Our team is incredible. It is like a wonderful soup, full of talented, passionate individuals with different flavors and perspectives. We all share some notes, there’s a common thread among us, but there is also a real richness and depth to this group. I have been craving a way to connect you all more deeply with the entire team that brings Elizabeth Suzann to life - the people whose hands cut and sew your clothing, the ones that answer your questions, the ones that tell our story and cultivate this thriving digital community.
Our "Meet the Team" series will highlight the ES squad, one member at a time. We’ll give you a glimpse into the personalities and minds here and also paint a more detailed picture of how we do what we do. It is my hope that, through this feature, you’ll find a deeper connection with the makers of the clothing you love and also learn something new about how we operate through the unique lens of our crew.
First up in our "Meet the Team” series is Camille, one of our fantastic seamstresses. She is also a gifted writer, always ready with an encouraging word when needed, and loves to work in her bare feet.
I hope ya’ll enjoy getting to know us a bit better. Take it away, Camille!
Can you describe your role at Elizabeth Suzann?
I am a production seamstress, but being a seamstress at ES means something different than it does in the overall world of manufacturing. Liz has coined the term, "enlightened manufacturing," and that's exactly what it is - I think of my coworkers and myself more so as artisans than as manufacturers. We have complete ownership over every garment we make from start to finish, and we can pick which garments, fabrics, and colors that we want to work with on any given day.
Currently, because we have a specific number of garments that we need to sew as a team for the day, we have chosen to write that number in large lettering on a white board, and, as each of us finishes an item, we mark the number down together. It makes me feel like my team's accomplishments are also my own, and, when I complete a garment, I feel like I've lifted some weight off of all of our shoulders.
What draws you to clothing? Is there something in particular that drew you to clothing at Elizabeth Suzann?
What draws me to clothing is such a huge question. I've been sketching (if you can call childhood doodles sketching) since I was four years old. One year, I actually had a teacher that noticed my clothing sketches, gave me a little school folder, called it a portfolio, and explained that there was a title for what I was doing - fashion designer. That title became a part of me instantly; we were married for life. From there, I would bully my little sister into dressing rooms to make her try on outfit combinations and cut up all of my clothing (which my mom was NOT happy about).
All in all, I think, over the years, many things have drawn me to clothing, but I've found that the big underlying theme is that clothing is a visible story about the kind of people we are and, while some may consider that shallow, I think it's thrilling. I love stories. It's part of why I love to write and to get to know people. It's why I love to design. I feel like my clothes over the years tell stories about where I was in life, how I was feeling about myself, and what I wanted to project to the world. For a long time, it was loud and colorful, but, for the past couple of years, it has felt more quiet. When I design collections, I'm thinking about the story of the woman I'm designing for, and I love thinking of what she's like and why she would want to wear what I'm creating.
I was drawn to the clothing at ES in particular because of its story (surprise, surprise!). It was evident that Liz was doing something different from the start. The senior collection I designed while in school was loud and crazy and was largely inspired by Miley Cyrus and the youth I experienced in London, England while studying abroad. So, it may seem weird that I would turn around and work for a designer who is so functional, minimal and utilitarian, but the clothing was so overwhelmingly smart and honest. It resonated with me because it is clothing that I can picture anyone and everyone that I loved wearing - including myself. No matter how colorful I'm dressing or what style I'm expressing, I always like to feel comfortable, and ES clothes represent that feeling in a way that feels approachable to anyone.
Why did you choose this role and what about your job do you enjoy the most or find the most fulfilling?
While wrapping up my senior year of design school, I was working for a major plus size retailer. One of my responsibilities when I first started was to open up the samples that were sent to my department, hang them up, and get them ready for fittings that I would later sit in on and take fit notes for. "Getting them ready" was a process that entailed everything from cutting and pinning the garments to taking photos of them to then sending feedback to overseas manufacturers. After being in school, bringing my designs to fruition from the start, it felt odd to be so disconnected from the making of the clothing itself. Not only that, but because we cut into the garments, we weren't able to sell them at sample sales, so those garments ultimately ended up in the trash.
I was really proud to be working in plus size; it meant a lot to me, but it also broke my heart more than I thought it would. Liz's sustainability mission, diversity campaign efforts, and her earnest approach to business coupled with the fact that she was a smaller business where I would have room to grow and expand was so exciting to me. I had so many instructors in school, aside from my construction and tailoring teachers, who would talk about how they stopped sewing and even sketching almost immediately after graduation and entering the industry, and I didn't want to be one to lose that. Making things with my hands has been my sanity for my entire life, so it felt crucial to keep that alive after graduation and is now what I find most fulfilling about my role here at ES.
What does your typical day look like, and do you have any routines or rituals you find important?
