Behind The Scenes With Alexis Mera

Many of the career-changing stories we hear about involve moving industries. Migrating from one space another seems the most story-worthy, and those stories are certainly everywhere – the tale of a big-city lawyer becoming a mindful ceramic artist, an overwhelmed doctor who becomes a teacher, or maybe a writer who decides to put their helping hands to a different kind of work and becomes a social worker. 

But big career changes aren't always the neatly -packaged, industry-jumping sort. Sometimes, they involve staying in the same industry and moving from one end of the spectrum to the other – and that's a change that can be just as big and sometimes feel even bigger.

Alexis Mera made that very jump in early 2015. Starting in product development, production, and merchandising in the sleepwear industry, she transitioned to entrepreneur, designer, and boss-gal business owner. Almost two years later and, though the brand is still in its early phases, it certainly seems like Alexis has survived that transition just fine.

Here, Alexis takes us behind the scenes of her Brooklyn-based line.

Behind The Scenes: Alexis Mera | Second Floor Flat

Tell me about the background of your line, Alexis Mera. How did it get started?

My background is in the sleepwear industry, with a focus in Merchandising, Product Development, and Production. I always wanted to have a business of my own, and while I wasn’t always sure what that business would be, I knew I wanted to have one.

After working in fashion for nearly a decade, starting my own line was a natural shift. When we launched in early 2015, the line started more as a loungewear concept, but loungewear that was meant to be seen. Very quickly after our launch, the line evolved more into an athleisure concept. Women were asking me if they can wear our Jogger Pants to yoga (the answer is of course, yes).  Athleisure is not only a clothing trend, it’s a lifestyle trend, and we are excited to be part of it.

Starting a project like this and watching it evolve is really amazing. We’re working on an amazing activewear capsule collection for Spring/Summer 2017. Stay tuned…   

 

Can you describe your creative process? How do you design a piece, from start to finish?

The line is very print driven with a few solid essentials layered in. The design process is not always the same for every piece or collection. Sometimes we find a print we love, then try to figure out which bodies it would work best for. Other times we see a silhouette that we know we need, and find a fabric or print to fill in.

For the most part, there's a lot of trend research before we start designing our next collection. There’s also a lot of analysis of previous prints/colors/styles. What’s most important to us is that our fabrics are extremely soft and comfy next to the skin – we want women to feel super comfortable in their AM gear. We’re known for our buttery soft fabrics and vibrant prints. After we’ve designed the collection we hit the road and go to trade shows, once we’ve received a reaction from the industry, stores, customers, and even friends, we decide what we will move forward with in production. 

Behind The Scenes: Alexis Mera | Second Floor Flat

Can you tell us what role fabrication plays in the design process? What about print?

Fabric quality plays a HUGE role in the design process. We have very strict standard for the fabrics that we use. We don’t like stiff or rigid fabrics, and are always working to find the softest fabric hand possible. As I mentioned above, we are very print driven, so each season we try to find 4 – 6 prints that we think our customers will love. 

 

You’re proudly a New York designer. How does your production process work, and why is it important to you to produce your collection in New York?

Production is probably my least favorite part of having a line. It’s not creative at all – you’re constantly problem solving, and it can be stressful at times. However, my background in production has really helped me here. A good production manager is like gold. There are so many moving parts, and I have learned SO much, whether it be about the construction of a garment, pattern making, sewing details, or even shipping. We currently produce our entire collection at a factory on West 36th Street in the Garment Center. Our factory also sews all of our samples, so when we go into production, it’s a pretty smooth transition as we’ve already perfected the sewing and fit.

Keeping my production in New York is a choice I’ve made mainly because of the control I have over the process. When an order is in production I stop by the factory at least once a week to check on things. It’s really great to be able to do that, because the level of quality control is unbeatable. It also helps to be able to communicate with the factory owner and other employees face to face, rather than via email. It makes the process much faster and more smooth. 

 

Is there a single piece that you feel quintessentially represents the brand?

We are known for or Cortelyou Jogger Pants. They are actually named after the street our studio is located off of in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn.

