Austin Ethical Fashion Guide


Photos by Katie Jameson for The Style Line

Story by Rachel Schwartzmann in collaboration with Ava Darnell – Revisit Ava, Stephanie and Shonagh’s stories – Photos by Katie Jameson for The Style Line

“When we see something broken, we should try to fix

it,” Ava Darnell, ethical fashion designer remarked in our interview below, “I made the commitment from then on to only buy from ethical and sustainable companies and help encourage, educate, and equip others to do the same. I know my impact is small, but it’s a start.” Speaking of which, you may remember our Neighborhood Story featuring Ava at the start of this year, where she kindly gave us a tour of her studio space along with a few spots around town that inspire her work and life. With a focus on sustainability, small business and personal style we’ve amassed even more incredible stories like Ava’s (with huge thanks to our fabulous Austin contributor Katie Jameson) that really hone in on what it’s like for creative people to live in this emerging city. So with that same collaborative spirit and nearly a year later we were thrilled to reconnect with Ava who proposed bringing our community of Austin interviewees a little closer together.

Today we’re thrilled to unveil an Austin Ethical Fashion Guide featuring Ava along with our interviewees Stephanie Beard of esby and Shonagh Speirs of Being Apparel. Together they styled one another in looks featuring pieces from their respective brands against a new (but according to them an essential) Austin backdrop, Fresa’s, which features exclusive moments captured by Katie Jameson for The Style Line. Enjoy our initial stories with each of these talented makers, shop the pieces featured in this story and discover their thoughts on ethical fashion’s growing prominence in Austin and around the world.

My name is Ava Darnell

and I am the founder of Slumlove Sweater Company – an ethical clothing line based out of Austin, Texas. It’s so hard to separate myself from my profession, because it’s so much more than just a job to me. My career involves a community very dear to my heart and is a combination of two of my biggest passions – fashion and Africa! Aside from Slumlove, I love traveling and eating! Austin has SUCH a great food scene, it seems like a new restaurant is opening every week. And the backdrop for our shoot, Fresa’s, is one of my new favorites! Since it’s less than a mile from my house, my husband and I find ourselves here at least twice a week. They have the most amazing grilled vegetables, it’s pretty much all I order. As long as I’m with people I love, I could be anywhere, doing just about anything, and be insanely happy. Our community of friends, in Austin and all over the world, is one of the things I treasure most. Whether we’re just chilling in someone’s backyard or out at a fun event, being surrounded by dear friends is my favorite thing.

We touched on this in our initial story together but why is it important to you to champion the ethical design community in Austin and abroad?

Ironically, I didn’t develop a passion for ethical fashion until after I was working in the industry. As I was starting Slumlove and trying to navigate who we were as a company and how to communicate that to our customers, I knew one of Slumlove’s biggest differentiators was the fact that everything was ethically made in Kenya. I began researching more about fast fashion as a way to help market Slumlove as a “different” kind of company, and through that became extremely convicted about my own shopping habits. It’s hard to ignore the terrible repercussions the fashion industry is having on the world. I love fashion. I love clothing and getting to express myself through my style, but there’s so much darkness in this industry that we, as consumers, have ignored for far too long. It was hard to find out that something I loved so much had become so tainted. But I don’t believe guilt and shame are answers to the world’s problems. When we see something broken, we should try to fix it. I made the commitment from then on to only buy from ethical and sustainable companies and help encourage, educate, and equip others to do the same. I know my impact is small, but it’s a start.

Why was it important for you to put this guide together and to lead the charge in empowering your fellow community of Austin designers?

For being such a large city, Austin’s fashion scene is rather small, mostly due to the laid-back, chill vibe of our city (which I love). Austin is an active place that lives outdoors. People wear work out gear and sneakers because it’s what fits their lifestyles. I love the authenticity of Austin and that it’s not trying to be something its not.

