They don't get much cooler than Titania Inglis. The fashion designer from Brooklyn shares with us her journey as an artist and the creation of her line, how she's changing the fashion industry one beautiful sustainable item at a time and what she does to unwind.
Do you remember your first week in New York?
That’s so long ago. Basically when we first moved to New York I was coming from the Design Academy Eindhoven in Holland and Howard [my boyfriend] had just finished studying advertising and was living in New York.
Is that a really good school?
It is as far as conceptual design schools go. At that point it was one of the top two in the world. Eindhoven turned out to be a super boring industrial town but with an awesome school. While I was there I was going back and forth to New York.
When I first moved to New York, the thing that really struck me was how nice and friendly people were. I would get off the subway at Carroll Gardens hauling my giant suitcase and everyone would stop and ask if I need directions or help with my suitcase.
Why does everyone say that New Yorkers are such jerks?
I think people are super friendly here. How long were you in Holland for?
I was there for two years, it was a bachelor’s program but I opted not to complete the whole thing because I realized as I went along that I wanted to design clothing and wearable things so a conceptual school wasn’t practical at all.
So what did you do?
I came back here and I went to FIT for a couple of years and interned like crazy for a whole lot of different designers. The biggest name would probably be threeASFOUR. They’re pretty culty but have become better and better known since I was there. They did stuff for Bjork’s videos and this crazy light up jellyfish outfit. Their work is really cool, inventive and conceptual. They came out of the New York club scene in the early naughties. There were a bunch of designers in that club scene who were making really crazy clothes but they really had the most longevity and have stayed innovative.
So how did you come to this stage of having your own clothing line?
Several of the internships I did while attending FIT turned into freelance work. One was fashion show production and the other was trend forecasting, which was kind of fun.
I was working backstage at shows for people like Alex Wang and Phillip Lim. It was great to have that experience of how fashion week works behind the scenes.
Was it as crazy as people say?
The most insane to me was the set design. People would create these massive structures and then just throw them away after. It was mind blowing.
Taking it back a step. I think the assumptions in Holland are a bit different to the assumptions when you’re in design school here. The Dutch system is really set up to encourage people to start their own company. For me it was sort of a given that sooner or later I would start something.
I think that my own assumption was that I would assist somebody for a while before I start my own line. But what ended up happening was that I finished university around 2008, which was not an awesome time find work. I had a lot of interviews with companies I wanted to work for that liked me but ultimately they chose someone with more experience. Yet I wasn’t able to get experience because nobody would hire me.
That’s when I took the trend forecasting gig and after about a year and a half my boss was like “I know you’re a designer, I’d be interested to see what you’d do with your own line. Why don’t you put together a business plan for me?” I was like “that’s awesome! Sure!”
So I did all the research and resourcing of where I’d get my fabrics, where I’d get things sewn, my patterns graded ... I put together a presentation for her and her partner and they were like “yes, this looks great! But this isn’t a good time for us to invest.” I could understand that but at the same time I’d done all the preparation for it.
At that point I was like “you know what? I’m just going to do it.” I had figured out what I wanted to do so I just made it happen.
How did you make it happen?
The first season I had one intern from Parsons and she was great, she was into natural dying and was a solid pattern maker. Between the two of we created a small collection, 12 pieces. We did everything ourselves.
I thought I knew how fashion worked but I really didn’t. I put together a tiny presentation at a happening new bar in Chinatown and invited a bunch of people and that was the start of it.
I think luckily for me things didn’t take hold right away because I thought I knew what I was doing but realistically if I had gotten a big order from Barneys or something I would have had no idea how to put together a large production run.
I thought I was going to be an instant superstar but in the end it turned out to be for the best.
Was there a moment when it all came together?
The biggest turning point was when I won the Ecco Domani Award in 2012. Ecco Domani is an Italian table wine company but they sponsor an award that has actually been a good predictor of who is the next designer that will be CFDA nominated.
They pick a certain number of young designers and each designer gets a $25,000 grant towards a fashion week show. That was huge for me. All of a sudden I was thrust into this new level of operating.
The funny thing about interning and freelancing is the amount of stuff that people hold back from you. You think you know everything but of course there are a lot of levels of operation that you’re never exposed to.
Did you always have these goals for yourself? Do you feel like you’re achieving them?
Ultimately the goal of my line was always to demonstrate that you could create a product in a thoughtful and ethical way, in way that would have a positive impact on everybody involved, yet also have it be beautiful and have it be high fashion. Ultimately I want it to be desirable, which is the whole point of fashion.