Behind The Scenes: Alexis Mera | Second Floor Flat

 

What’s one thing you’d want people to walk away knowing about your work?

My main goal is to make sure women feel comfortable in our line and feel comfortable in their own skin. We want you to just be you. 

Behind The Scenes: Alexis Mera | Second Floor Flat
Behind The Scenes: Alexis Mera | Second Floor Flat

And just for fun– 

If you weren’t living in New York, where would you live?

I was born and raised in New York State and have lived in NYC for 13 years now – and there’s no place like it. My husband is from Brazil, so maybe there? Or, my father is from Holland, so that would be another fun place to live for a while.

Who do you think is just killing it right now? An artist, designer, author, filmmaker, etc.

Beyoncé.

Won't argue there.

Shop Alexis Mera here, and follow her here and here, and find more independent designers to love and support through the directory which now has maybe 500 or so (?) emerging designers, artists, and retailers. Regardless, enjoy!


 

Behind The Scenes With The Pursuits of Happiness

You've probably seen April Brimer's work around. This Portland-based photographer-turned-ceramicist has a way of churning out pieces that are completely memorable and completely covetable, and lots of folks are taking note – Urban Outfitters included.

I'm a huge fan of April, her aesthetic, and her ceramics line The Pursuits of Happiness – everything from the color palettes to the way she curates her Instagram feed feels beautiful, purposeful, and completely on-brand. In other words, this gal has got it. 

In honor of the relaunch of her online shop, April tells me about her transition from photography to ceramics, one of her favorite movies (which is one of mine, too!), and why she's excited about kindness:

Hey April! Tell me about your background, both in photography and with ceramics. How did you make the transition from photographer to ceramic artist?

I became obsessed with photography in high school and could think of no suitable occupation besides being a photographer. I went to college for commercial photography, worked hard at it, and spent the following years shooting whatever fashion and product photography work I could find in Seattle.

At the end of 2013 I was coming off of about three years straight of incessantly shooting and retouching. I was tired of the computer, digital files, beauty standards, and interpreting other people’s visions. At that point I didn’t feel the same creative drive to create imagery that I had always had before.

I became curious about ceramics after seeing really interesting work being displayed at the Totokaelo store in Seattle. The work was really inspiring and approachable and I wanted to try it out myself. I literally just went to the closest art supply store and bought a bag of clay and a tool kit. I started making things in my apartment and posting photos on Instagram. Clay was really satisfying to work with and the enthusiasm I got from friends motivated me to keep going. Two years later I’m still learning as I go, but I work on getting better everyday. I can see myself doing more photography in the future, but I’m giving it a rest for now.

 

What has it been like moving from one creative line of work to another?

Ceramics offered me a very different outlet where I could just boil everything down to form and color. Now I can turn my creative energy into a tactile object that can be held and used. It's extremely satisfying. 

Have you found any similarities in your photography work and your ceramic work? Any parts of the process that feel familiar?

The concepting and planning is similar for each. I spend a lot of time daydreaming and sketching out little ideas. The highs and lows of creating are similar, too. It's a bummer when something doesn’t turn out as well as you hoped, and a total rush when it does.

The colors and designs used in your pieces feel unique and unlike just about anything else out there. Do you have a main source of inspiration? 

I’ve been mentally collecting little bits of inspiration my entire life. The weird, the kitschy, and the mysterious has always caught my attention. It could be the scalloped molding on an out-of-place building, topiaries, or a kitschy seashell sculpture in a souvenir shop. My ceramic pieces aren’t literal translations of my influences, but I want them to evoke the same kind of happiness and wonder I get when I’m inspired. 

 

You already have some big collaborations under your belt (Urban Outfitters, for one), but if you could collaborate with any person or brand who would it be?

The ladies at Sight Unseen have a dynamite vision and it would be a dream to collaborate with them somehow.

What's the one thing you want people to walk away knowing about your work?