But with that, the “high-fashion” scene in Austin has hasn’t exploded. Everyone is willing to help out when someone needs a hand or help celebrate when something awesome happens. In addition to producing clothing for Slumlove, I also produce knitwear for a couple other ethical-fashion brands in Austin and want to see this number grow. Ultimately, my mission is to help provide a better life for our knitters living in Kenya, and the more companies I have behind me, the more good we can do. Community over competition is my motto.

“More designers are starting to emerge, and because the industry isn’t over-saturated yet, you have a chance to get to know each other.”

Stephanie Beard, Esby Apparel

Hi, I’m Stephanie.

I moved to Austin 4 years ago by way of NYC. my husband and I were just dating at the time, and living in different states, so I basically followed him here and took a risk to follow my dream of starting my own collection. I always wanted to start my own line, and Austin seemed like the perfect place to take the leap. Nick and I now live in Southeast Austin and have two old dogs – a boston terrier and a beagle mix. Our condo is across from the boardwalk and we enjoy riding our bikes to happy hour. I work a lot, and lately have been traveling for work a lot, so my husband and I have been making a point to go out for dinner and drinks to relax.

Esby’s known for it’s simple silhouettes and neutral palettes. Being that the pieces are so timeless, we’re curious to know if seasons/timing play a role in your design process?

It is important for us to focus year-round on breathable, natural fibers, so that our collections transition well throughout the seasons. In the spring/summer, heat is something we can’t ignore. We want you to have a piece of clothing that breathes and gives your body some space. Come winter, we want those same pieces to work as layers and we start offering more layer-able goodies and great outerwear pieces. We love a duster for just this reason.

What is your advice for first-time Austin visitors? 

First of all – when in Austin, eat as many tacos as possible! So start with breakfast tacos and local coffee. Seventh Flag is a great coffee spot and they carry tacodeli (so good) but Fresa’s just opened on south first, and for a made-to-order taco with a slower pace, that’s a great choice. Then you should stroll down South First (come say hi!). By lunch, if you’re already taco’ed out, Elizabeth Street is a “vietnamese boulangerie” and really cute or head over to South Congress and check out Cafe No Sé in the South Congress Hotel. It’s such a beautiful space. Then, of course, shop iconic South Congress. I love a pre-dinner drink, and new, buzzy, eberley (on south lamar) is a great spot for a classic cocktail followed by dinner.

As a designer what is your favorite element of designing for/dressing for the Fall? 

I love designing our outerwear pieces. Moving from NYC to Texas meant I had nothing in my closet appropriate for our winter. It’s as if I needed to upgrade my layers and sweaters into more appealing silhouettes, and I think our outerwear really nails that cozy meets classic vibe. I also like to think about the ways our customers are going to wear our pieces, so in the Fall that means when we make a gorgeous, comfortable piece – it’s going to get some fireside time, some thanksgiving time and some festive holiday time. It’s a busy time of year for making memories and I’m thrilled that esby gets to be a part of them.

“In the Fall we make a gorgeous, comfortable piece. It’s a busy time of year for making memories and I’m thrilled that esby gets to be a part of them.”

I am a mother, wife, sister,

daughter, friend, dreamer, optimist, artist, hippy at heart. I value the simple things in life, family, friends, nature and being outdoors. Travel and culture are also incredibly important to me as it keeps me motivated and inspired. I love Asia, Thailand in particular, the people are lovely and the culture is vibrant. I also love to explore the USA and have found that I love the desert. Integrity, kindness and respect are values that are important to me… and I strive for this in my business and personal life.

How have things been going since our initial chat and how would you say Austin has taken to the athleisure market since Being Apparel’s launch?

