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Studio Visit: How Miranda Bennett and Feliz Are Empowering Austin’s Design Community

STORY BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN – SHOP MIRANDA BENNETT STUDIODISCOVER  FELIZ – PHOTOS BY MIKAELA HAMILTON FOR THE STYLE LINE

Over the years, we’ve spent quite a bit of time in Austin

and have fallen in love with the city’s commitment to collaboration, supporting small businesses, and fostering the (rapidly growing) design community. Today’s story truly embodies this idea, as it goes to the heart of what it means to empower a community. Enter ethical designer Miranda Bennett and the ladies behind Feliz – the anticipated bi-annual sale featuring all things emerging and independent fashion.

The one-day sale recently completed its fifth year and took the city by storm this past weekend at Austin’s celebrated venue, Palm Door. The event itself featured a collection of works from some of the industry’s most promising artists, designers, and makers. In addition to shopping, guests also had the opportunity participate in a few community-centric activations including a pre-market holiday party and studio tour with a participating designer – case in point, today’s feature, where the Feliz team kindly invited us over to Miranda’s studio experience the magic firsthand.

Speaking more to the above, we joined the Feliz team at Miranda’s airy studio to learn a bit more about her process and her involvement with the market. As she mentioned in our interview below, “Feliz was where I relaunched my line when I moved back to my hometown of Austin after spending twelve years living and working in NYC. It is also where I met the first layer of my friends from the Austin design world – to say that is a meaningful event for me is putting it lightly!” While there, we also got to hear from the Feliz organizers themselves who kindly shared more on the evolution of the sale, their thoughts on Austin’s collective creative community, and their advice for the next generation of designers.

So, without giving too much away, read on for our full conversation with Miranda and the Feliz team below – and enjoy beautiful images from our time together captured exclusively by Mikaela Hamilton for The Style Line.

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“I think markets like Feliz create a place of discovery for customers who are seeking out a more impactful shopping experience and provide a place of community building for everyone involved.”

– MIRANDA BENNETT

Hi! My name is Miranda.

I am the owner and creative director of Miranda Bennett Studio, a line of plant dyed clothing sewn in the USA in partnership with recent and long-term refugees to Austin, Texas. The MBS design ethos is based on thoughtful simplicity.

Outside of my work, I enjoy a quiet life with my boyfriend and our two pups, William and Blue Jean. Our community of friends run deep through our lives and the city we call home, so remaining connected is a value that we both share, and informs how we spend our weekends. Weeknights are held pretty sacredly, I like to spend them recovering from the work day, cooking dinner, walking the dogs, planning for the day/week/month ahead and, if I’m on a good streak, going to a yoga or pilates class.

Tell us more about your relationship to design and what it’s been like to build a brand in a city like Austin. How do you think markets like FELIZ shed light on or foster new talent?

Feliz was where I relaunched my line when I moved back to my hometown of Austin after spending twelve years living and working in NYC. It is also where I met the first layer of my friends from the Austin design world – to say that is a meaningful event for me is putting it lightly! I think markets like Feliz create a place of discovery for customers who are seeking out a more impactful shopping experience and provide a place of community building for everyone involved.
In terms of my relationship to design, I have always been a very aesthetically sensitive person, aware of the composition and balance of my surrounding, wanting beautiful objects around me, but it took me a long time to connect the dots about that being a skill. Initially, that materialized with the hands-on aspect of conceiving, draping and sewing my clothing but it has since spread to so many new aspects: interiors, packaging design, visual content, art direction. As the needs of my brand have grown, so has the range of my design.

What is one question you wish people asked you more often?

Why “Studio” is included in the name of my company. When I launched this iteration of my brand, I felt compelled in a very real way to hold process close, to maintain it in my day to day experience of working.
That is why we dye in-house, why we use natural dyes, why we cut our apparel at the studio rather than a production facility, why we process our garments and ship them directly from the studio, why we have production partners in the same city that we can visit weekly. The constant contact creates a beautiful friction that warms my creative brain, that keeps me engaged and sparks new concepts.
Our Zero Waste Initiative was born from seeing first hand the amount of remnant fabrics left behind after our apparel was cut. We just had a design overhaul of all of our packaging materials because after seeing them day in and day out, I felt we could be doing better. Accidents in our natural dye operation become studies for future formulas. Team input is happening in surround sound.