The price point of my ceramics is higher than a lot of brands and I think that can be confusing to some people if they don’t understand the process behind things. My designs require very slow methods of building and the quantities I produce are extremely limited. So what I’d like people to understand is that every one of my pieces is unique and limited edition, and is priced accordingly. 

And just for fun:

 

What’s one book everyone should read? One movie?

I recently loved reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and I loved Beginners (by Mike Mills) for making me feel all the feelings.

 

If you weren’t living in the Pacific N.W. (Seattle, now Portland) where would you live?

I like the idea of living anywhere for a year just for the experience of it. I’ve had a fantasy of living in Miami ever since I did some photography work out there. Its about as different as you can get within the continental US. 

 

Anyone out there who you think is killing it right now?

There’s so many excellent creatives and makers producing beautiful work. What I’m really stoked on are the people that are practicing kindness with everyone around them. People promoting sustainable lifestyles and speaking up for human rights, animal welfare, and conservation. I’m as obsessed with creativity and style as the next person, but I also strongly feel we need to look at the bigger picture outside ourselves more often.

Thank you, April!

 

Shop The Pursuits of Happiness here and follow April here

Images via Pavel Cherny


Behind The Scenes With Anchal Project

The mission of nonprofit Anchal Project is simple: to provide alternative career options to commercial sex workers in India. The women employed by Anchal Project are educated and trained as artisans and granted sustainable employment opportunities in textile design and production. The fruits of their wares are then available for sale in the form of scarves, quilts, pillows, and more.

And the cycle continues. 

Sound familiar? There are similar models used by many ethical brands these days, but Anchal was one of the originals in the fair trade fashion business. They've been around for a while and were one of the first fashion brands providing sustainable work opportunities I'd ever heard of.

In honor of the launch of the kantha-stitch bananda (and the upcoming release of their new collection), I spoke with Anchal co-founder Colleen Clines about building a socially conscious fashion brand.

Below, Colleen breaks it down and takes us behind the scenes:

Nice to meet you, Colleen! Tell me about the background of Anchal Project. How did it get started?

I started Anchal Project with some of my fellow graduate students while I was at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for Landscape Architecture. Anchal started out as a small project for a “Design for Development” seminar, and it was through a class trip to India that the desire to help people through design became a tangible thing we could accomplish.

We met women in the commercial sex trade while we were there, and learned about some of the local textiles being made in West Bengal. When we got back to Providence, we used the profits generated from a small notebook/notecard sale to fund the textile training for the first group of women. 

 

The work that you do is so important, and I can imagine that would add an extra layer of complication in setting up the business. What were the early stages of Anchal like?

I would describe them as chaotic, inspiring, and idealistic. We had so much energy behind accomplishing this mission, and when you're just starting out you learn everything as you go. Everything was an experiment. We still have that to a certain extent, but in the beginning we just went for it. It was more of a 'look before you leap' mentality.

 

Tell me about the creative process from start to finish. How are Anchal’s pieces designed? Is it a collaboration between yourself and the artisans?

When new women are hired, they go through training with other artisans – usually ones that have been a part of Anchal for a while. They are taught basic design principals like color theory and composition. We have some guidelines established to make things a bit more predictable for the people buying the finished products, but leave as much of the decision-making and design up to them as we can.

Anchal is there to empower the women, many of whom haven't had much control over their own lives up to now, and we've found that giving them creative freedom gives them more confidence overall. Start-to-finish, everything is hand stitched, and some will soon be hand-dyed as well. (We're rolling that out in the collection coming out in October!).

Why do you think doing this type of work is so important?

Ethical home goods and fashion are the next wave of the 'socially conscious living' revolution. Awareness surrounding where your everyday items come from is the first step to influencing change in some of the most abusive industries. As a designer, I am driven by the power design has to positively change lives and the environment.

For me personally, I get to witness Anchal artisans improving not just their own lives, but also the lives of their children. Many of our artisans have now been able to purchase their own homes after joining the program, and all of the women have vowed to keep their daughters away from a potential future in the commercial sex trade. Now their children – boys and girls – have seen their mothers, sisters, and grandmothers empowered, as well as have the chance at higher education. The impact we are having is very real and life changing!