We are doing very well and have made significant progress in this first season. We have had great response from local and national press and our social following is growing organically.  We are selling through e-commerce and also wholesale so our market is much wider than Austin. Athleisure wear is a huge trend in general internationally with many great brands doing excellent athletic inspired collections. Being Apparel is doing something slightly different, as we are fusing activewear and contemporary womenswear, but not in an athletic sense. We are constantly having the converation about whether we want to use the term athelisurewear as it doesn’t really explain our concept and can be quite polarizing. We have opted to use “elevated athleisurewear” for the time being but I am keen to find a better definition of our niche. Season 2 is complete and we will launch this and the new version of the website in the new year.

Being Apparel really prides itself on flexibility, fashion and an active lifestyle. How do you hope to see your customers engage with these ideas in a busy season like Fall? 

Being Apparel was created due to a recognition and as a reaction to the fact that the modern women is always busy and juggling activities in her daily life all year round. We have designed our collections to be layered and to be interchangeable – a true capsule wardrobe. The base layers are comfortable and reassuring and can be worn for a range of active pursuits, the draped dresses are luxurious and flattering and are an elegant cover-up suitable for day to night. Finally our tailoring layers provide the finishing touch and elevate the look. Each piece has been designed so that it is beautiful and flexible in its own right, and will compliment our customers existing wardrobe as well.

“Diversity in terms of how we celebrate people is also fundamental to our brand.  We want to celebrate all walks of life and celebrate personal achievements and strengths, not just appearances.”


Shop The Edit:

“As always, I’m sticking to a very neutral color palette this Fall. As I’ve grown as a designer and woman, I’ve really honed in on what my true style is. Over the years, I’ve taken notice of the pieces I gravitate towards and tend to wear more regularly, and have built my wardrobe around those themes. Since I keep my colors consistent, I incorporate other elements into my clothing to provide some variety. I’m really into materials and textures this fall. Silk has been my go-to fabric for Fall pieces, like this beautiful silk dress I’m wearing from Esby Apparel! And the jacket from Being Apparel has such wonderful texture and shape, it takes the outfit in an unexpected direction. And what makes this look what it is is that every piece is ethically and sustainably made. Nothing expresses my style more than products that are making the world a better place. I love that I can show what I value through my clothing choices.” – Ava

Shop Ava’s Look: Esby Apparel Banks Kimono Dress $288, Being Apparel Kimono Sports Jacket $175

“Once the Fall air hits, and even if it’s still toasty outside, I love to layer up. I’ve been really into separates this Fall. I love a high-waisted pant – like the Alex pant I’m wearing here – and I’ve also been into slimmer tops – which is a contrast from my oversized go-to’s. The Ramona Duster is also a new favorite and will feel so cozy once it really cools off – while really pulling together an outfit. Ethical fashion is just as important to me as all things ethical. It’s about being good and giving and supporting what’s right. As a corporate designer prior to launching esby, I didn’t get that same great feeling that i do now knowing exactly where our products are produced and bringing jobs back to American manufacturing. Austin really stuck out to me as a great place to launch our brand around like-minded individuals who support and appreciate ethically made products across their lifestyle.” – Stephanie

Shop Stephanie’s Look: Esby Alex Pant $228, Esby Ramona Knit Duster $365, Slumlove Sweater Company Knit Tank $49

“So living in Austin, TX means we only really have a few days of Fall, however I can’t wait until it is cool enough to wear my Collarless Asymmetric Coat, layered over a beautiful knitted dress like the one I am wearing from Slumlove. Living in the UK most of my life, I used to get really excited for the time I could bring our my coats and boots. Cold weather dressing is the best. I guess I will just have to travel to somewhere cooler or wait until January! Diversity in terms of how we celebrate people is also fundamental to our brand. We want to celebrate all walks of life and celebrate personal achievements and strengths, not just appearances. We are just about to lauch a social media campaign about “Being” where we have worked with some fabulous local characters to tell their stories and explore what “being” means to them. We will build on this in the coming seasons.” – Shonagh

Shop Shonagh’s Look: Being Apparel Collarless Asymmetric Coat $295, Slumlove Sweater Company Knit Tank Dress $65