- Meet Tara St James -
There are many women who work with Ethical Collection London that have helped to create our amazing brand. In honour of these women, we are dedicating one day a week, Wednesday, to introduce them and celebrate their achievements. We sent each of the women seven questions to answer about their businesses, inspiration and life. This week, we would love to introduce you to the phenomenal Tara St James of Study New York.
To maintain socially and environmentally responsible design, Study NY use a variety of fabrics including; hemp, organic cotton, ethically sourced alpaca, and other recycled materials. Dyes used in their fabrics include natural, plant/vegetable, procion low impact, and fibre reactive dyes. These dyes do not release any toxic pollutants. Zero waste cutting in most designs is used, and all their garments are manufactured and cut in New York City, making a transparent supply chain.
(Founder, Tara St James)
What is the story behind your brand's name?
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.
What did you do before joining/starting the business?
And what inspired you to start your business?
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. 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.
(Tara St James at work)
What are the 2 points (or more!) that makes your brand Sustainable/ethical?
I have a checklist of sustainability tenets in my office. 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)
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. I also incorporate zero waste pattern techniques and upcycle all my fabric waste from production.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love the constant problem solving aspect of my work. Not only within design but also with the business. Every day is something different and it's always challenging, but I love it.
How do you balance work/home life?
I don't think I do this very well, I work way too much! But I do try to travel as much as I can and visit my family (in Montreal) every couple of months. But if there's any aspect of my work I would like to improve it's finding a work/life balance in the next year.
(Tara St James in her studio)
What achievements are you most proud of in business and or life?!
I am proud that I have found a place in my field where I am considered an expert in sustainable design and I am proud to share that knowledge and my perspective often with students and like-minded designers (for example through my work as a mentor in sustainability at the BF+DA)
Who do you admire and why?
My mother. She raised two children by herself and amidst that chaos (mostly caused by me) she also became an entrepreneur who has built a successful ethical business that employs over 20 people (she owns Spa St James in Montreal). She is my inspiration and my muse.