 

Tell me more about the Didi Connection – what an inspiring program!

In India, women affectionately call each other didi, which means 'sister' in Hindi. We were inspired by the strength of community between the Anchal artisans, and wanted to find a way to expand that connection to a global sisterhood. The Didi Connection is a collection of scarves and totes that support education workshops, health care, scholarship funding for children, and vocational training through their sales. Being a part of the Didi Connection means you are raising your fellow sister out of the sex trade.

 

What’s the one thing you’d want people to walk away knowing about Anchal, your products, and your mission?

One of the coolest things about an Anchal product is that each piece is not only made from vintage saris, but it's also 100% one-of-a-kind. Each artisan stitches their signature onto the quilts, scarves, and pillows, so you have a direct connection to the woman you are supporting with your purchase.  

And just for fun:

 

What’s one book everyone should read? One movie?

"Creative Confidence" by Tom and David Kelley

"The True Cost" – it's a documentary that really drives home the importance socially conscious design, particularly in the fashion industry.

 

If you weren’t living in Louisville, Kentucky, where would you live?

I love to travel so I dream of sharing my time in several of my favorite cities with my favorite people in Louisville, New York, Providence, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. 

 

Is there anyone out there who’s work you really admire?

Ultimately the Anchal women in India inspire me the most. The abuse and pain they have endured is devastating. And yet these brave women show up to the workshop space with joyful smiles and willingness to learn. It is truly incredible what they have overcome, I don't know how they do it!

 

Thank you, Colleen! Follow Anchal Project here, here, here, and here, shop their products here and keep in mind that the latest collection launches October 5th. While you're at it, check out my interview with the lovely gals of Anchal here!


Behind The Scenes With Kristen Saksa Juen

I've said it once and I'll say it a million times more, but my favorite thing about being a "blogger" (worst word) is the people I've head the pleasure of meeting through my blog. I've made "internet friends" and formed relationships, and overall have had an incredibly positive experience by sharing bits of my life online. (If you're looking for more on the positivity that can exist in the online community, check this out.)

So.

Speaking of people that I'm glad to have met via the online world, enter Kristen Saksa Juen – a ceramic artist and designer based out of the always-awesome Austin. Kristen's work came across my radar during a Good Reads Favorite Finds in May. She reached out afterwards, and today we're going Behind The Scenes and taking a closer look at her beautiful work:

Tell me about your background. How did you get to be a ceramicist and a small business owner?

I have always had an urge to be creative. I’m also naturally drawn to the beauty of nature and the outdoors. These passions combined when I started creating in clay – I simply loved it and couldn’t stop. When I moved to Austin, the transition felt like a good time too take the leap into my own small business.

 

Forgive my ignorance, but what's the difference between ceramics and pottery? 

Good question! My understanding is that ceramics and pottery are both the products of clay hardened by high temperature. Pottery is a type of ceramics, referring primarily to the vessels and utilitarian items you typically see made from clay (such as bowls and cups). Ceramics is a somewhat broader term, which also includes industrial ceramic building materials. I suppose I refer to my wares as ceramics because of this slightly more encompassing feel, since I create both functional and sculptural hand built wares.

Behind The Scenes With Kristen Saksa Juen | Second Floor Flat

You live in Austin – an amazingly creative city that’s grown a good amount over the last few years. Are you from Austin originally? If not, what brought you there and how has the city’s growth affected you creatively (if at all)?

I am not from Austin originally, but I feel fortunate to have been brought here by way of my husband’s career. My move to Austin marked my decision to officially start my own small business, so Austin definitely had a big impact! Meeting like-minded friendly creatives here in Austin has definitely encouraged and supported me toward my creative goals.

 

What’s your favorite thing about being a designer and business owner? Least favorite thing? 

My favorite thing AND my least favorite thing about being a small business owner is being in charge of myself. I am a hard working gal and it feels so great to put all my energy toward my own goals, which I love. Although, sometimes it also hard to be the only one making all the decisions. So far I love it, I just have to remember to also ask for help when I need it.

