Photos by Amanda Coen for Ecouterre
Adrienne Antonson of State designs clothing according to her own calendar. Turned off by the fast fashion cycle, Antonson takes a thoughtful and resourceful approach to life as much as to fashion. Her line features handmade organic cotton britches, smocks and silk tops reconstructed from tops that she has collected during her travels throughout the US. Ecouterre’s Amanda Coen had the chance to catch up with Antonson in her Brooklyn studio one morning to hear about her work process and State’s latest developments.
Antonson knows what it takes to run a successful, small business- good relationships and a strong work ethic- and she carries these values with her wherever she sets up shop. The designer has lived in various locations throughout the years. She majored in Studio Art at the College of Charleston, SC and resided there for eight years while establishing Spinster, her first clothing company. She next found herself on Vashon Island, WA, where she lived and worked on an Alpaca farm and learned the art of felting. Ready to dive in and make things happen, she moved to Brooklyn and has since become deeply ingrained in the ethical fashion community. However, ties to her former residences make subtle appearances in the details of her work.
Antonson is always on the lookout for ways to repurpose materials in her path. She has found a treasure trove of fabrics at an upholstery shop on her walk to work that she transforms into beautiful, finished designs that give no hints that the fabrics were originally destined for furniture. She describes another gem she found during her travels around the country, “Driving around the rural south, I found this one fabric store- it was like it had shut its doors in the ‘50s. Everything was so cheap and there were incredible prints and they were just trying to get rid of it. No one knew this place existed. So just finding odd waste streams like that. Working sustainably, working in small batches.”
Because all her pieces are made by hand, Antonson has carefully curated an intimate, reliable team of skilled individuals to help her achieve her visions. A small team works with her in her Gowanus studio to carry out the creative and business aspects of the company. Beyond that, there are only three people who are actually involved in the production process and each works from home in a cottage industry type manner. The first is her good friend, Heather Koonse of Charleston Garment Manufactory. Koonse helps Antonson with thrifting and transforms the items she sources into State’s trademark smock dresses and silk tops. The second is a Joyce Vollmer in rural Pennsylvania who Antonson was directed to by a woman she met at an opening at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn. The third is Antonson herself. “I made a numbered diagram of how you make [the smocks and tops], how you cut them, what order I do things in, A to Z.” explains Antonson. “It’s not mind-numbing production. You’re making tiny decisions with each piece because they’re not all the same.”
By creating designs that follow a certain formula, Antonson encourages Koonse and Vollmer to play a relatively creative role when constructing the final garments. The process therefore becomes more collaborative and empowering for the seamstresses involved. Additionally, each smock dress and silk top is unique yet consistent as dictated by the given design parameters. Antonson later dyes select finished pieces using indigo and other natural dyes or adorns them with prints or hand-painted designs that she develops in collaboration with her French assistant, Marion Payen.
Antonson’s former fine arts approach to fashion has evolved slightly to emphasize simpler, yet highly creative and resourceful designs. She explains: “It’s been funny to me since I’ve made such elaborate art pieces for so long to be driven to make these everyday basics. But after years of ‘speciality’ items I found I was craving the things I wanted to wear every day. And any good label needs to address those staples. I really see State growing into a large lifestyle brand and so this first collection is really the foundation of everything that will come.”
While Antonson has created a very personal, and what some may consider, arduous work process, she strives to keep her prices reasonable. Her previous couture work was very high-end and she found it depressing that her friends couldn’t access the beautiful designs she was producing. By stepping back, re-assessing and formulizing her work process to an extent, Antonson has found a way to balance the philosophical and fiscal concerns of running a small business while creating a price point that stresses quality over quantity but remains within reach. (On average, prices range from $32-90 depending on style, dye and print treatment.)
To keep State’s prices fairly low, online sales are key. “We can sit around and all pat each other on the back about sustainable design and how great it is,” says Antonson. “But until it’s affordable… until someone like me who doesn’t shop says, ‘I can buy that.’ Because I sell online I can do that; but the minute I started thinking about wholesale, it’s a totally different game and everything shifts and I think it becomes a lot less accessible for a lot of people.”
While State is currently an online retailer, select items can be found at NuBe Green, an eco-boutique in Seattle, and at select events. Additionally, Antonson is teaming up with 12 other New York-based designers to offer an alternative to the online commerce model. Harking back to the days of dELiA*s, the crew is gearing up to offer a catalog that will feature limited edition items from designers as well as special pop-outs and graphic collector’s items. The secret- only those who receive the catalog will be able to see the online code that will give them access to a webpage where they can then place orders for the items featured in the catalog. Pre-sale orders for the catalog take place in mid-May through State’s online shop and they will miraculously arrive at your doorstep in early June 2013. Be on the lookout!