Tuesday, June 29th, 2010...12:30 pm

Interview with Bright Young Things designer Eliza Starbuck

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After helping announce the launch of Bright Young Things earlier this month, I got to catch up with designer Eliza Starbuck for a quick email interview about how her fashion label is doing things its own way.

FLP: I read on your blog that at the time you met Sheena of The Uniform Project, you were in the process of walking away from the fashion industry altogether, separating yourself from the mass consumer culture it fuels. But, you’ve now found a way to do something within the industry that can change that culture. (Amen!) Have you seen any other examples that buck the consumer-culture trend, or at least come close?

Eliza: There’s a lot of great designers out there that are working from the production end to change the industry, which is encouraging to see. But it’s rare to find a brand that is presenting the shift from the consumer’s point of view in an accessible and appealing way. I think that dothegreenthing.com is probably the best example of it. They take the idea of glossy advertising and turn it on its head with comical commentary to discourage consumer behavior. I find them very inspiring.

Bright Young Things NY sewing room

FLP: Even with all the interest sparked by The Uniform Project, I know you were hesitant to take on commercial production for your dress design. So how did you go about it? Tell us about where and how the dress is produced, and how you know it’s done ethically.

Eliza: I looked into producing it with ethical factories in China, India, and finally New York. But I really couldn’t go to see the factories overseas so there was no comfort level there. And it seemed wasteful to ship things around the world when there’s a perfectly good garment industry in New York. So I decided to keep it here for a number of reasons. First of all, I can visit the factory as often as I like — and I can do it unannounced, which helps to assure me that they’re following all the regulatory standards. When I do visit, it’s always a clean, well-lit environment with big windows and large posters on the front door stating the worker’s rights.

Also, developing one item at a time — and not sampling hundreds of items for a collection — is another way I avoid waste during the development process. Because I tend to know exactly what I want, I don’t generally need to try sampling one thing in 15 colors or 10 different fabrics before I find the right thing, which is how many industry giants go about development. And of course producing the items when the customers order them really helps to avoid overproduction.

Bring Young Things wear-a-thon

FLP: Since you and Bright Young Things are releasing a “line” of only one garment, how do you plan to keep it fresh for shoppers and media who are used to “new, new, new”?

Eliza: The dress will evolve in an organic manner. I like to listen to the customers to hear what they like and what they wish was different. I also plan on making new editions with variations on the dress in updated fabrics and silhouettes as I collaborate with different organizations and stores. Over time I plan on adding other core basics that are as versatile as the dress. But the original dress will always be present in one form or other, because I don’t believe that well-designed and well-made clothes really go out of style. If they’re season-less then they can continue to live in your closet year round. (P.S. I have one word for you, WEARATHON : )))

FLP: What is artistically inspiring you lately? In fashion, music, art, film, etc.

Eliza: People inspire me! Just walking down the streets of New York I see so many different people, each with their own subtle quirks and details that are so uniquely their own that I just have to beam at them, thank them for being themselves, and tell them how amazing they are. I love fashion, film, art, music — but I see cultural production as the expression of an individual designer or artist, not as something to copy.

If you’re asking more where I get my personal style influence, I’d have to say I look to legends, fairy-tales, and epic historical tales, and then I head to the junk store to see if I can make my own variation. Whatever unusual item I’m looking for (a Robin Hood-style hooded cape, to name a recent example) usually magically appears if I search for it long enough. Has anyone seen any chainmail or armored shoulder pads lately? If I can’t find it, eventually I’ll just make it myself.


Order your Bright Young Things Premiere Edition dress here. Each dress is made-to-order, putting demand before supply, so expect 6-8 weeks’ delivery time. Read more background about Eliza and the dress here.

Dress front-and-back image via Ecouterre. Factory image, wear-a-thon screenshot and subway snaps from the Bright Young Things site.

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