco and will feature gem tones of blue sapphire, slate gray, dessert sand and lipstick pink. Instead of prints, she’ll work with different seams to create a pattern within the solid-colored fabric itself.
It’s hard for Tory to pinpoint what’s next for her, but she knows that her life right now, balancing a hectic work schedule with a passion for making swimsuits, is as it should be. “I don’t know exactly what I want to come out of this whole thing, because I have such an attachment to my job,” she says. “But I needed to do this as an outlet, because when you’re doing something for the love of your family – for the love of your father – eventually you start to look at your life and ask yourself, ‘How am I loving myself?’ At the end of the day, when you spread yourself so thin for other people, you don’t have anything left for yourself,” she says with a pause. “So I think this is for me. What I’m doing is because I have a story.”
On thing’s for certain: With the orders stacking up and a new collection on the way, Tory is sure to need some help soon. “I looked into finding a manufacturer for months, but I realized that no one’s going to care like how you care, and since sewing is a dying trade, it’s hard to find people that do it because they care about it.” For now, Tory will enlist the help of mom and a few helpful aunties. It is, after all, a family business.
For more information or to see the full collection, visit storystandards.com.