What’s something about your job that people would be surprised to hear? 

Some of the random tools I keep at my studio include a rice paddle, a fork, and a toothbrush.

 

Your work is often inspired by nature and a love for the outdoors. Can you tell us a little more about your inspirations, and the role they play in your work? 

I really began to find my creative voice when I was working in Hawaii as a natural resource management field technician. When I headed out to field sites, I used to dream up ideas for ceramics forms.  The more I embraced organic inspired forms back in my studio, the more expressive and exciting my work became.

Behind The Scenes With Kristen Saksa Juen | Second Floor Flat

I love your use color – it feels very subtle and intentional. Can you talk about color in your work, and tell us about where and how you come up with your patterns and color choices? 

I love embracing the clay itself as a color choice. I work with both light and dark clay, often using the raw color in my designs. I also experiment regularly when it comes to selecting glaze colors. I test new combinations paying close attention to subtle variations to generate new ideas.

 

If you could collaborate with any person or brand, who would it be?

I love colorful, earthy, plant inspired designs that make a space feel both unique and at home. I would love to collaborate further on these ideas with Justina Blakeney and her inspiring design sense.

 

What’s the one thing you’d want people to walk away knowing about your pieces?

When people see and hold my wares, I hope they can sense my sincere joy and passion for creating handmade ceramics.

Behind The Scenes With Kristen Saksa Juen | Second Floor Flat

Just for fun:

What’s one book everyone should read? One movie?

How about a podcast instead? It’s great to listen to while creating. I love to stay curious about our world with a few episodes of RadioLab. [Editor's Note: Me too! More podcast ideas here.]

 

If you weren’t living in Austin, where would you live?

Colorado or Hawaii

 

Who do you think is killing it right now?

Lindsey of Foxwares Ceramics brings so much positive energy and enthusiasm to her beautiful work. No question, she is killing it. 

 

Thank you, Kristen! Learn more about Kristen's work here, shop her pieces here, and follow her here, here, and here.


Behind The Scenes With Dear Kate

Y'all know how I feel about Dear Kate – the badass, pro-girl, pro-transparency, pro-realness, pro-let's talk about subjects-that-are-taboo-and-shouldn't-be – line of undies and performance wear.

Since I was luckily enough to partner with Dear Kate earlier this year, I've quite literally lived in their yoga pants and undies. No joke. I wear these pants every single day, wear their underwear as often as it's clean, and at some point plan to revamp my entire undie drawer so that it's filled with Dear Kate – preferably with pieces from their new Jackie collection

I was super pumped to have the opportunity to ask Dear Kate's founder, Julie Sygiel, a few questions about her life as a business owner, badass person, feminist, fellow-Southern gal, and straight-up chemical engineer. 

Without further ado, let's go Behind The Scenes with Julie of Dear Kate: 

Hi Julie! Tell me a little about your background. What inspired you to start Dear Kate?

JULIE SYGIEL: I grew up in a small town in Kentucky and would say that I’ve always had an interest in fashion and feminism. I read every page of my Teen Vogue subscription and in high school I designed/sewed my prom dress (it involved 17 yards of lavender tulle). I was also a Girl Scout for 12 years and sold over 10,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. I wasn’t sure how to translate my interests to a job so when I started working on Dear Kate, the notion that I could create and then market a product that is fashionable, plus makes women's lives easier, was a dream come true. It checked all of my boxes in a way that I didn't know was possible and just felt "right." Once I started working on the business idea, it was addictive and became all I thought about. 

The business plan for Dear Kate was hatched in my college entrepreneurship class. At first it was a fun, unique idea (especially given that our class was 80% male), and then the longer we worked on it, the more committed I became to actually creating the underwear. Once I got started, it snowballed into collaborating with textile development teams at fabric manufacturers to create our patent-pending fabric, Underlux. Instead of having to totally outsource product development, my science background allowed me to be the one guiding everything from the fabric to the designs to the construction and fit of the product, which is something that I continue to be very involved in today as we develop new products. 

