Story by Rachel Schwartzmann – Support Being Apparel – Photos by Katie Jameson for The Style Line
“The definition of the word “being” and the idea of
unclouded consciousness – and the importance of just living your life spoke to our ethos,” Shonagh Speirs, a seasoned fashion designer, and owner of the newly launched athleisure line Being Apparel shared in our interview below. “I feel very strongly that we all (myself included) spend far too much time in a virtual or digital world.” On the other end of things, it’s hard to argue that a dynamic industry like fashion can successfully operate in this day and age without the inclusion of technology or media – case in point, we wouldn’t be able to share this story. Though for Shonagh, it’s all about solutions and with her thoughtful approach to design we have confidence that Being Apparel is one of the sartorial solutions we’ve been waiting for.
Hailing from Glasgow, the Austin transplant says that she feels much closer to the major fashion capitals and the opportunities that come with being fully immersed in an emerging city like Austin. From what we’ve learned in our Austin-based stories so far, the city is breeding a new kind of creative entrepreneur and small business community – one that prides itself on ethics, quality craftsmanship, and values. These factors alone are huge motivators for Shongah as a designer, as she contends that Being Apparel advocates for mindfulness when it comes to both the actual design process and the lifestyle in which her customers lead. So, while Shonagh may gravitate towards adopting a sartorial “uniform” her own life and style is anything but close to being routine. We caught up with the designer at her home studio in Austin to learn more about what brought her to this city, her hopes for Being Apparel, and her thoughts on realistically implementing slow fashion practices as a new brand. Discover our full conversation below, along with exclusive snapshots of our afternoon captured by Katie Jameson for The Style Line.
*THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN APRIL 2016 AND REFLECTS UPDATED CHANGES TO THE LAYOUT
I am originally from a small village in the north
of Scotland called Findhorn and have lived in London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. I am a mom to Poppy (6 years) and am married to my husband and business partner Ewan who I met at University when I was 19. We moved to the USA in September 2015 as we wanted to achieve a better work-life balance, we wanted more time as a family to enjoy outdoor activities. I value the simple things in life… adventure, travel, meeting people, good food, spending time with family and friends and riding my bike around Austin. I am also very curious and love learning. I am never happier than when I have a new goal or project. I am also very ambitious, however, I wasn’t always so driven.
As I have got older I have realized that my happiness and success are down to me; I have the ability to make changes in my life. I value the fact that I live in a society and a country that allows me to be and to do what I want. I am lucky, not every woman has these opportunities and I would like to see more equality for women worldwide.
Talk to us about “being” it means something very different in our increasingly digital age. We love the brand’s focus on fostering slow fashion practices, but how do you hope this transcends into the actual wearer’s life?
We chose the brand name “ being” for several reasons. Firstly it is an everyday word – we wanted our clothing to be seen as an everyday staple. Also, the definition of the word “being” and the idea of unclouded consciousness and the importance of just living your life spoke to our ethos. I feel very strongly that we all (myself included) spend far too much time in a virtual or digital world.
Although I see the importance of social media, I believe we can all use it more prudently and be more present in our surroundings and interactions. Spending less time in our heads and more time enjoying other things, I believe, creates a happier and healthier existence. Basically, it is about being mindful and making the most of every experience.
From a marketing perspective, we knew we could have a lot of fun with “being” in tagline and hashtags too. Adopting slow fashion practices is important to us and I believe to our customers too. It is important for us to know where our clothes come from and that they are produced ethically and sustainably, that no-one was disadvantaged or treated unfairly at any point in the supply chain. Companies need to be far more transparent with this information so that the customers can make an informed decision. Some of the larger fast fashion chains shout about their eco-line which frustrates me… what about the other 95% of their product range?
By adopting slow fashion practices it also means we can spend more time on design and we can be confident that we are creating the best quality product with longevity and versatility. We want our customer to wear our clothing for years and not weeks.
With regard to the actual design process, why do you think Austin was the best place to build a brand like Being Apparel?