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you hope Miranda Bennett as a brand plays a role in this?

I think creativity is something that is present in every field, every issue, every person.
Creativity is not just the possession of artists or designers, it’s for teachers creating lesson plans, the non-profit writing grant proposals, for individuals reaching across social and political divides, finding the language to express their experience and point of view, for the mom of four using her resourcefulness to make of the moment Halloween costumes or the dad of one composing dinner from what’s laying around the pantry.
I hope that as a brand, on a person-to-person level, Miranda Bennett Studio can use creativity to simplify the lives of the women wearing our clothing. I have always wanted to create versatile clothing that could enhance a woman’s daily experience, by giving her something that she could feel unconditionally beautiful and confident in, while also knowing that the planet and the individuals behind it were not exploited in the process of its creation.
I hope that as a brand on a societal level, Miranda Bennett Studio can continue to creatively address every aspect of our supply chain to achieve the maximum benefit for those we work with –  from the cultivation of our natural dye stuff, to who we choose to partner within the production process, to the individuals who pack and ship our clothing.

How would you advise the next generation of designers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love? 

Be prepared to follow the path as it forms in front of you. Things do not always play out exactly as you think that they will when you begin, and that’s okay. When something becomes, it exists outside of the vacuum of our inner selves, and takes on a life of its own — so be open, take feedback, note what is rather than what you think should be.

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“The event is meant to be a platform that provides makers to sell their pieces directly to clients and for Austinites to connect with creative local designers. Our hope is that it’s a fun event that brings the Austin community together.”

– SARAH MURPHY, ERIN CORRIGAN, AND JENNY MULDER, CO-ORGANIZERS OF FELIZ

We are Sarah Murphy,

Erin Corrigan, and Jenny Mulder, the co-organizers of FELIZ.

Give us a refresher on the inception of FELIZ and why it has become a staple of Austin’s independent design community. How did you connect with Miranda? 

Feliz was first conceptualized five years ago by two designer friends, Natalie Davis and Abby Powell, in an effort to open up the creative community in Austin. Since then it has traded curatorial hands and been held at different venues. This year, we’re taking Feliz back to the origin, which was held at the Palm Door on Sabine street.
Feliz has become a staple of the community because it was one of the first design-driven pop-ups in Austin. There are many well-established designers that started selling their goods at Feliz. Miranda is a great example of that.

Walk us through the FELIZ experience and what attendees will experience throughout the weekend and the sale itself. 

The Palm Door allows Feliz to create an intimate environment without overwhelming visitors with hundreds of vendors. The event is meant to be a platform that provides makers to sell their pieces directly to clients and for Austinites to connect with creative local designers. Our hope is that it’s a fun event that brings the Austin community together.
 
We have 24 designers featured this year, some are past vendors and some are new ones. We strive to have a balanced curated selection. This year we have an interactive vendor that we’re really excited about, Mood x Moss, who does Aura photography. It’s a visual representation of your energetic field. The colors that present themselves in the polaroid, represent different experiences the subjects have had.

What is one question you wish people asked you more often?

How are you able to juggle all the projects/jobs/elements in your life?
It’s really quite a simple answer. We’ve learned how to ask for help when we need it. It’s important to acknowledge that sometimes you don’t need to do everything yourself and that you need others to make it all work.

How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you hope FELIZ plays a role in this? 

Since Feliz is only a bi-annual Austin event, we try and focus on what we can provide to our community. Austin is growing so quickly and it’s becoming harder for smaller designers to support themselves. Many designers we know were able to start their brand or store because Austin was financially affordable and provided them with the means to grow their business.
Our intention is that Feliz continues to encourage and support small and growing designers. It’s easy to criticize a changing community, so it’s important to be involved, stay active and contribute.

How would you advise the next generation of designers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love?

Honing in on your design aesthetic and staying true to it while continuing to explore is so instrumental in being a successful creator. We think the next generation of designers will experience different challenges than what we faced at our beginnings. Technology is changing so quickly now – If you can imagine it, no one was using Instagram as a promotional platform five/six years ago.

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“I hope that as a brand, on a person to person level, Miranda Bennett Studio can use creativity to simplify the lives of the women wearing our clothing.”

– MIRANDA BENNETT