Sustainable Fashion Designer Tara St. James Shares Inspiration for Fall Collection, Green Closet and Much More

green designer tara st james

Award-winning designer, upcycling jewelry mastermind and the founder of a school and consultancy for aspiring sustainable designers are only a few of the accomplishments listed on Tara St. James’ fashion résumé. The Montreal-native shared with me her inspiration for the Fall collection, goals for partnering with Ecover’s Green Closet, and how fans and fashionistas can follow her next big move!

Talancia Pea: When did you know you wanted to become a (sustainable) fashion designer?

Tara St. James: I was quite young when I started making clothes for my Barbie dolls and designing outfits for Betty and Veronica in my Archie comics.  In high school my grandparents bought me a sewing machine and that’s when I taught myself to sew.

TP: What was the first piece you ever designed and created?

TSJ: Besides the doll clothing I made when I was little, I actually designed a collection with six looks for my high school fashion show.  I had three men’s and three women’s looks, all made in neutral tones using linen, chambray and fabrics I found around my house.  I did this with no patternmaking skills and very little sewing technique.  To this day I’m still not sure how I did it, and I wish I had pictures of the event!

TP: Congrats on Study by Tara St. James winning the 2011 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award for sustainable design. What are some of your other proudest accomplishments as a designer?

TSJ: Thank you!  I consider every day an accomplishment actually.  I’m doing something I love in an amazing city, and in the process I’m trying to reduce my impact on the world.  It’s a pretty incredible privilege that I have, and I feel grateful every day for the opportunity.

Study by Tara St. James Fall 2012 Collectionjacket from tara st. james study collection

TP: You also were one of the designers previewing a Fall 2012 collection at this year’s GreenShows at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. What inspired your use of tweed combinations and an earth-toned colored palette in your collection?

TSJ: My degree is in men’s tailoring. I’ve always had an affinity towards the intricacies of menswear, and traditional men’s fabrics.  I naturally gravitate towards them for some reason, and I like to use tweeds and cotton shirtings in my collection instead of more typical feminine fabrics.  The same can be said for my palette.  I wanted the Fall 2012 collection to be comforting and enveloping, and I feel earth and jewel tones encompass that sentiment.

TP: The collection featured versatile, convertible 100 percent wool jackets. Besides convertibility, what are some other ways women can make their wardrobes more trans-seasonal to avoid over-consumption?

TSJ: Buying non-trendy items that can be layered can make a big difference to the longevity of a woman’s wardrobe.  By layering a woman can transition lighter summery pieces into fall simply by adding a sweater or jacket, and tights.  And of course taking good care of those pieces is equally important.

TP: When and where will looks from the Fall collection be available to fans and fashionistas?

TSJ: The Fall collection will be available on my webshop as well as at the various retailers across the country that carry Study including Need Supply, Bona Drag, Ten Over Six amongst others.

What’s Next for the Designer

TP: Fashion blogs all over the web were buzzing about your jewelry made from upcycled zippers. Would you ever consider creating a jewelry line made solely from upcycled materials?

TSJ: We followed up that collection with a group of one-of-a-kind necklaces made using upcycled silk and copper pipe fittings which were also very well received. However, I think I’m going to stick to designing clothing for the time being and let others design the jewelry.  We may throw a scarf or bag into the mix every fall, but I prefer to work with softer materials.

TP: How do you think your partnership with Ecover’s Green Closet will change how people view sustainable fashion and ways of caring for their clothing?

TSJ: I hope the partnership will encourage consumers to think about the lifecycle of their garments and make purchases that can be cared for more easily or maintained the way heirloom pieces would be.

TP: Guilded, a school and educational consultancy, was created in partnership with Bahar Shahpar to centralize information and resources about the sustainable fashion business. What are some other ways we can educate future generations of designers and shoppers about sustainable fashion and the harmful effects to the environment of over-consuming

TSJ: Information only goes so far.  I’ve found consumers and designers to be more proactive about this subject when there is a creative component to the information.  A perfect example of this is The Uniform Project.  It wasn’t straightforward preaching, but it did force people to think about their wardrobes and how to avoid over-consuming.

TP: How can fans and supporters learn more about Study and your latest creations?

TSJ: Admittedly, I have been very lazy about updating my blog this year, but I am planning a full website and blog relaunch in the fall, just in time for back-to-school.  I use the blog as a form of discussion with my peers, fans and students.  It is a place I can be transparent about my process and sourcing, and I hope other designers will contribute to that transparency as well.

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