 

What’s your favorite thing about being a designer and a small business owner? Least favorite thing?

JS: Favorite thing: The freedom and street cred that you get for diving in and going out on your own.

Least Favorite thing: The addiction to work. Sometimes I’m on a date and I’m thinking to myself, “I’d rather be working right now.” Obvs work ethic is super important when you have a business, however, along the lines of “work hard, play hard,” I often wish I were better at playing hard.

What’s something about your job that people would be surprised to hear?

JS: I try on all of our new designs personally in the office bathroom and since we work in a co-working space, almost every woman here has seen me in my underwear.

 

Dear Kate is much more than a line of performance wear. It’s more like a movement, thanks to your implied messaging about body acceptance and female empowerment. (Side note – I love that you’re not preachy about it, and more just DO it rather than talk about doing it.) Why was that important to you, and what have you found the response to be?

JS: It’s not something we always did because so many people told me to pick my battles. They said that we were already pushing back on the conventional function of underwear, so we should be as vanilla as possible with our models and photos. At one point we had a conversation in the office about how cool it would be to do a photoshoot depicting women in action, doing things rather than simply looking hot for the camera, and it stuck. We asked one of our friends to model in a limited edition sport set and then asked a trapeze artist to model while flying through the air. The rest was history as we found these lookbooks to be more personally aspirational and kept doing it. Soon after that we added plus sizes (which we call queen sizes because that’s the language used in garment patterns—kind of cool right?). When we were looking for our queen models, many of my larger friends told me that they were tired of seeing size 10 models trying to represent 1X and above. A couple models came in for a casting and I was amazed at how comfortable they were posing for test shots in underwear. That night I remember going home and thinking to myself when I looked in the mirror, “Wait, would I look better if I had more curves?” That was the first time that I acknowledged that the media does have an effect on my self-image perception. It’s not that curves aren’t beautiful — it’s that I hadn’t seen them exposed, ever, and after that, I felt a responsibility to be a company that showcases all different body shapes.

You mostly avoid using professional models in your product and lookbook shots. Can you talk a little about that decision?

JS: We strive to create aspirational and inspirational content at Dear Kate. As soon as we started showing women doing things in photos, it became crystal clear to me that those images were more aspirational than regular lingerie ads. I’d personally rather be known for what I do than for how I look, and I think while that doesn’t resonate with all women, it’s a perspective that is shared among many ambitious movers and shakers who we consider our potential customers. Rather than asking models to pretend to do things in shoots, we realized it made more sense to invite women with expertise to model for us. Featuring someone who is known for something other than modeling changed the role of the woman in the shoot—rather than being in the lookbook simply to make our products look good, she was part of the story.

 

Walk us through the process of a Dear Kate piece – from idea to finished piece.

JS: I usually keep an eye out for designs that catch my eye — everything from lingerie to art prints that have good color pairing. I’ll sketch a few different design ideas and share them with Heidi, our Operations Director. She then gives me feedback on what’s feasible to produce and sometimes if there are a few options, we’ll do a poll on Instagram to get feedback on styles or colors. Then Heidi makes the pattern, the factory we work with in NYC makes a sample, and Isabella, our Marketing and Creative Coordinator, and I try it on.  We then give fit feedback, Heidi revises the pattern, the factory makes another sample, and we try on. Hopefully there are only two fittings, however, we have done more than seven cycles in some cases to make sure it’s right. The pattern then goes to the graders who make it for every size in the collection, and then the patterns all go back to the factory where they can be used for production on the final pieces.

You’re originally from Kentucky! Is there anything you miss about the South?

JS: I love the South and was actually just in Savannah, Georgia this weekend! In addition to the obvious friends and family that are in Kentucky, I miss the food. There are a few places here where I can get biscuits and gravy, but they just aren’t the same as the ones at home.

 

What’s the one thing you want people to walk away knowing about Dear Kate?

JS: That we’re pushing the boundaries of society’s view on women.

And just for fun:

What’s one book everyone should read? One movie?

JS: "The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P." by Adelle Waldman. It’s a brilliant piece of fiction that depicts a relationship from the male point of view.

