Designer Althea Simons was inspired by the effortless confidence and versatility of a properly constructed white button-down shirt. The (grammatically correct) shirts – called The Verb, The Preposition, The Dangling Modifier, The Conjunction, and The Split Infinitive – are all made by hand in New York City’s Garment District.
Grammar’s first collection offers five beautifully tailored silhouettes made from 100% sustainable organic cotton poplin ethically produced in India. Grammar’s direct to consumer business model reduces costs, so the luxury-level quality of the pieces is attainable.
Ergonomically engineered to be slimming and comfortable at the same time, Grammar shirts are a true foundational
wardrobe staple and Simons’ goal is to create a minimalist work uniform consisting of structural, stylish separates made
with sustainable materials.
We caught up with the designer to learn more about the brand and why the lure of the perfect white button down.
Why the white shirt? What seems so perfect or legitimate about it that you would want to launch a business based on it?
I want to make clothes that people want, that they’re already looking for. Everyone I know has a white shirt in their closet, but do they love it? Usually not. It’s something you need, but it’s not easy to find a really good one. I personally love white shirts, and so many powerful and iconic women have been photographed in white shirts throughout the years (I have a thread on my Instagram #whiteshirtmoments). How you feel is everything – it changes how you approach your day, and by extension your life. I wanted the business to be hyper-focused at the beginning, and starting with white shirts just made perfect sense to me.
Do you think your time with Yeohlee Teng and Issey Miyake influenced the work you are doing today?
Absolutely. I believe that all our experiences shape what we do and who we are, but certainly those two were especially influential for me. Working with Yeohlee was an intensive on how to run a fashion business that produces in New York. It was a tight team and I was her right-hand woman for most of the time I was there, so I got to see and take part in so much of the business – from design to production, from logistics to casting and producing a fashion show. I love how true she is to her vision and ethos; working there was an incredible learning experience. At IMU (Issey Miyake USA), I learned so much about retail – customer service, merchandising, inventory management, etc – but I also learned about garment construction. When the store was slow I would turn the garments inside out and try to figure out how they were made. We had the most amazing seamstress, Elsa, at the store who would teach me things. Issey Miyake – the man and the brand – has always been incredibly innovative with construction and textiles. Working there opened my eyes to all that a garment can be.
Talk about the wellness piece of Grammar and how you see clothing having the ability to make one life a more conscious life.
There is so much opportunity for growth in how we as a society think about our clothes. I have noticed in researching and working on Grammar that so many people have no idea where clothes come from or how they are made. People ask me all the time what “organic cotton” means, and I explain that it’s a plant and is subjected to chemicals and pesticides just like our food. People ask me how clothes are made, and I explain that they are made by people, by hand, not by machines and robots (which is what they assume). Many of these are people who are very conscious about their choices when it comes to food, home goods, or travel, but “fashion” is put into another category for whatever reason. I am inviting people to bring clothing into the wellness conversation.
Clothing is a big part of life – it touches on every level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from basic needs (warmth) to self actualization. Not only that, but it’s an enormous industry with huge implications for human health and the environment. There are people, brands, and organizations out there (like the BF+DA!) making a big difference, and there is so much room for innovation and improvement.
The fashion industry inundates us with choices, do you think having the skills to create a more quality, pared down wardrobe takes time to develop?
I think having the ability to filter is crucial in today’s world – not just for fashion but for everything. You have to pick and choose what to care about, which takes discipline and is a constant struggle. Knowing yourself is the hardest and best practice in life, and it’s so rewarding in the moments when it happens. Surrounding yourself with people, places, and things that remind you of who you are helps you stay true to yourself. It definitely takes time to figure out who, where, and what that is, but, again, so worth it!
To learn more about how brands are taking on sustainable strategies, check out the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator’s Sustainable Fashion Roadmap tool.