TARA ST JAMES

As clothing designers, we’re fascinated by what other creative people are doing around us. So we decided to ask some questions. Welcome to our first Designer Q+A, a space where we’ll be featuring other makers from Brooklyn and beyond.

Since our initial conception in 2013, Tara St James of Study has been a sort of acting mentor / big sister to us and we’re so honored to have her as our first interviewee.

About Tara:

Tara is the founder and creative director of Study – an ethical contemporary womenswear label based in Brooklyn, NY. They make seasonless clothing locally and ethically without subscribing to the traditional fashion calendar. Tara is also the production coordinator and a research fellow at Pratt Institute’s new endeavor, The Brooklyn Fashion Design Accelerator – a space that provides designers with the resources they need to transform their ideas into successful businesses.

What does the name Study mean?

The name was born of a desire I had to really examine my production process and focus on a different technique every season. That began with zero waste patternmaking, then progressed to weaving, knitting, dyeing, printing, pleating, etc… Now that I’m no longer producing seasonal collections I still focus on different techniques but I spread that focus over several months rather than each edition. I knew very young that I wanted to design clothes and work in fashion. I studied menswear in college because I liked the rigid structure of tailoring. I still apply a lot of those principles to my womenswear designs. Another underlying principle I learned from studying menswear – though it was not mentioned outright – was a disregard for trendy items, with a focus on craftsmanship, fit and longevity of wear. I started my career working in the denim industry, then worked for larger fast fashion brands in Montreal and New York. I left my last job designing a high street brand called Covet and started Study. I started Study at a time in my career when I was very frustrated with fast fashion and mass production. With Study, we wanted to not just source sustainable materials but also produce them locally. There is a bit of a disconnect between sourcing sustainable materials and then producing garments in a large factory in China. I had a lot of experience sourcing sustainable materials through previous roles, however, producing the clothing locally was something completely new for me, very different, but a really enjoyable experience. I love being so hands on. We have also looked at our business model and want to provide an alternative to fast fashion and the traditional fashion calendar. We have moved away from seasonal collections, which never made sense to me. We now provide monthly editions and develop a few new pieces for the months ahead. This has been a great change for me and the stores love it as they are getting new stock in that is relevant to the time of year and can really build a collection.

Do you have an ideal customer or muse? Who is she or he?

I don’t really. I like putting my work out into the world and seeing who is drawn to it and why as I find those people very varied and that’s fascinating to me.

Tell us a little about your creative process. How do you come up with a new design or collection?

I always start by choosing my fabrics and then I let the fabrics dictate what they want to become. Of course I often have silhouettes in mind, for example I know if I want to make a jumpsuit or a coat, but usually the silhouette is in the back of my mind and the fabric comes first. That’s one of the reasons I really like knitwear, because it allows me to create my own fabrics.

What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

This is the definition I find to be the most accurate: “Sustainable means using methods, systems and materials that won’t deplete resources or harm natural cycles” (Rosenbaum, 1993)

I have a checklist of sustainability tenets, and on my blog. If I can check off at least 3 items from the list with each garment, then I will consider it sustainable and therefore eligible to be branded Study. But checklist aside, I don’t believe another human, animal or the environment should have to suffer for fashion. It’s as simple as that. A majority of my production is done in New York City’s garment center. I use only organic or sustainable textiles (organic cotton, hemp, recycled poly, linen and peace silk). I also work with fair trade and co-op based factories in Peru and India who pay fair wages and work to sustain traditional weaving and knitting techniques while providing income for indigenous populations. Fashion is art in my opinion. But to some cultures clothing is just a means of protection from the elements. There is such a huge gap between how first and third world nations view clothing and design. Ethical fashion has the ability to bridge that gap by providing developing nations with a market for their traditional craft techniques and a sustainable business opportunity.

If you could only wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be?

This jumpsuit.

Complete this sentence. Simplicity is:

Not having to choose one value over another. Also, unfortunately, not my reality.

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