"An Education". I love the take away from this movie — that things can get really messy and still turn out ok.

 

If you weren’t living in New York, where would you live?

JS: I’m not sure, probably another large city like LA, San Fran, or London (I’d get to hang out with you!). (Editor's Note: Yes please!)

 

What woman or brand/line do you think is killing it right now?

JS: Erin Bagwell is the Director of the documentary, Dream, Girl. I love how she has moved forward incredibly fast from the idea to fundraising to filming. She’s telling stories of female entrepreneurs that need to be heard on a large scale so young women and girls have public role models and see women succeeding in the business world. Disclaimer: I’m interviewed in the film :)

 

Isn't she amazing? Thank you, Julie!

Shop Dear Kate here, and follow the brand here, here, here, and here

 


Behind The Scenes With Proud Mary

For me, Proud Mary is just one of those brands.

One of those brands that you come across and say yes, that's exactly it. That's exactly how it's supposed to be. The colors are right, the product is right, the styling is right. It's all exactly, exactly right. 

I've said this before about a handful of other brands and I'll probably say it again, but that's how I felt when I first came across Proud Mary – that if I was going to start a line, this is what I would want it to look like.

Southern gal Harper Poe of Charleston, South Carolina is behind Proud Mary – a line of homeware, clothing, and accessories that flawlessly combines modern design with products like pillows, shoes, and bags – all of which are made using traditional methods of production. 

Harper, sweet gal that she is, agreed to take me Behind The Scenes where she explained the process of building Proud Mary – a line that values ethical production methods as much as it values design.

Let's go.

You began working with artisans in the developing world in 2008. What made you want to start Proud Mary?

 HARPER POE: I went to school to study Construction Management because I wanted to build houses (Editors Note: Um, awesome) and textile design is something I stumbled into because it could facilitate me working in the developing world. 

After traveling, I realized that sourcing traditional craft (which is my thing) that focused on textiles would be the perfect way to fuse my passions for travel, international development, and design. Eventually, Proud Mary was born.

What does Proud Mary's message of "pride not pity" mean to you?

HP: I want Proud Mary to be a source of sustainable income for our artisan partners. Giving hand outs and accepting subpar work doesn’t do anyone any good. Demanding quality goods, on time, in exchange for fair wages and access to greater markets creates sustainable income for our partners.

A Malian artisan that creates dresses, crochet pillows, and bags for Proud Mary. Harper describes her as a "master indigo dyer." 

I imagine your work with Proud Mary involves periods of travel, followed by periods of time at home. What’s your favorite aspect of your job?

HP: The balance of travel to being home in Charleston works really well for me. I get antsy if I’m not moving around, so as soon as I feel that way, it’s usually time to go again. The travel, discovering new cultures, and meeting people is the best part of the job. I love the relationships I’ve formed with our artisan partners and colleagues along the way.

Let's talk Charleston. Have you always lived there?

HP: Yes – I'm very lucky to live in this charming little city! I moved here 6.5 years ago after stints in New York, Los Angeles, Colorado, France, and Costa Rica. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, though, so the South is in my blood.

 

You’ve recently began working with some big retail partners – specficially Urban Outfitters and Madewell. Landing a partnership like this would be a dream for many young brands. Do you have any inspiring words for upcoming designers?

HP: Have a unique and authentic voice. Stick to what you do and do it well.

 

What's one thing you want people to walk away knowing about Proud Mary?

HP: That we collaborate with global artisans to create our lifestyle products and provide impact through job creation.

And just for fun...

What's one book everyone should read?

HP: The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

 

If you weren't living in Charleston, where would you live?

HP: Mexico City

 

Thanks to Harper for sharing her beautiful line and story, and for you for going Behind The Scenes!

Shop Proud Mary here, and follow the brand here and here


Behind The Scenes With California Tailor SS15

California Tailor makes me feel dirty. Like, physically unclean.

This is a line of button downs started by a Londoner in Los Angeles who somehow found a way to marry crisp, tailored London with sunny, bright Los Angeles. 

