This update to our Signature Collection includes a bit of a motley crew—some new styles, some returning styles, and additional sizes to existing styles. As many of you probably remember, we set out to have our entire product line available in all of our sizes—from 000 to 28—by the end of the year, and this launch gets us very close. We publicly announced our intention last July, and this feeling still rings true: to offer the same exact styles that inspire me and come from my heart to anyone that wants to wear them, regardless of size. The only puzzle piece remaining is our Cotton Canvas update, which we’ll be tackling in early 2020. (I can’t wait to share more about our cotton journey with you. It’s so good!)
But the part of this launch I’m most excited about is a series born of my long-time affinity for oversized button-downs: the Kara Snap Series. First, I’d love to share a little bit about the name. I publicly asked for help in naming this style, and one suggestion that I was drawn to was Maya. Maya Angelou’s work has touched the minds and hearts of so many, and I thought it a fitting name for such a timeless, classic, universal garment. However, our incredibly positive experience collaborating with Emi Ito to name our Asawa Tie Belt came to mind, and the idea of choosing the name of a prominent woman of color for one of our garments gave us (as a for-profit, white-owned business) pause. While we want to recognize people of color who inspire and teach us, we also don’t want to be culturally appropriative in our naming. So we reached out to Aja Barber—someone who has been an essential and powerful voice both in my own personal learning and in the slow fashion space at large—to consult on the naming of this piece. I am so touched and honored to have her input, and the resulting name couldn’t be more perfect. Here is what she shared, and where the name Kara comes from:
“Receiving an email from a brand you really appreciate and admire is always a little bit of a treat, but when Elizabeth Suzann reached out about naming a product, I was downright tickled. The brand explained to me the name they were playing with for a long button-down dress, which can be worn as a duster or a top. I immediately loved the versatility of the garment from the start. People need clothes that work with you, but when I was told the name, Maya, I wasn’t sure if it fit. While I love and appreciate Maya Angelou as much as the next black writer, I think the first thing that comes to mind is how often black women are honored by others and whiteness after we leave this realm for the next. You see it with things like Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, which is such a weird, almost gaslighting move. It’s a strange notion to put a black woman on currency when she herself within her lifetime could have been purchased and traded with that exact same currency like livestock or furniture.
I want black women honored right here, right now, when they’re around to bask in the glory.
I also thought that perhaps the jacket wasn’t right for a poet or author because it struck me more as something an artist would wear. Artists appreciate layers just like me. (If one layer gets paint or glue on it, you’re onto the next. I think this piece would actually look quite cool with random paint dots here and there). So naming this piece led me down a trail to think about black women whose art has inspired me throughout the years, and that is how I got to 'Kara.' Kara Walker’s work encapsulates so many intersections, which I, too, discuss in my own work. Sexuality, race, feminism, power. She isn’t afraid to cause you discomfort, and neither am I. She isn’t afraid to show every side of America in her work, especially the unflattering and harmful sides. And neither am I. It just feels like this article of clothing is as bold as we are in our ideas. I feel fortunate to bear witness to a time when black women are listened to and, occasionally, praised. It is truly the bare minimum of what we are owed. So when you wear this piece, I hope you feel as bold and as truthful as I feel every day. I hope you don’t shrink in your opinions and views, even if it causes the person next to you to pause. The discomfort is the point.”
Photo of visual artist Kara Walker by Ari Marcopoulos and article by Finn Blythe (March 2019) at hero-magazine.com.
I’m so appreciative of your insight and contribution, Aja. If you aren’t familiar with her work, I encourage you to explore her Instagram and Patreon. Her efforts centered around sustainable, inclusive fashion are incredibly valuable and informative, particularly as she addresses racism and white supremacy in this space head-on. As a brand owner and designer, I have learned so much from Aja, but she’s just as impactful on an individual level.
Now to dig into the development of the Kara Snap Series. Buckle up! I’ve known for some time that I wanted to incorporate the androgynous, universal silhouette into our Signature Collection at some point; however, there are a few elements of traditional button-downs that I dislike, and that I knew wouldn’t work with our manufacturing process. First, full collars. I almost always cut off the collars of my button-downs, leaving just the round collar stand. Something about the hardness of their edges, the difficulty of getting them to lay flat, the likelihood of them crumpling, and their rubbing against my cheek, leaving a streak of makeup (seriously the worst!). There isn’t much about traditional collars that I love. To me, a collarless button-down is more interesting, avant-garde, and infinitely easier to wear.