The fashion industry as a whole needs to move towards more sustainable and thoughtful practices. I’ve never had the goal to be a huge company or a household name. I just want to create a product that people want and feel good about.
How do you describe your style?
It’s funny because it’s definitely not what I thought it was going to be when I was starting out. It always changes but the essence of it is the same … lush minimalism and the idea of simple pleasures.
The way people think about organic food, for example, is that it’s a superior product, but with organic clothing people tend to think of it as an inferior product.
That idea can be turned around. It’s minimalism both in aesthetic and lifestyle.
Where are all your clothes made?
The sewing is done in New York. The unlined leather pieces I mostly sew myself but otherwise I work with a mom and pop factory in the garment district, a super sweet couple from Mexico.
Do you work around the clock having your own business?
I’m trying to avoid that. Obviously working around the clock is not sustainable and not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life but at the same time when you own your own business you’re the one responsible for everything.
I buy fabric from Italy and Japan so I get emails at all hours of the night. For some reason I have a big demographic in Australia so I’ll get orders or questions from down there. I am working on hiring enough assistance that I feel comfortable that everything is happening and I don’t have to wake up at 4am to check my emails.
What do you do when you’re not working?
When am I not working? [Laughs] Sometimes I’ll just hop on my bike and ride as far as I can. I can’t check my phone or my email while I’m riding and there’s a certain freedom in it.
This is probably a stupid question, but do you wear all your own clothing?
That’s not a stupid question. I do my best to wear my clothes as much as possible. The nice thing about wearing my clothes is "wear testing" it. When you are small and essentially a one-person company like me it’s really difficult to test every single fabric and make sure your fit and construction are perfect. So wear testing is the best thing you can do because you can tell right away if you walk out the door and all of a sudden your boobs are showing.
Back to the drawing board! Do you have any favorite stores in the city?
My favorite stockist in New York is No.6 in Nolita, it was started by two stylists. They are well known for this in-house line of clogs they’ve had for a really long time and have been carrying my stuff for a few seasons now.
How far ahead are you working? What season are you working on?
The fashion calendar is opposite. Having said that I have some fashion friends who have moved outside the fashion calendar but I haven’t managed to do that yet.
We saw a panel talk the other night hosted by Garance Doré and they were talking about how it’s changing and some people are not doing the traditional calendar.
The calendar is a mess. Right now the Resort ‘16 market is about to start so I’m working on that. After that it will be spring/summer ’16 with shows in September.
Basically all the market and fashion weeks are designed to give designers lead-time to produce stuff after stockists place wholesale orders. The timing isn’t great for consumption by the general public. As far as delivery dates for when things arrive in stores, that is determined by the stores who are pushing dates earlier and earlier so they can be the first ones to have things.
Now everything is so opposite that fall/winter arrives in July/August at which point spring/summer is already on sale even though it’s the season you want to wear it.
The system is really broken. That’s one thing I wish I had the power to change.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve ever made?
Not really because I like to think that it’s because I always feel like I could have done better, I always want to improve. There are a few favorites. I like the reindeer jacket. There’s a long coat with a hood that I really like, definitely the dress with the spaghetti straps that I’m wearing in the photos.
How long have you been in Williamsburg?
Five years in this apartment. It’s rent stabilized.
The dream! Do you have any favorite spots in the area?
The best restaurant right around here would definitely be Yuji Ramen. It’s really innovative and has amazing sashimi and delicious sake for $3 a glass. You can’t go wrong.
The Blind Barber around the corner has happy hour until 8pm. You can put your name down at Yuji then go grab and drink and they’ll come over and tell you when you’re table is ready.
Another neighborhood favorite is Bistro Petite. It is a Korean chef doing French nouveau American cuisine. It’s the most delicious thing ever but it’s absolutely tiny. Their kimchi is so good. Some of the best I’ve ever had.
One of my friends started a subscription kimchi place down in Park Slope. It’s called TBD Kimchi. There’s a different one every month. You can order and she’ll deliver to you in Brooklyn or you can just pick it up from her every month.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
Take your challenges and make them into your advantages.
What’s one of your favorite places to take people from out of town?
The East River ferry.
What does New York mean to you?
The excitement of an ever-changing creative community. There’s so much good energy and so many people doing amazing things. You have the chance to meet these people and share the creative process.
Learn more and shop online at titaniainglis.com