Being Apparel was actually started in Glasgow, Scotland. Most of the design and sampling was done there, and although Glasgow is a fabulous creative city, especially for music, fine art, and architecture, it is very difficult to run a fashion business there. There is not really a fashion industry in Scotland. A small but amazing textile industry still exists, with a few luxury woolen mills in the borders and Islands who supply to high-end fashion brands, however, there is no garment manufacturing and very little fashion specific support.
We moved to Austin, for many reasons, not solely the business, however, Austin was a good fit for our brand. The environment is creative, laid-back, supportive and very active. There is a huge wellness community here and entrepreneurs are supported and welcomed.
There is a can-do attitude and I have found collaborating and building a network to be very easy. Although there is not a huge fashion industry here yet, there are several interesting fashion brands coming out of Austin and I feel there is great potential here and would like to support it and see it grow. We are also well placed geographically with easy access to LA and New York which are established fashion capitals.
How do you think Austin residents will respond to Being Apparel and with this in mind, who is the BA woman? How do you hope to see her evolve?
So far the response we have had from Austin people has been overwhelmingly positive, they love our concept and want to fully support us. I guess the proof of this support will be evident when we launch on Kickstarter. Our audience, however, is intended to be international and I think our aesthetic reflects this. When designing the collection, our starting point was me and my friends… at the end of the day, we are all the Being Apparel Women.
We are busy, multi-tasking, want to look good and care about creative design and quality products. We didn’t want to stereotype the Being Apparel Women to a particular demographic, size or age. Our collection should be accessible to anyone that wants to wear it. We don’t like it when brands state things like… it’s for the 18- 35 age group.
In my opinion, that is an outdated and ageist attitude and anyone should be allowed to wear what they want. We did however consider a range of figure types when designing and have ensured that we have different silhouettes available in the collections so depending on your shape or style, you will find something you love.
We hope that our brand makes life easier for the Being Apparel woman, and offers a solution to the dressing conundrum that greets any woman with a multi-faceted life. We hope that the Being Apparel woman can live her life to the fullest in comfort and style with the confidence that she has bought wisely.
Speaking more to the above how would you characterize the Austin lifestyle and how has being a designer (or the introduction of the design/creative community) influenced its evolution?
The Austin lifestyle is great. It is relaxed, positive, supportive, and collaborative. Moving here from Scotland was a scary move and I wasn’t sure how people would react to my brand or me and I wasn’t sure how the business operated here full stop.
It is much more informal than in the UK, you are more likely to meet with someone at a coffee shop than in an office, probably due to the amazing food and drink establishments in the city. That said, I have never felt more pro-active or productive before. There is also a burgeoning fashion scene here in Austin and I have been lucky enough to collaborate with some wonderful photographers, bloggers, stylists and other designers. I think that’s what sets Austin apart from other cities, people welcome collaboration and are open to sharing. This makes for some amazing projects.
I am currently working on a collaboration with a company called Rapt. Rapt Aerial Dance is a professional aerial dance company – I love what they do, they are strong, powerful, highly skilled and beautiful. I am very excited to see the results. We also do a lot of work with Katie Jameson, a wonderful photographer here in Austin. She was one of the first creative people that I met here and it is always a pleasure to work with her. She is very professional, a perfectionist and takes beautiful images using natural light. Hopefully, all these talented people will want to stay in Austin and won’t be drawn away to New York or LA to work in fashion.
What is one thing you always find yourself discussing amongst Austin-based fellow designers?
I don’t really know that many designers, however, we have discussed how it is nice to live in an environment that is less competitive than the fashion capitals.
The one thing that I have noticed, is that it is difficult to find an affordable studio space as a fashion designer here. It would be great if there were studio spaces available for small fashion businesses. It can be lonely working on your own. A space to work and a showroom – any spaces available seem to be for fine art or other design disciplines. Co-working spaces don’t offer the right kind of space for designers. There is definitely a business opportunity for someone to open such a space here in Austin.
There seems to have been a resurgence in this particular market, why do you think that is? How is Being Apparel contributing or redefining modern style?
