I am often approached by press, students and fellow designers for interviews. Usually I am happy to answer questions about the brand and my methods, however I have noticed that often the questions repeat themselves. So before approaching me with questions, please read the following and if you have any additional questions, feel free to email them to me with a brief explanation of your work.
Thank you, Tara
PERSONAL & COMPANY BACKGROUND
Please tell us more about your company and your background.
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. In 2009 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.
What is the meaning behind your company name “STUDY?”
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.
Why did you go down the sustainable route?
I started Covet, a more mass market eco brand in 2004. When I left that company to start my own collection, I was armed with a tremendous amount of knowledge about the industry and production, and I couldn't conscientiously create a new brand that wasn't sustainable.
What does sustainable mean to you?
I have a checklist of sustainability tenets (see attached), 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.
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)
How are your garments sustainable?
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.
Why do you think ethical fashion is important?
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.
How do you see the ethical fashion movement progressing in the future?
I see the sustainable design industry becoming more mainstream. As young design students learn about the importance of ethical and sustainable design, I believe they will bring this belief into their jobs and future careers, and slowly sustainable choices will begin to trickle upward from them. That's why I believe education is key to the future of sustainability.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in your industry in the last year?
2013 seems to be a year for change for a lot of people, especially in my circle of friends and colleagues. This change is occurring on both the personal and professional level in many lives. For me it began a time of introspection into my business model The fashion calendar never felt right for me. When I started Study in 2009 it was with a collection called The Square Project, a collection of zero waste garments made using squares, and it was intended to be more of a research project than a collection – hence the name, STUDY – but I was quickly absorbed into the fashion system and therefore the calendar. It took until now for me to realize that I didn’t have to subscribe to anything, and I could create my own calendar. While I’m not the first designer to choose to work outside the traditional fashion calendar (producing seasonal collections), it has become increasingly obvious to me that not only do the production methods used by fast fashion companies as well as the fabric choices designers make have a huge impact on our environment and the socio-economic well-being of other human beings, but our consumption has gotten so out of control that a statement needs to be made. By eliminating collections from my business model, and only producing a few garments every month, much closer to the season and when I feel there is a need for them on the market, my goal is to limit the availability of the brand to customers and hope they will carry these consumption values to other items. I only produce what I believe is beautiful and wanted. I believe consumers are starting to demand this change and are seeking out beautifully made, long-lasting quality garments that eschew trends. Fast fashion will reach a plateau very soon and send customers back to wanting original but less temporary items.
What have been/are your biggest challenges in the industry?
The greatest change I have seen with the business is the dialogue that has happened between myself and my retail outlets. Not only have they been incredibly supportive of the change but it has allowed me to really learn more about their needs and interactions with their customers. I have yet to figure out how I want to maneuver sales to my retailers. In the past I worked with a showroom and attended trade shows where buyers could come and order the next season's collection. Now I find myself needing to send styles out to the retailers once a month and while photos are a good way of doing this, I don't believe it's the only solution, so at present I'm talking regularly to my retailers to figure out the best way to approach them monthly with new product.
Are there any designers/brands you would like your brand to collaborate with?
There are very few people I DON'T want to collaborate with. I think I can still learn a lot from other company models and brand philosophies, and they can learn a lot from my methods. I would really like to work with a men's collection, in particular DUSTY in Finland (can't you see it? DUSTY vs. STUDY) or ETUDES from France (etudes means study in French).
SOURCING & MANUFACTURING
Most of your line is manufactured in the U.S., right here in the NYC Garment District. What is you favorite thing about producing here?
I spent the first 10 years of my career producing overseas (China, India, Brazil, Korea) and while I loved the efficiency of sitting in an office and emailing my designs to someone who would then do all the research and development, I now have a much broader understanding of construction, costing, fit and finishing as well as a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of garment manufacturing. The biggest difference between domestic and import production is that I no longer have the luxury of being able to sit back and let someone else source my fabrics and trims, which just means I am now responsible for all those decisions. I wouldn't trade what I have now for any amount of efficiency in the world!
What does it mean to design a garment with zero waste?
Zero waste is a philosophy in patternmaking. Timo Rissanen would give a better definition than I could, but basically it is a combination of fashion design and puzzle making, creating a pattern that utilizes all the fabric when it is cut (rather than repurposing the leftover scraps for unnecessary ornamentation on a garment).
What are your future plans for Study NY?
I want to include more collaboration in the Study brand, whether it's for the main product range, an off-shoot or for private label development with my retailers, I love the idea of product development on a broader scale.
ADDITIONAL PRESS & INTERVIEWS
Why You Should Care About Clothing Consciousness - Refinery29 October 1, 2013
The business of ethical fashion - Not Just A Label July 4, 2013