17th June 2013
We met the lovely Tara St James, the owner and head designer for the New York-based clothing label Study for a chat during the week.
Tara previously worked as the creative director of Covet, a mainstream eco-friendly sportswear collection for men and women.
In 2009, she left to set up her own brand Study, a sustainable womenswear label based in Brooklyn, NY, which has a focus on producing seasonless clothing locally and ethically.
We met up with her to find out what is happening in the world of sustainable fashion design.
So Tara, tell us about your brand Study and what makes it unique?
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.
Tell us about the fabrics that you use?
We try and use domestic US fabrics but also import beautiful organic cottons and handwoven vegetable dyed fabrics from India. We have been expanding our reach and are coming across more and more interesting textiles.
It is a far cry from a few years ago when sustainable material meant bamboo yoga wear! Bamboo is something that we have moved away from, there is a myth that it is eco friendly, but a lot of it is actually Rayon and is quite toxic.
We source recycled materials, such as recycled polyester. A new factory has been established in the US which is very exciting. We also use dead stock wool that would otherwise go to waste.
What does ethical fashion mean for you?
I have an internal checklist which I use when sourcing materials. I think this is important, to just think where things come from. People will have different priorities, for some people buying local is important, or supporting artisans, for others using recycled material will take precedence. The main thing is that people do have a set of tenets and values that they stick by, that they do think about where their clothes come from, and that they ask questions. There needs to be a level of transparency from producers and retailers, but at the same time people must seek to understand what they are buying.
What is the main challenge you encounter as a sustainable designer?
I suppose, knowing how to communicate the consumers can be challenging. I make a set of decisions when designing the clothes that I hope the customer will buy into. I want them to know that I have done the research and done my best to make the clothing as sustainable as possible.
At the same time I don’t want to overburden people with the whole process behind these decisions.
And, very importantly, I want people to like the garments for their design, not just because they are sustainable. I want people to wear them and feel good, it is fashion at the end of the day.
It is easier now, social media and blog are great tools for communicating the ethos to people and letting them know you have made certain decisions without overloading them with information.
What gives you hope for the future?
Well, two main things. Firstly, the ethical fashion community. People are so open and supportive. People help eachother out, it is great and very different from the conventional fashion industry which can be very cut throat.
Secondly, the fact that sustainability is so engrained in the minds of young fashion graduates. When I was studying there was no education on sustainability, I learned everything I know through working. Now students learn about sustainability in school and there is such a strong pull more generally. Ethical and eco fashion doesn’t have the negative connotations it used to have either. So that is great hope for change.
We want to thank Tara for coming to visit us and if you want to find out more about Tara and Study, check out the website.