Designer Tara St. James of Study NY leads the new generation of sustainable creatives.
August 22nd, 2017
"Fashion is art in my opinion...[but] There is such a huge gap between how first and third world countries 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."
Favorite Breakfast: Huevos rancheros with fried eggs, but only on weekends.
Current Favorite Book: Why I Am Not A Feminist by Jessa Crispin
Favorite Place For Inspiration: Dia: Beacon (in particular the Sol Lewitt installations)
Tara St. James is the talented designer behind the brand, Study NY. Abandoning the idea of seasonal collections, her pieces offer a refreshing sense of timelessness and sensibility. As a mentor at BF+DA she continues to educate the new generation on the importance of incorporating more ethical and sustainable design practices.
What were you doing before starting Study NY?
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!
How did your career beforehand affect your views on the fashion industry and sustainability?
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 started my career working in the denim industry, then worked for larger fast fashion brands in Montreal and New York. Seeing the way other brands produced and sold their garments greatly impacted the way I now work with Study.
What ultimately led you to incorporate sustainability into your brand?
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.
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.
How did traveling influence your work?
The world of fashion design has changed so much since I started working. Global access to the internet has narrowed the lifespan of trends from 1-2 years which was the case when I started designing, down to a fraction of that time. Now product can be designed, developed, produced and on the store shelves in a few weeks.
Tell us more about your studies in menswear and why you shifted into womenswear.
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.
"The name STUDY was born of a desire I had to really examine my production process and focus on a different technique every season."
How did you start Study NY?
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.
The name STUDY 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.
The incubator we toured was incredibly inspirational. You are one of the mentors at BF+DA—How did you get involved? How has it grown and ultimately affected you?
I taught fashion design at Pratt and was introduced to the founder of the BF+DA when it was just an early thought in her mind. She brought me onto the team to help build the production facility and the sustainable material library. I’m now one of the sustainability mentors and I manage the cut & sew part of the production room. I love doing this because it allows me to be very hands on in helping the next generation of designers work more thoughtfully and with intention.
What is next 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.
Photography — Viktor Jelinek
Interview — Nora Jelinek
Editor — Victoria Bagger