It's beautiful, well made, lovely. And it all just feels so clean in the best way. I mean that as the highest compliment – I don't know about you guys, but I forever feel disheveled and covered in lint. All of my coffee mugs seem to have that little drip running down the side. So when I find a brand, like California Tailor, that's lint free and exudes freshness? That's my be-all and end-all.

In honor of last night's launch of the Spring 2015 collection, owner Gill McLean takes us Behind The Scenes for a look at the new collection, her sunny California studio – and offers a very special, very big discount below: 

Behind The Scenes: California Tailor | Second Floor Flat

California Tailor's spring collection is its second ever. After all, the line just launched last year – a decision inspired by Gill's move from the UK to the wild west that is California:

"When I moved things just started to fall into place. I knew if I could take everything I was experiencing here in Los Angeles and combine it with everything I love about London, I could create something special."

And she did.

The woven shirts and dresses are classic, American, California in their easy-ness. But they do have that air of sophistication. Something that says polished, clean, tailored – London.

"California Tailor brings the traditions of London tailoring then adds some California sunshine to create the perfect laid-back button down."

Not to overstate, but California Tailor shirts really are special in their fit and fabrication. This was part of Gill's master plan when she launched the brand, and she spent some real time sourcing the fabrics and focusing on fit:

"I tracked down small fabric mills around the world that have the right machinery that allow us to achieve the loose weaves and special finishes that make California Tailor fabrics unique. Many of the machines are only found in certain parts of the world making the fabric unique to that region and a million miles from the mass manufactured fabrics used by so many high street brands.

I knew that fit was so important. I wanted to make sure I created that tailor inspired, laid-back fit that would set us apart and create the foundation of California Tailor. It took over a year and many, many prototypes to finally create the perfect fit for Shirt No. 1.

This was the starting point. Quality, craftsmanship, and the perfect fit."

On the design process:

"The amazing thing with making clothes is how many people are involved in the process. Everyone has to have a clear understanding of what you want and what the vision is to ensure the process runs smoothly. The starting point is so important because your initial inspiration and vision will run through the whole process. Once the designs are complete a whole army of pattern cutters, sample makers, sample coordinators, wash specialists, and fabric specialists make it all come together."

On her love for London and LA: 

"London and Los Angeles have to be my two favorite cities. They are so different but when you bring whatʼs great about each city together, it works. I feel so lucky to have both cities in my life and I constantly draw inspiration from my London and Los Angeles experiences and adventures. "

Just for fun:

Perfect days in both LA and London?

"In Los Angeles I might wake up early and hit the historic flower market followed by a cup of coffee at Blacktop, in the arts district. Then, I'd hit a few stores in West Hollywood – I love Nickey Kehoe on Beverly Boulevard. Then, finish up with a late lunch at Little Flower bakery, which is just at the end of my street!

In London I would have to start with a walk around Liberty. This is absolutely my favorite store in the world. Lunch at Polpetto then maybe a stroll through Soho down to Somerset House." 

 

What's one book everyone should read?

"I love the Jane and Serge book that came out this year. It's a collection of photos taken by Jane's brother during the sixties and seventies picturing the everyday life of Jane Birkin, Serge Gainsbourg, and their family. I'm a huge Jane fan (who isn't!) and would have just loved to be around during that time.

Music is also a huge part of my life. Iʼm a huge fan of BANKS and I've just discovered the London-based singer and songwriter Rosie Lowe. You have to check out her Soundcloud page." 

THE GOOD STUFF:

Gill has offered Second Floor Flat followers and fan girls 

40% off all California Tailor when you use code LONDONCALLING

through  Friday, Feb. 20th at 11:59 PM London time (figure out what time that is for you here)

 

Follow California Tailor here, here, here, here

 

Product was gifted from California Tailor in exchange for this post – and for some Cadbury. However California Tailor is a business I truly believe in and plan to support on my own time, thankyouverymuch.

Thank you for supporting the businesses that support Second Floor Flat. Have questions? Don't like this? Let me know!