On the top floor of a turn-of-the-century building, seamstress Anna Toth feeds her vintage Singer sewing machine with denim woven from Southern cotton. Her workspace, in the heart of what is now Asheville, North Carolina’s River Arts district, vibrates with the frequent passing of trains on the railway, just yards from the repurposed warehouse.
So it's only fitting that Toth chose the spot to start her sustainable clothing line Bow and Arrow Apparelwhere she works primarily with the same fabric that mills churned out for Levi-Strauss in the same neighborhood more than a century ago.
After studying apparel design in school, Toth had become disenchanted with the industry. "Business as usual in the fashion industry since the 1980s has meant making as much as you can for as little as you can," she says. "And it's come at a great cost, environmentally and socioeconomically."
"But I realized that denim was this product that was still made in the U.S. and was always consistent and available," Toth says. "Even though we've lost a lot of our textile farmers and mills, this is one bastion we still have domestically."
She aims to source small-batch, American-made textiles, combined with quality and attention to detail, which results in lasting clothes that won't end up in a landfill year after year.
Of course, Toth allows, there's another reason Bow & Arrow was born.
"Like pretty much every woman I've ever talked to, I found it so hard to find a pair of jeans that fit. I wanted to make myself a pair of dream jeans."
With a goal so personal, it's no wonder she's well-known for her custom-fit denim: high-waisted, five-pocket, and guaranteed to fit since she makes each pair according to measurements.
Of course, with Toth's commitment to ethical sourcing, her jeans don't come cheap. A pair of $200 jeans may seem like a novelty, and it's higher than what Americans typically spend. But there's a reason it costs more to produce goods domestically, and Toth says a higher price tag usually means you can feel good about purchasing it.
"When you see a piece of clothing on the rack for $14.99, that's a product of a system where someone was most likely exploited along the line," says Toth, who cites sourcing domestically as her first priority for Bow & Arrow. And for her, this means committing to work with fabric not only milled in the states but also grown domestically, whenever possible.
Denim remains the backbone of her collections, but Toth incorporates other fabrics as well, which she takes equal care to source sustainably.
With a nod to her South Carolina roots, her summer collection includes pieces like the Low Country Tank, handcrafted from organic hemp and cotton, and the Edisto Dress, made from chambray and named after the island just south of Charleston.
Toth debuted her upcoming fall line at this past spring's Charleston Fashion Week, where she tied for first place.
"It was a very affirming process," says Toth, who spent five weeks prior to the competition designing and creating the line she would launch for the weeklong show. "It had been almost four years since I truly explored my medium, and I used that time to make whatever I wanted. It reminded me how important it is to take the time to be creative."
Her desire to explore is evident in the expansiveness of her new line, which is largely inspired by menswear and workwear, including a tailored denim suit and machinist jumpsuit. Other pieces include a long chambray dress, a shirt sewn from quilted black denim, and a sweater knit from ripped ikat and chambray fabrics.
"What I’m always trying to do is take this medium that's typically associated with labor and honor that aesthetic, but try to elevate it at the same time."
Indeed, while Toth's designs have an undeniable elegance and feminine lines, her pieces are decidedly wearable—built to last.