The New Fashion Initiative

Tara St. James: The New Fashion Questionnaire

Each month, The New Fashion Initiative invites a leading voice in the sustainable and ethical fashion revolution to answer 17 questions about themselves, both personal and professional. It’s our green and socially conscious spin on Vanity Fair‘s beloved Proust Questionnaire.  This month, our interviewee is Tara St. James, a fashion educator, owner of sustainable women’s brand Study NY and founder of Re:Source Library, a sustainable textile library and sourcing consultancy.

1. What is your favorite article of clothing?

Oh geez, that’s like asking a parent to name their favourite child!  I have a few… a brass belt that I “borrowed” from my mom, she wore it a lot in the 80s, it makes me feel like wonderwoman.  A Henrik Vibskov shirtdress I bought in Copenhagen 12 years ago that is still in perfect condition and is the first thing I pack when I travel (it doesn’t wrinkle, and always gets compliments).  And State Origami Pants which I own in 3 different colours and fabrics.  I would wear them every day if I could.

2. What is the most wonderful thing about the fashion industry right now?

Collaboration. It’s the reason I feel so strongly about supporting the sustainable design community.  I can show up to any city in the world and contact a local sustainable designer, factory, fabric mill or educator and know that they’ll open their studio doors to me in order to share resources and ideas. I believe it’s the only way the fashion industry can change, it can no longer work in isolated silos, we have to share information and collaborate in order to innovate and push forward.

3. What do you think is the most shocking thing about fashion today?

The fact that companies still operate with only profit in mind.  We have gathered all the information we need to show us what we’ve done to this planet and to people, and consumers are demanding change.  It blows my mind how many companies still have their heads buried in the sand.

4. What’s your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?

Tough one, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world for work and fun.  I love Tokyo for its ability to completely overwhelm the senses.  I spent a year backpacking around Australia during which I learned to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef (still an activity I love and have done in several countries including Canada, brrr!).  I love Ireland, both North and South, and have spent a decent amount of time there, Galway is one of my favourite places in the world. And most recently I have loved traveling to Montreal as a “tourist”, it’s where I grew up and spent half my life but I love getting to see it through other people’s eyes, it’s really an amazing place!

5. What is your favorite indulgence?

 Sleeping in late.

6. What makes you happiest?

Doing something that scares me and that feeling of accomplishment, even if I don’t do a great job at it, I have still succeeded at overcoming a fear.

Well, that and tiramisu.

Spending time in nature with animals. I especially enjoy visiting sanctuaries where rescued farm animals have a chance to live out their lives. It’s a good lesson in forgiveness to connect with an animal who has every reason not to trust human beings but has overcome that fear and is loving life. 

7. What environmental or social problem are we overlooking?

With a push towards more austerity measures, reduced consumption and thoughtful consumerism (none of which I’m opposed to) and the addition of more automated processes in manufacturing, I believe we’re overlooking what could become a devastating loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector.  Many of these in countries, like Bangladesh, are very dependent on the textile industry.  While I think there should be better jobs in fashion, I also think we need to be conscious that the people currently working in those jobs – many of whom are women in countries that are being negatively impacted by climate change and other environmental and social disasters caused in part by the fashion industry – will continue needing employment post the next industrial shift.

8. Are you more introverted or extroverted?

Definitely more introverted. I’m painfully awkward in social situations where I don’t know anyone, a little better when I know a few people in the group. I have little tiny moments of panic before speaking to large groups but I’ve learned to control them.  Reading Quiet by Susan Cain really helped me understand and embrace my introverted nature.

9. What do you do first in the morning?

I’m trying to develop a morning routine (I’m terrible at maintaining habits, at least the good kind). It includes oil pulling (suggested by my acupuncturist), shower, COFFEE, taking vitamins, answering emails, reading newsletters and listening to the BBC.

10. Best professional moment of your life thus far?

Launching Re:Source Library as an independent consultancy. It was bittersweet for me because I launched it as a result of the BF+DA closing, but the library is a project I’ve been working on since prior to joining the BF+DA, a culmination of all the work I’ve been doing in design, sourcing, production and education, and I felt very strongly that it needed to continue post closure.  So now it will!

11. What was the last outfit you wore that made you feel amazing?

This is cheating because I haven’t worn it yet but I just made my first purchase on The Real Real to celebrate the launch of Re:Source Library and because I felt I needed a powersuit (who doesn’t?). I ordered a pinstripe Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit.  Anyone need me to run a business meeting? Can’t wait to wear it!

12. Favorite movie?

Cinema Paradiso.

13. How do you recharge?

Professionally I recharge by learning about new initiatives in the fashion industry, it’s beyond motivating.
Personally usually a quiet night on my couch with whiskey and a book.

14. What three words describe you best?

Pragmatic, intentional, stoic.  That makes me sound terribly boring, doesn’t it?  I swear I’m not (usually)!

15.What makes you laugh the hardest?

My brother Jordan, he’s by far the funniest person I know (follow his Instagram account @dragbombs and you’ll see what I mean)

16. Favorite book?

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand or Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (really anything by Colm Toibin).

Read previous TNFI Questionnaires

Parsons fashion and race researcher Kim Jenkins
Designer and Women’s March organizer Tabitha St. Bernard
Sustainable couture designer Ronald van der Kemp
ReDress Hong Kong founder Christina Dean
Digital solutions expert at Avery Dennison Akari Shono

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