Q&A With STUDY’s Tara St. James

If anyone is on Twitter these days, you are bound to come across some pretty intriguing tweets from STUDY NY, whose creator is the awesome designer, Tara St. James.

Tara has got some great stuff in the works and I couldn’t be happier, as she is one of my favorite sustainable fashion designers. With amazing style herself, there is no surprise that her line is out of this world. Luckily I got the chance to sit down with her and chat about her design genius. Check it out below!

1. Can you tell me about how you started?

“I started Study a year ago, so it was launched in September 2009. But prior to that I had another brand called Covet, which also was sustainable but in a lower price range. It had a much larger audience and a wider variety of products because it was financed by a larger company based in Montreal. It got to a certain point where they were tightening their belts and wanted to cut back on the sustainability aspect of the brand and that was the most important thing to me so I just sort of went off on my own and decided to start my own brand.”

2. How did you come up with the name for the line?

“I didn’t want something to be static and solid and I am constantly learning from this industry so I wanted a name to evoke what I decided to do with the brand, which is review and basically study a different process of production or manufacturing every season. So every season I look for a different aspect of the industry itself and try to examine it and try to implement it in the most sustainable way that I can. So for Fall 11 I am actually doing sweaters in Bolivia which I have never done before. I did some knitwear last fall but it was very basic knitwear, where as for Fall 11 it is going to be more elaborate. I am very excited about it. If it all comes together it is gonna be great, we’ll see. Sometimes there are compromises that you end up making that aren’t the greatest.”

3. What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

“Well for me it is about creating a product that does as little harm, despite the fact that its a new product, to the environment and to the people making it as possible, while creating jobs or using a renewed resource. I think the word sustainable is very easily adapted to a lot of different philosophies, for the most part good but sometimes it is a little loosely translated as well, which can be dangerous.”

4. That being said, what goes into the creation of your garments that makes Study sustainable?

“I don’t use one main philosophy in the brand. I try to examine different versions of sustainability when I am producing, which means that I produce some of it locally here in New York and some of it in India in a fairtrade factory. Some of the textiles, mainly the ones used in New York are recycled from dead stock or vintage and than the ones that I use in India are the newly developed ones that are usually hand woven silks and organic cottons. Those are woven by a women’s Co-op, called Women Weave in India. Than I am also starting to use some yarns that are alpaca, so it is not necessarily classified as sustainable but they are being hand knit in Bolivia by another co-op of women so that is more the sustainability of a whole population and the economic aspect of it rather than just the environmental aspect, which I think is important as well, combining both kinds of things and trying to do little bits here and there.”

5. Do you think that there is a market of consumers out there who are willing to pay for something sustainable?

“I think it is a very small market. There are very few people who seek out sustainable clothing and those people tend to live very modest lifestyles and don’t want the higher end high fashion. I am not saying that there is nobody out there who wants both, but it is a very very small part of the market. For the most part the people that are buying the high end sustainable lines are buying it because it is high end and good quality clothing and not because it is sustainable, which is fine with me.”

6. So how does that drive the way you work and what you deliver?

“I just try and use the best fabrics I can within my choices and I don’t really think about whether the customer wants to buy sustainable or not. I think about whether they want to buy the piece that I am producing and hopefully they will want to wear it. On that end with the consumers, by the time it gets to the consumers, the garment in my mind is no longer really sustainable because it is a new product that they just bought and whether it was made sustainably and helped some village in Bolivia is great, but it doesn’t really affect the customer so much. On their end, I think the only way that they can implement sustainability is by keeping the garment and wearing it for several years. which is where I come in by trying to make garments that will last longer and can be worn different ways.”

7. So in terms of sustainable fashion becoming redundant one day, what has to happen? Do you think it will happen?

“Yeah. I don’t know if I would say one day soon but yes I think it definitely can happen and there is no reason for it not to happen especially with the technology that is being developed lately. Fabric quality is becoming increasingly good and there is not as limited a choice of textiles as there was even 5 years ago, I mean I cant even imagine 20 years ago what it was like, but 5 years ago it was difficult to find good organic cottons and now organic cotton is almost sort of like the black sheep or the older cousin that nobody really thinks about anymore. Everyone is looking at recycled polyesters and tencel and even hemp and raw silks. There is some beautiful stuff available so as long as technology continues to evolve and education catches up to it, I think that is the most important part. The students are being offered and not shown organic textiles as a separate class or as a separate option but as part of the options, I think than and only than will we start seeing change in the mainstream. But I don’t think it is going to be until after this generation of students start taking over the companies, even maybe the next generation of students so that is like maybe another 50-75 years.”

8. What would you like to see happen in the next 5 years in the fashion industry?

“Well I would like to see a little more transparency. That is something I feel very strongly about in my own brand and I am open to sharing everything that I do and how I do it. I know that part of the problem with the fashion industry is that people don’t hold themselves accountable because they can hide behind this veil of secrecy. The secrecy is very glamorously veiled in the idea that it is top secret and really all it is a good way to hide your naughty secrets of where you are making things and what you are using and how you are making them. I think it goes back to stores asking questions and having their vendors be more accountable to them and I think that is going to also come from customers asking their stores to be more transparent. So really it doesn’t come from the designers. It comes a lot from the customers.”

9. Do you have a favorite garment from your most recent collection that speaks for your line?

“There is a skirt from the Spring 2011 collection. It was all hand woven in Uzbekistan. I found it one day in a fabric store in the garment district and the woman is from Uzbekistan. She started talking to me about these bolts of fabric that she had piled up on the cash register that I was immediately attracted to because they are really colorful. It is all silk and she has these amazing pictures of the people hand weaving it and she says that a man came in and left the bolts on consignment. It was a friend of hers from Uzbekistan. He left them on consignment and she decided to resell them with no profit just as a favor to him so that the money would go back to the weavers. It was really cool but it was really expensive considering that it is a very narrow piece of fabric. So I cut it into a skirt that was completely no-waste because I couldn’t really afford to waste any of it. It turned out really nice and I think that the story adds so much to it despite the fact that I think it is a really cute skirt. The story in itself makes a big difference to me.”

10. What sustainable designer would you like to collaborate with?

“I want to be able to make shoes and I really love Soludos, a New York based company that makes espadrilles. They are made in Spain or Portugal and they are made from the sustainable rubber that is based there. I had been looking for espadrilles for three years and finally I found them online this summer. I would want to collaborate with them because the way that they are made is sustainable but the fabrics they are using for the tops of the shoes is not necessarily so it would be a perfect collaboration. There is also a menswear brand that is sustainable. They are based out of Finland, called Dusty, which I think is funny because it is basically STUDY spelled differently. She does great menswear so I am trying to collaborate with her on a unisex piece between the two of us because I think it would make a great label and I love her aesthetic as well.”



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