As silly as it sounds, taking my shoes off before I start working is my biggest and most important ritual. The minute my shoes are kicked off, I know that I'm ready to work. This is a ritual that takes me all the way back to my first internship with a small couture bridal studio called Ghinda. My boss there, Jen, was always bubbly and alive yet calm all at the same time. It was a bright blue studio where there were always Christmas lights plugged in and all of us would sew and cut fabric and pattern with our shoes off. Jen was famous for wearing long maxi skirts and a huge bun on top of her head. My first day in the studio at ES, I instinctually kicked my shoes off before I started sewing at the machine, and now I'm known for it around here. Being able to do that again after working for a corporation felt sort of like coming home in a weird way. Now, I only put my shoes on to go to the bathroom or head to the break room for lunch. I like having this little piece of Jen with me and something about having my feet on the cool floor makes me feel more awake - maybe that's why I'm not big on coffee.
When do you feel most successful or proud of your work?
I feel most successful and proud of my work when I am actively thinking of the woman it's going to. I try really, really hard to not get caught up in the technicalities or comparison that can come with manufacturing clothing, and I feel really lucky that, while of course the numbers matter because we are a business, that's not what we're encouraged to put above everything else. Even when the day is hard and/or long, I try to think of the person who is going to get this garment. I need her. I didn't know how much I needed her until I started working here. I need her because she is the reason I get to do this every single day. I need her because she believes in something so strongly that she's willing to pay more for less quantity, and she's willing to wait patiently for it, so it needs to be as beautiful as I can make it, and I need her to feel my gratitude sewn in the seams. She believes in something I thought I could only dream about, and I love her for that.
What do you struggle with the most in your work, and how do you combat or overcome it?
Comparison. That is this industry. You have to try really hard to only see your own personal strengths and weaknesses. Some people have a natural hand with fabric. They move swiftly, the seams seem to always be clean and crisp and perfect. I compare it in a lot of ways to math. Some people just get math, and it's completely natural to them while others have to really grind and study in order to be good at it. I have to grind, but I think the way I combat that is through being humble. I'm always willing to hear a better technique and, if I've made a mistake, the nice thing about seams is that you can always take them out. Fabric is pretty forgiving that way, so I try to remember to forgive myself the same way.
Is there anything most people get wrong about your job, or is there something that might surprise customers to learn about your job?
I think most people would never know how lit up and on fire we are. I think it's possible you think "seamstress" and picture a little old woman or maybe you even see the pictures online and think that we look so peaceful - and sometimes it is quiet in the studio - but, really, we are bursting at the seams (pun intended) at all times! We're excited to contribute. We're collaborating constantly, and we're in a race until the finish line. This team is so incredibly alive and hungry to figure out the best way to make things the best way for our customer.
What is one thing you want others to know about your work here, or Elizabeth Suzann in general?
More than anything, I think I want our customers to know how much Liz means it. I think they do. I think what makes our customers different from others is the fact that they're invested in who Liz is as a person too. They see her face, and I want them to know that they're making a dream a reality for her and for all of us. I don't even like calling them our customers because sometimes I feel like they're our friends. We know their Instagram handles and pictures. We have relationships with them. I just want them to know that, without them, Liz wouldn't be doing all of this. They mean everything to all of us.
You are passionate about providing equal options of clothing to the Plus Size industry. Can you talk a bit about “Plus Size” in general? Do you feel like the title is necessary and/or perceived correctly? What do you think this niche in the industry needs most? What is Elizabeth Suzann doing to address this need?
WHEW! What a loaded question! In my opinion, we will always have a word for plus size, and that word will work until it doesn't anymore. It's a comfortable way of saying curvy, curvy is a comfortable way of saying overweight, and overweight is a comfortable way of saying fat. I think over the past year especially, I've gotten more comfortable with the word "fat." If I call myself "fat," people will rush to correct me, "No! You're not fat!" Well, yes - I am. Am I okay with it? No, not always, not most of the time, but it's as sure as my eyes are brown. I think if the term "plus size" is helpful to women that resonate with that terminology, then yes, we do need it. It just doesn't really help me much personally.
I think what we really need is sizes and a variety of them everywhere possible. I think this "niche" in the industry needs to not be niche. The average woman in America is a size 14. Something I always see in hateful comments online when looking at plus size content is "we shouldn't support this, it's not good for her health," and I think that isn't what our real concern is - it's a beauty thing. Designers are avoiding designing for plus size women because it's a learning curve, and because it may seem unappealing. "Fashion isn't supposed to be for fat girls" - that's what the industry is saying and has been saying for decades, and it's just barely waking up. Brands are concerned that if the clothing they design for their thin, fashion forward customers can be worn on plus size women and girls, then they lose their appeal.
I believe that, for better or worse, this is my body. It is the vessel that is carrying me through this world, and it is the vessel that I may or may not carry my children in. What I think plus size women need is empathy, and a lot of it. My body may not be the healthiest of bodies, but while I'm on a path towards loving my body and accepting it as the vessel carrying me through life, while I find the strength to make whatever choices about how I wish to change it, and while I'm preparing myself to confront that battle head on, I'm asking this industry to make fashion accessible to me. Give me the resources to enter dressing rooms without breaking down into tears. Stop making fashion an industry that is set up to reject me from the start.