Second are the cuffs on traditional button-downs. There’s just a lot going on with the pleating, the stiffeners, the topstitching. Both traditional collars and cuffs are also pretty complex in terms of construction, requiring additional techniques and materials that we don’t use currently. Finally, the closures. If you’re familiar with my work, you know that I typically avoid buttons, zippers, and hooks. I am drawn to soft contours over the rigidity of traditional hardware, and, honestly, I really dislike the look of visible closures on clothing. Buttons and buttonholes are also notoriously difficult in production; the equipment can be expensive and unreliable. Finished garments are often damaged when the buttonholes are sewn in, and buttons and buttonholes tend to deteriorate quickly with wear. Thread comes undone in the wash, and buttonholes start to unravel with frequent use. It doesn’t sit well with me.
All that said, I still love the feeling of a button-down. Its ability to skew masculine, feminine, and everywhere in between is magical, and it is appropriate for almost any setting—worn to an evening affair or to the beach as a coverup. I appreciate the timelessness and the nostalgia; a crisp, white button-down shirt is a constant throughout history. So I worked on creating a version that would work both for my aesthetic tastes and also with our production methods. I designed a placket-front tunic almost two years ago, previews of which y’all have seen for quite some time.
The first version (the one seen on some of the folks in our Clothing Is campaign) got the silhouette right, with a simple yoke and pleat in the back and no cuffs or collar, just like I wanted, but I couldn’t figure out the closures at the front. It featured folded plackets, but the top didn’t actually open up at the front; it was simply stitched together as if it were buttoned closed. This achieved the look I was after—one of clean, minimal lines and invisible closures, while keeping the placket openings at the top and bottom of the shirt, but it didn’t quite make sense functionally.
To get both a clean finish and a functional garment (I wanted no visible hardware, buttons, or closures when the shirt was on), we experimented with all kinds of ideas. Velcro, hook and eyes, magnets—we tried everything. We spent the most time trying to make magnetic closures work. Ideally, they would be embedded inside the folded placket and truly invisible from both the outside and inside of the garment. Unfortunately, they didn’t close neatly; the placket would become askew because the magnets didn’t snap exactly into the right place, and they pulled open easily. We ultimately found a magnet with nipples that locked into place with its pair that functioned wonderfully; the magnet was attached on the inside of the placket so it remained invisible from the outside of the garment. We loved these magnets! They were sleek-looking, satisfying to click into place, and carried really positive implications for accessibility and ease of dressing.
However, as so often happens in development, when it came time to transition the concept from testing to production, it fell apart. We were inserting the magnets by hand, according to their brad-style closures that you hammer down at the back. That worked for development, but not at scale. We needed magnets that could be attached by machine. We couldn’t find anyone making such a product, and when we contacted a company that makes snap-, grommet-, and rivet-setting machines, we learned that there were no dies or parts available to attach a magnet like that anyway. But, all was not lost, because in the exact same way we were constructing the garments with the magnet closures, we could use snaps instead. And that’s where we landed: medium-duty snaps inserted on the inside of the garment so they are still invisible from the outside, easy enough to open and close to remain accessible, sturdy enough to not pull apart on accident, and attachable by machine at scale.
There were still small kinks to work out, like the finish of the neckline, an interfacing inside the placket structured enough to hold the snaps in place without affecting the hand feel of the fabric, and introducing a new machine and hardware into our manufacturing workflow. But overall, I think we’ve finally nailed the spirit of this style, and we’ve done so in a way that is hopefully sustainable, by developing both a long-lasting product and a maintainable part of our process. I appreciate the time it took to bring this piece to life, and the perspective to look back with thankfulness that we didn’t release it earlier with a sewn-shut placket. It now has the finished look I wanted, but with the functionality that I know will add so much value for the wearer.
Now that I’ve talked quite a lot about the Kara Snap Series, here’s a quick list of the other styles included in this launch. I hope you enjoy! :)
Long Sleeve Kara Snap Series - New style in Midweight Linen, all colors and sizes
Sleeveless Kara Snap Series - New style in Midweight Linen, all colors and sizes
Petra Series - Returning style, now in Silk Crepe, all colors and sizes
Polly Series - Returning style, now in Silk Crepe, all colors and sizes
Artist Series - Returning style, now in Midweight Linen, all colors and sizes
Artist Series - Returning style, now in Silk Crepe, all colors and sizes
Harper Jacket - Returning style in Midweight Linen, now in all colors and sizes
Clyde Jumpsuit - Returning style in Midweight Linen, now in all colors and sizes
Clyde Vest - Returning style in Midweight Linen, now in all colors and sizes
Parabola Series - Returning style in Silk Crepe, now in all colors and sizes
Parabola Series - Returning style in Midweight Linen, now in all colors and sizes
Photographed by Zachary Gray.
Hair & Makeup by Hayley Hayez.
Modeled by Natalie Torres, Pat Tracy, and Sam Welsch.