The way we dress in society has become far more casual. Very few people are required to or feel inclined to dress up or wear suits to go to work anymore. We love the comfort and functionality of our gym clothes, in particular, the black yoga pant. Go to your local supermarket at any time on any day of the week and you will see it is the women’s wear garment of choice.
Also several high-end designers reference sportswear in their collections regularly, blurring the lines of leisurewear, day wear and sportswear and re-enforcing this trend. Being Apparel is elevated athleisure wear – this elevation is significant. Other athleisure wear brands are designing for a very young, body conscious market, however, we identified that not everyone wanted to wear jogging bottoms and cropped tops. There was a gap in the market for well cut, classic, flattering garments that fused athleisure wear with something more unusual. By fusing the comfort and functionality of athleisure wear with our fascination with Asian dress codes, the aesthetic for Being Apparel was formed.
Do you have any unexpected sources of creative inspiration and if so, what are they?
I guess it depends on what you mean by unexpected. For me I have a thorough design process so nothing is really unexpected, however, it always starts with in-depth research. This season, I was interested in vintage swimwear, and Asian ceremonial dress codes but my inspiration changes with each new collection. I am often inspired by photography, especially fine art photography or documentary style as I love a narrative to work with.
I also like to work very instinctively when I am pattern cutting. I use a lot of drape and moulage techniques, which allows me to work three dimensionally. I like to eliminate seams as I work to simplify the construction process and improve the fluidity of the garment… I can become quite obsessed with this process and have been known to create three or four versions until it is perfect.
How do you celebrate personal style?
Personal style is not about what you wear… it is about an attitude, about how you wear it. Take four women and the same white t-shirt and each one will wear it differently. I love that! I always think the women that have the best style are the ones that haven’t tried too hard. I also believe that the woman should be the focus and not the clothing… I want to see the woman and not the dress she is wearing.
At Being Apparel we believe in celebrating women and regularly do this through our blog. We pay homage to women past and present, who have touched our lives and made a difference. We recognize these women as important role models and share their stories to help empower the next generation of amazing young women. Some of these women, for example, Tilda Swinton or Yoko Ono are known for their personal style, but the point is that they are much more than that, more than what they wear. They have made greater contributions to society and to their fields of work.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
How do you take your coffee? I have a bit of a caffeine addiction, and I am trying to reduce it, however, it keeps me focused and there are worse things in life.
The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, if what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe?
I have found over the years that there are certain garments that I wear that give me confidence. They are generally black or navy, comfortable and flattering for my figure. The fabrics are also very important for me. I like fabrics that drape and skim my body and I hate to feel trussed up or constricted. A skinny jean is my idea of hell. I also like to add a pop of color or bit of glamor at the end… a red lip, a piece of jewelry or fabulous accessory. Although I talk a lot about comfort, I do love a high heel, probably because I am only 5’3!
What role do you think creativity plays in some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you think Austin is contributing to this shift in thinking?
The fashion industry has a major role to play in many of the world’s bigger conversations. Concerning ethics and people who work in the fashion and the textiles industry – from farmers who produce the fibers to the people who make the garments, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone is paid fairly, works reasonable hours and is protected for illness/maternity leave etc. Fashion brands should be made to publish this information about these relationships so that the consumer can make an educated choice.
We have to also be honest and realistic about what garments cost to make. It isn’t right that you can buy a T-shirt for $4.99. We also need to consider the rate at which we consume everything, that includes garments. We can slow down this consumption in several ways. Avoid washing out clothing too often, Learning to care for and mend our clothing, like our grandparents used to do and to buy quality pieces that last, things that have good design and longevity. Conscious brands that use quality materials is the way forward. I am pleased to say that Austin has lots of wonderful independent boutiques that celebrate this concept. Boutiques like Byron and Blue and designers like Fortress of Inca are examples of this. I also feel very strongly about skill and craftsmanship.
We need to support people with traditional and or innovative ways of working. The person that can hand-make a shoe or the atelier that tailors the perfect jacket are highly skilled. These skills are important and form part of our cultural heritage. We need to learn and pass this on to younger generations to ensure that they continue.