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A New York Minute with Sara Hankin

STORY BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN  – Shop TOSIA – PHOTOS BY JOANNE PIO for The Style Line

“New York is deeply ingrained in me…

I grew up here and never fail to be inspired by the freedom of spirit of the city,” says designer Sara Hankin. “Being around so much diversity and culture really reminds you of what a big world we live in and how much potential there is to reach for, which helps keep things in perspective when I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

New York City is truly the epicenter for creative talent who are looking to make their mark on a global scale. So you can imagine our excitement when we got the opportunity to spend some time with a city native and seasoned fashion designer. Enter Sara Hankin of contemporary womenswear brand Tosia. From her Flatiron atelier to running around the Garment District, Sara kindly invited us to glimpse into what life as a designer is truly like in the city that never sleeps.

During our time together, we also had a chance to chat with the budding entrepreneur on the role diversity plays in the choices NYC designers have in not only design but in production – which we discovered also meets the needs shoppers who are showing more and more interest in how and where their clothing is made. “[It is] such an important part of Tosia since we make everything in New York City,” Sara explained in our interview below. “So that is one topic I hope to see a continued growth of interest in.”

As are we.

Without giving too much away, read on to learn more about the dynamic woman at the helm of this promising brand, take a virtual tour of Sara’s truly beautiful design studio and experience her exciting New York minute. We guarantee it’s worth making time for.

“Fashion is probably the most overt and immediate way we communicate who we are to the outside world.”

*THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MAY 2015 AND REFLECTS UPDATED CHANGES TO THE INTRODUCTION AND LAYOUT

My name is Sara Hankin

and I am the founder of Tosia. I am an aesthete to the core and have always been enamored by anything of artistic value. I spend much of my free time pursuing things that inspire me, such as reading, exploring new artists, seeing interesting films, and discovering a wide range of music. I’ve been lucky to surround myself with a wonderful family and vibrant friends who energize me in many different ways. I try to do something every day for my body and my mind to balance out the natural stresses of life. I’m very lucky to be doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do professionally, and I feel quite grateful for that.

Through Tosia and your own personal involvement in the industry, how do you try to maintain a thoughtful approach to fashion?

While I come from a design background, I started Tosia from the perspective of a consumer. When I would shop for myself, I felt there was a void for designer level clothing at a contemporary price point. So much of what I was seeing felt either too basic or over-complicated by loud prints and embellishment. I was sick of seeing “elevated basics”.

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What I really wanted were elevated essentials: pieces that were subdued and yet strong, modern yet familiar, and feminine but not girly. I wanted a season-less trench coat, a perfect white shirt, and something I could feel comfortable enough wearing to a party without feeling like I was playing dress up. Since Tosia’s inception, I try to design each season with that concept in mind: What do I need in my wardrobe and what could be improved? The older I get, the less clutter I want in my own closet, so I try to design every piece as thoughtfully as possible so nothing feels superfluous.

How has your work with Tosia inspired your sartorial preferences and personal design aesthetic?

My personal aesthetic has evolved over the years, but at the core, I’ve always been attracted to clean lines and tactile fabrics. I think seeing what my customers and the women in my own life respond to has been the most influential on my personal aesthetic and perspective. Something I’m very interested in is comfort and versatility. I think it is incredibly sexy to feel effortless and comfortable in your own skin, so I try to make every piece the thing you reach for in your closet that’s going to make you feel your best.

How would you characterize the Tosia woman and community?

The Tosia woman is a broad range of characters, but in general, I’d say she lives an active, creative life. She’s intelligent, independent, and driven. She likes to experiment with fashion but is less interested in following trends than her own instincts and personal style. She has a discerning eye and an appreciation for quality, detail, and versatility. She exudes confidence and sophistication but has a subtlety about her.

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

It’s so exciting when people are interested in the line that I’m always happy to share my experiences. I do think that people are becoming more interested in how their products are made and who is making them, which is such an important part of Tosia since we make everything in New York City. So that is one topic I hope to see a continued growth of interest in.

What is your idea of a New York minute? 

It’s such a cliche, but it really is different every day! I usually do yoga or run early in the morning, then answer some emails and take care of some office work before heading out.
When I’m designing, I get pretty into it and can go for long stretches where I don’t come up for air. I have to force myself to take a walk or grab lunch. But typically I head to the factory to check on the progress of development and production, bounce around the district picking up trims or fabric, and head to my pattern- maker for fittings.
I usually take meetings early afternoon, so I will often meet for coffee in the garment district or at the Marlton Hotel, which is around the corner from my studio. One of the best things about having your own business is the ability to collaborate with talented people. I am always searching for interesting bloggers or artists to work with, which is one of my favorite things about my job.I head back to the studio around 5 or 6 to follow up on emails and tie up loose ends. There’s no better way to end the day than cooking dinner at home with my husband or going to one of my favorite local restaurants to catch up with friends.

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As a design entrepreneur, talk to us about the role New York has played in developing your perspective on growth.

New York is deeply ingrained in me. I grew up here and never fail to be inspired by the freedom of spirit of the city. It really is such a hotbed of creative, interesting, and driven people. Being around that energy has certainly influenced my perspective, and continues to motivate me to strive to create the best work possible and to be unafraid of what others will think. Being around so much diversity and culture really reminds you of what a big world we live in and how much potential there is to reach for, which helps keep things in perspective when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Why do you think it’s important to keep production local?

As a young designer, local production is necessary from a practical as well as a personal standpoint in building the brand. The ability to work with local artisans enables me to control so much of the development process, and as a result, the end quality of the garments. The relationships I’ve formed with local factories, pattern-makers, and fabric suppliers are integral to growing the business and keeping things local allows for better communication and more expedient solutions when problems arise.

Why do you think fashion is an integral part of our lives and have you learned life lessons/endured milestones whilst shopping and doing something fashion-related?

Fashion is probably the most overt and immediate way we communicate who we are to the outside world. Whether you’re “into fashion” or not, you participate by choosing the way you dress and present yourself every day. It can be seen many ways, but to me, fashion is a creative medium for self-expression. It’s a great feeling when your outside identity represents your inner identity.

How do you celebrate personal style?

By choosing what makes me feel great and trying not to stress too much about what others think. Or to put it another way: You do you. The rest are taken.

The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, what is “the style line” in your wardrobe?

Inspiration can really strike at any time if you’re open to it. I try to keep my eyes and mind open at all times, and actively search for new and interesting ideas. There’s so much out there waiting to be discovered, you just have to be hungry for it. I carry my sketchbook with me at all times just in case I get an idea on the go. Seriously, I take it to brunch with me. You never know!