Interview with Tara St. James

Tara St. James’ Study NY label immediately caught my eye when I saw the runway photos on NJAL. I became even more intrigued, however, the more I found out about this lovely Montreal-born and NY-based designer. Tara’s switch from a larger commercial company to starting up her own sustainable line is a bold move that has thus far churned out some amazing results. In case you’d like to know more about it all, do keep reading…

 

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What’s the very first thing you remember designing?

Clothes for Betty and Veronica (the comics). I used to design clothes for them and mail them to the publishers as suggestions for what they should wear in the comics. I was probably 9 or 10.

Do you have a background in formal fashion studies?

I have a degree in menswear tailoring from a college in Montreal. I’ve wanted to design clothing since I was very little, so when time came to choose disciplines, it was relatively easy. I did have a brief moment in high school when I wanted to go into politics, but that didn’t last very long.

What is your most treasured piece of clothing?

Tough question. I try to buy pieces that I can’t live without, and that I still see myself wearing in 50 years. At the same time, I’m struggling with trying to live with less, and not put too much value on material items. It’s a constant struggle.

Do you wear your own designs?

Yes, all the time. You have to represent yourself!

You used to be the creative director at Covet. How did that come about?

The backers for Covet approached me to design a streetwear brand for the US market. It slowly evolved into the contemporary organic brand that it became, but that wasn’t the original vision.

What caused the move from Covet to starting your own label?

I had slowly been growing apart from Covet’s parent company, who wanted to take the brand in a different direction. I decided that if I was going to be stubborn and argumentative about my vision, I should at least be doing it for myself.

I love the video you made to raise money to show at NY Fashion Week, and the whole concept behind it. What was the response to this video, and is this a method you’d use again to raise financial support?

Absolutely! The response was tremendous, and it was fun to do! I can’t take credit for the video, though. My very talented boyfriend came up with the concept, shot, AND edited it.

How was your experience showing your first solo collection at NY Fashion Week?

It was less stressful than I anticipated. Of course I was nervous and anxious and in a huge rush to get everything done, but it all came together with very minor glitches. That said, I started crying as soon as the last model walked off stage, so I guess I was more terrified than I expected.

I was intrigued by your recent article on Ecouterre, “Does Social Networking Help or Hinder Independent Fashion Designers?”. Now that you’ve become ‘That Girl’ by using Twitter and what not, do you think social networking will remain an important part of building and maintaining a successful label, or do you feel it’s necessary mostly to get the label started?

I think it needs to evolve. I wrote a lot about my process and emotions about starting a new line on the blog and via twitter. Going forward, I plan to keep networking, but may communicate differently with my audience (that is, if I actually have an audience – part of me thinks just my brother and boyfriend read my blog).

You’re involved in a co-op store in Brooklyn where you get to interact directly with your potential customers. Are you looking to sell your pieces in more brick-and-mortar shops, or are you planning on focusing on this one shop and online?

I do intend to sell to boutiques. My first account will be Kaight in NY’s lower east side. She has a great eye for sustainable fashion and always buys up and coming brands.

 

Everything in your first solo collection is organic and sustainable. Do you see future collections continuing in the use of these materials?

Absolutely, I have no intention of ever using non-sustainable textiles. I used mostly organics with Covet, so I’m used to the challenges of sourcing these materials. I enjoy the challenge!

Do you intend to still create your upcycled zipper jewelry, or will you be focusing on your Study NY label from now on?

I make the jewelry at night to decompress, it’s therapeutic for me. I will keep doing it until I run out of zippers or move on to something else.

What inspires you most in creating new pieces?

Inspiration comes from everywhere for me. Sometimes it’s art, or a book or film. Or a city I’ve been to. It really depends on the season. I used a lot of mathematical equations for Spring 10. I might incorporate some more into Fall 10. We’ll see.

The idea behind your first collection, ‘The Square Project’, is simply brilliant. What do you have in the works for future collections?

Thank you! I love the idea of convertible clothing that can be worn several ways. I touched on that in the Spring collection but I’m really exploring the concept with Fall. All about the layers!

Finally, what is your favorite piece from your collection?

So hard to choose! I love the bubble shirt that turns into a tube dress. I also really love the pixel print jumpsuit. I made that piece the night before the show!

 

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Visit Tara’s blog to see where Tara and Study NY go next. And visit her NJAL page and Etsy shop for some gorgeous sustainable pieces you can buy for yourself or some last minute Christmas gifts. (P.S. The entire Study NY collection is set to be available on NJAL this February – set your bookmarks!)

 
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