As for what Elizabeth Suzann is doing to address this need, we're getting there, and we have a long way to go if we decide to fully approach the plus size segment of the market, but I think we have what it takes to do something really good for that size of the industry. I feel really proud when my image ends up in team shoots, and I'm so thrilled anytime any of our customers send me a message on Instagram to let me know that they placed an order because they saw a picture of me and realized they could wear the clothes. Even plus size models aren't always representing larger sizes, and I want it to be clear that bodies at any size can be beautiful. If you look up "plus size sustainable fashion," it's a virtual desert land out there. I hope that changes over the next few years. I wish that it wasn't trendy to promote body diversity right now, and I really wish that wasn't the reason changes are happening, but that doesn't mean I'm not grateful that they are.
We love reading your captions on Instagram. They are filled with passion and knowledge. In general, you seem to love to write. What does writing bring to you—emotionally and existentially?
Writing and fashion have a lot in common. With both, you are creating from your voice, but the person who digests or consumes what you create has the power to bring their own meaning or style to the table. Both are about something internal being made external. I'm naturally vulnerable. I almost can't help myself. When I was a kid, I would go sit on my neighbors porches and ask them about their lives. I was so weird - I would be catching lightening bugs with a friend one minute and then sitting on her porch asking her mom very revealing questions about her life the next.
Art of any kind is so expressive. It's like tapping into a vein. Writing is more fluid to me than fashion. It's like what I said before about math - with fashion, I have to grind and practice, but, with writing, I don't have to try as hard. It's like a huge release for me, and it always has been emotionally. It's the closest anyone will ever get to understanding what's going on in my head, and that feels like some miracle to me. In the end, the two most simple but complex things I'm most thankful for are color and words. You can do so much with both.
On that note, you’ve recently started a personal blog. Tell us more about this. Do you have a specific end goal in mind, or is this a personal project to keep your creative juices flowing?
I did! I started a blog and podcast this week called The Creative Space. There is no end goal in mind at all, and that's exactly what's so exciting about it. It's just for me. The blog holds interviews with creative people of all breeds in their creative spaces - whether that be their homes, studios, or workspaces - about their creative head space. I originally started the blog because I felt like I was missing having creative conversations the way I did while in school, but what I have realized is that, whenever I talk to my friends or coworkers outside of work, I just really love the dialogue. I hope to talk on the subject of being a creative and dealing with things like dating, settling down, moving to a new city, starting a business, finance, plagiarism, being a millennial woman, being a millennial man, changing career paths - all kinds of subjects. I love the conversations I've had about those things. They're real and important, and it feels good to put some of my energy into that.
You studied in London for three months. Why London? How did your three months there help shape the woman you are today?
I initially had a choice between London and Italy and, honestly, I picked London because I had always felt drawn to it. Those three months completely changed my life. It was the first time I had left home for that long (my college was twenty minutes from my parents house, so, although I left the nest and moved out, I didn't fly far), and it was the first time I had to really count on myself 100%. It was scary and exciting and the best time of my life. I wish there were a way to express the feeling in a way that did it justice. I just felt completely free and more myself than I ever had before. Imagine if, for three months straight, you had the best day of your life - because that's exactly what it was like. London was a place where, after a long period of depression and a lack of trust in myself, I was forced into a state of being constantly stimulated and challenged by beauty and by navigating a challenging city. I had no choice but to trust myself, and, in doing that, I felt more beautiful and worthy than ever before.
Who is one person you look up to in our industry? What is one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from him or her?
Man, what a tough question! I thought long and hard about this one and came to the conclusion that there really isn't any one person I could put my finger on. I admire a lot of designers, but they also aren't the people I really look up to. I mostly look up to the people who I interact with on a daily basis. My parents taught me that: no matter what cards the world deals you, play them out, make the most of them, work hard, and never take a back seat in life.
My first boss, Jen, taught me to be humble. She was never too big to listen to a new idea or try a different approach. If we wanted to design a dress, we could design a dress. If we wanted to direct a shoot, we had to put it together. She gave us the freedom to explore and we grew tremendously because of it.
My friend in design school, Katie, taught me that: sustainability in fashion was incredibly important and that any little step you could possibly take toward being kinder to the planet is enough. She showed me that sustainability could be fun.
My teacher in school, Irina, taught me that: discipline is as essential as freedom in creativity, and that natural dyes are magic.
Now that I am here at ES, the people I look up to are surrounding me, sitting at their sewing machines every single day. They teach me about resilience, what a miracle it is to be a woman, and how to be strong, sharp and clever in ways I never expected. And then there's Liz, of course. Liz has taught me that every single day you earn it, and that earning it can be hard work, but mostly it can be one hell of an adventure.
Last but not least, what is your favorite ES garment and why?
I love the Harper Tunic - you just can't beat that big pocket.