Samantha Pleet’s clothes are wearable works of art that play with vintage shapes and temporal prints to make magical garments. The sustainable designer sources high quality fabrics from small fair-trade factories in India, designs from her solar-panelled studio in Brooklyn and outsources production via New York’s tiny garment district. When she’s not in the city Samantha escapes to her house upstate in the Hudson Valley with her young daughter, the inspiration behind a new children’s wear line, Dear Valentine. We catch up with the iconic designer about staying small and where she finds her inspiration:
Why is sustainability so important to you?
We have got to take care of our planet. Being a small business we have the opportunity to be in control of every stage from sourcing our materials from small family mills in India to making our patterns and samples in NYC and doing all the shipping ourselves. Our studio runs on solar panels we’ve installed on our roof. It’s important for us to do what we can to make beautiful clothes conscious.
What does the production process look like for your garments?
Every season I gather my inspirations and then sketch out all my ideas to create a common theme for the collection. Then I whip up muslins and some patterns here at my studio in NYC. We order our custom fabrics from our mills in India where they have the most amazing techniques for making fabrics that have been passed down through the generations. We then source all the buttons and trims locally as well and put it all together into garments. We shoot our lookbook and email it out to buyers and when we get our orders in we start making the garments that will end up in your closets.
What quantities do you produce in?
We are lucky to work with small factories that have low minimums, so our runs can be from 12 pieces to 100 pieces, but the average is about 40 pieces per style.
Your designs are very playful with a fairytale quality. What inspires you?
Since my debut collection in 2006 I have always been inspired by clothes that can bring out the magic in our lives. That inspire us to look beyond the mundane and every day and help us to seek more mystery and adventure. Clothes that are strong but still feminine and designed for creative women. I am always experimenting with new ideas, and ways to show the inspirations like photo shoots and films. There are common themes that I play with in my work as well, like if I could imagine an outfit that could be worn in a Wes Anderson movie then it can be part of the collection.
Despite using vintage shapes and artistic temporal prints, there is something fierce and utterly modern about your clothes. Who is the Samantha Pleet woman?
She is an artist, an entrepreneur, someone who does not let anyone tell her that something cannot be done. She is strong, passionate, and creative, ready to inspire all those around her. I know so many inspiring women who I think of when I’m designing.
How do you weave your views on feminism into your clothes?
I make women a central part of my designs. Take the Queen Elizabeth dress for example. She was a great inspiration for fall because she embodies all that I want to express in my clothing. She supported the arts and tried to make her world a magical place, unlike our current precedent.
I love the way you style your clothes, the models, hair styling, shoes etc. - is so refreshingly original and unique. Do you have a team or is that all part of your vision for each look?
I do all my own styling and produce all the photoshoots myself. I love to collaborate with photographers and I have a hair and makeup team that I love to work with as well as models that I personally find inspiring.
Has becoming a mother had an influence on your work?
Of course, it’s been the most amazing experience. It also makes me understand to focus on what is really important. I have become a lot more efficient with my time and live and work from my home in Brooklyn.
Can you share any favourite sustainable spots in New York?
There are so many restaurants using farm-to-table ingredients in New York City and also upstate New York. We just bought a house about 2.5 hours upstate in the Hudson Valley and it's surrounded by amazing farms and adorable towns. Everyone really should check out Hudson town and go vintage shopping for clothes and furniture. While you’re there, go to a restaurant called Lil Deb's Oasis. If you are going to eat meat it should be from Kinderhook Farm, and the most amazing produce market The Berry Farm. There is an amazing art scene up there too with wonderful museums and galleries like Art Omi
You founded Samantha Pleet in 2007. What changes have you seen to the Sustainable Fashion scene since starting out?
It has become much for mainstream and has not been separated as much as it was when I first started. It used to be if you were a sustainable designer it was always different and labelled as such. Now there are so many designers that it has come to be expected especially by customers.
What’s in the pipeline for Samantha Pleet?
We are introducing shoes this season for SS18 and have just launched a new children’s wear line you can check out called Dear Valentine at dearvalentine.nyc. I’m very excited to see what happens with these two new endeavours.
Interview by Daisy Allsup for Antibad