Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator (BF+DA) Production Coordinator, research fellow and s.Lab consultant Tara St James has been with the BF+DA since its start in 2014 and has been such a valuable member of the team. In addition to guiding Venture Fellow designers on their journey with sustainable textiles, fabric sourcing, production management, and waste minimization, St James has also consulted and done production for many brands outside the BF+DA.
In her next chapter post-BF+DA, St James continues that work by launching Re:Source, a platform for sustainable textile sourcing, supply chain & sustainable strategy consulting.
As a veteran of the sustainable fashion industry and founder of Study NY, St James is no stranger to maintaining a sustainable and transparent supply chain for every step of a brands’ journey. From field to cutting table, every part of a garment’s process is carefully examined and controlled to be socially and environmentally conscious.
“We want to challenge preconceived ideas of fashion and design. By educating consumers about the craft of making clothing, we hope they will begin to understand what is required of producing a well-made garment that will withstand the test of time,” says St James, adding that although she is vocal about her choices using sustainable and ethical design principles, she wants to be judged the same way all brands are – by strength of design.
Before she leaves the BF+DA, we caught up with Tara to ask a few questions about the industry and her own career.
What have you been part of in sustainable fashion that you are most proud of?
I have so many things that I’m really proud of, how much time do you have? I’ve been working on implementing sustainable initiatives for over 15 years, and I won’t lie it was lonely at the start. First, being told that sustainability was just a trend and it would go away, not having exciting fabrics to work with, being relegated to the “eco” or “green” areas in tradeshows was all very difficult. Seeing the industry grow to include more and more brands, the open-sourced character of sustainable designers has been really inspiring. I’m particularly proud of turning my back on the fashion calendar with my brand Study NY in 2013 when very few people were talking about the waste created by the fashion cycle. I’m also really proud of the mentorship program I was involved in at the BF+DA, having the privilege to work with and watch some really exciting brands launch, grow and become successful. Just to name a few: Kirrin Finch, Fair Harbor, The Great Fantastic and Vincetta. As well as brands who were informally mentored through our production facility by working with our talented staff of patternmakers and sample makers: Combine de Filles, Alex Mill, Matthieu M. And lastly I’m really proud of the material library I built at the BF+DA, I believe it became a valuable resource to the sustainable design community in NYC and to the small textile suppliers who are not able to access that community independently (more on that below).
Where are the current gaps in the fashion industry and exciting initiatives you see filling them in?
The fashion industry is very good at picking up buzz words and creating trends, and circularity as a word, a concept and a solution has certainly not evaded that. However it is one of the only sustainability strategies that forces the industry to take a holistic look at its supply chain and make large scale changes. Brands like Eileen Fisher and For Days as well as textile recycling companies such as Evrnu and WornAgain are leading the charge when it comes to innovation and creating a pipeline for the rest of the industry and I’m excited to see these initiatives grow and scale.
In a perfect world the fashion industry would...
…have higher standards (such as the UN’s SDGs) and global systems in place to hold companies accountable to those standards. But we don’t live in a perfect world and therefore need to recognize where we are, where we need to be, and how to get there, and ideally hold ourselves and one another accountable in the meantime.
What’s next for you after the BF+DA?
I’m going to be continuing the work I’ve been doing in new textile research and sustainable sourcing through a platform I recently called Re:Source, which is an extension of the materials library in the Sustainability Lab at the BF+DA. It will be moving to its own location in NYC’s Garment District in July. In addition to consulting for independent brands and fashion start-ups on sustainability strategy, circular design thinking, responsible fabric sourcing, I will also be moving the monthly Textile Tuesday series and starting a workshop to help designers learn how to incorporate sustainability in a tangible way.