Study – NY



“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.” – Tara St James

Montreal born, Brooklyn based Tara St James graduated with a degree in menswear tailoring from LaSalle College of fashion design in 1997.  After years of working for larger fashion brands, Tara found herself feeling frustrated with the fast fashion industry and its transient seasonal calendar.  She decided to turn to an alternative business model when she set up her fashion label Study – NY.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

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.

How would you define your out look on fashion?

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.

You are often involved in several projects besides your brand; can you share what else you’re currently involved in?

Shortly after starting Study NY, I focused on educating the next generation of designers on the importance of sustainability in design. I have extensive lecturing and teaching experience in NYC.  Some of the courses I have taught are a part of FIT‘s Sustainability Certificate including: Corporate Social Responsibility, Supply Chain, and Sustainable Materials & Eco Labels. I have also critiqued and lectured at Parsons, Pratt and FIT. Currently I am working as Production Coordinator and Research Fellow in the Sustainable Strategies Lab for Pratt’s new Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator.

More about the brand:

In 2011 Study NY was awarded the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Grant for sustainable design. In 2013 our Anti-[fashion]-Calendar was named one of Sustainia100 Solutions for Sustainability–a global initiative spearheaded by Arnold Schwarznegger to promote innovative global solutions across all industries. In 2014 Study was awarded runner up in the CFDA / Lexus Eco Fashion Challenge.

What do you love the most about your profession?

I love that I only have control over my work until it reaches the customer who will (hopefully) cherish it and take care of it.  That customers has full control over how the garment is interpreted – worn – styled, which makes the relationship interactive. So I don’t think of my customers as end users but rather part of an ongoing conversation.

One of your brand mottos is “Making Fashion without making waste” – How do you go about this?

Zero waste is a philosophy in patternmaking. 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). In addition to zero waste patternmaking I also upcycle all my scraps to a piec called the Weaving Hand sweatshirt as well as quilts and other items, which you can see on my website.

What are the pros and cons being a NYC based designer?

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 – besides the lower cost of outsourced 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!

In a fast moving fashion Industry, what do you think is the most challenging aspects we’re facing at the moment?

Besides the major issues faced by all designers, let alone sustainable designers with regards to sourcing and transparency, I believe there is a new ease to brand-building, thanks to the onslaught of social media (good and bad), pre-fabricated website templates, and all the courses and help for emerging designers. Small brands no longer have to wait for others to tell their stories and can easily manage and control their own messaging and storytelling. This is being applied by sustainable designers as a tool to create transparency with their methods.

Consumers are buying less and buying smarter. In doing so, they’re demanding a closer relationship with the designers they choose to support, and that relationship comes in the form of transparency of production, design, and development.

I predict we will see new attempts at transparency in all forms: good, bad, and ugly. Consumers will be faced with the difficult choice of what sustainability means to them, be it local, organic, recycled, etc… And designers will be responsible for providing them with not only these choices, but also with the information related to them.
















Leave a Reply