I’ve been bursting at the seams to share with you my interview with S.t.e.f. (sustainable threads ethical fashion)designer Stephanie Montes. S.t.e.f. is a super creative brand of ethical womens clothing designed here in Austin, Texas. Stephanie’s personal style is apparent in all of her designs and this is one fashion line that blends style and sustainability seamlessly.

On a cold Friday afternoon, I met up with Stephanie to discuss her Spring Collection among other things. This meeting was more of an impromptu discussion and show and tell. I wasn’t sure what to expect to be completely honest. It felt like my Oprah moment, a real one on one candid interview where I could really get to know more about this talented designer. I waited outside her East Austin studio mentally preparing some discussion topics. The cold was biting and I don’t know what made me think to venture out without grabbing a coat. My thick sweater and infinity scarf could not handle the 30 degree temperature alone. Finally, I saw someone coming down the corridor of the building. It was Stephanie and she brought her adorable dog Lucy along for the trip.

I discovered S.t.e.f. last summer during a trunk show at Kiki Nass boutique. It was there that I first met Stephanie and her seamstress Helen Vu. I was impressed with her designs and even picked out a piece from her jewelry collection. Fast forward a year later and I am sitting in her studio apartment sharing tea and fashion talk.

 

With so many choices for a designer to focus on, why choose sustainable fashion? The fashion industry is already tough enough. There’s a myriad of designers and labels vying to get their clothes on our backs. Stephanie proved to be just as transparent as her amazing clothing line and gladly answered my questions while I studied her designs and learned more about what it takes to actually design (prints and all) your own fashion label.

  What inspired you to create s.t.e.f.?

Stephanie: 

S.t.e.f. as a brand was a long time in the making. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a fashion designer, but I also knew that I had a lot to learn before I could actually launch a line of my own. After working at a large corporation—my first job out of fashion design school was in design at White House / Black Market HQ, to working for an American made women’s wear line in Dallas, I learned from experience what it takes to design and produce a clothing + accessories collection. When I was finally ready to start a line, I integrated the practices that I had seen firsthand and believe in, from paying seamstresses ethical wages to utilizing remnant materials in order to eliminate waste throughout our production process.

 

Why was it important for you to make a sustainable fashion line? Why not fast fashion, isn’t it cheaper and easier?

Stephanie: 

This excerpt from The Sustainable Fashion Handbook by Sandy Black puts it well,

I believe that the rise in popularity of sustainable fashion lines has helped to influence consumer’s perspectives and buying habits. There are now more conscious consumers that are interested in learning more about the item that they are investing in.  Blogs like yours, that feature American and ethically made brands help bring light to the ever evolving and changing fashion industry. Brands with a purpose are the new standard.

It is important for me to find purpose in what I do and contribute in a positive way to an industry that has so much effect on our environment. I am always working to achieve a balance between sustainability and style.

As a designer, what other designers inspire you? Who did you look to for inspiration before creating your fashion line?

Stephanie: 

“there are designers like Vivienne Westwood who use their platform to promote sustainability and change in the fashion industry by encouraging consumers to, ‘Buy less, choose well’ and invest in their wardrobe.

Westwood put it so well, “There’s a lot to be said for people that wear the same thing over and over- its cool…you just can’t get that with cheap clothes…If we do survive, we are going to have to change our whole outlook on life, and learn to not want the things that we think we want.”

Her philosophy inspired me to design with a purpose and create a line that emphasizes quality over quantity.”

 

 If you could re-live any era in fashion 20’s, 30’s, 40’s etc. Which would you choose and why?

Stephanie:

“the first thought that came to my mind was the 1920’s and 30’s if only to live in a time where designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel coexisted, each fiercely independent women and innovative creators-although they were considered rivals.

Any time there is a dramatic shift in silhouette, it is a sign of the world around us changing. World War II led to restrictions of raw-materials along with bans on imported fabrics, which led to the development of man-made fibers. Due to rations, designers at the time had to use their imaginations in order to work with limited selections.

My hope for today’s fashion, due to our developing knowledge of the effects of the production and consumption of fashion on our environment, current or up and coming designers and brands will see the need for change. Hopefully that will be reflected in their work and practices.

Stephanie putting on some Miles Davis from her vinyl collection.

Your last collection featured some great hand painted pieces in blues, that very much reminded me of the Mediterranean. What inspired your most recent collection?

Stephanie:

Our SS17 collection was largely influenced by my travels abroad to France and Spain last year. While in Spain, I was inspired by the work of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. At one of his most well-known monuments, Park Güell, I fell in love with the ornamental decor that was a recurring theme throughout each of his works called Trencadís, a type of mosaic created from broken tile shards and waste ceramic pieces. I recalled seeing his work in photos in art history classes, but viewing them in person was an entirely different experience.

As a designer, I integrate remnant materials into my own collection in order to eliminate the waste created throughout the production process; so the Trencadís technique really stood out to me. With mosaic textures in mind, I hand-sketched several shapes on paper, then scanned/digitized them in illustrator and began to lay out the shapes in a mosaic like pattern. This turned into our newest print which can be viewed in our SS17 look-book .

 

You are going out on the town, you know you might run into some pretty influential people, the scene is young professionals 20’s and 30’s and you’ll be dining at one of the best restaurants in town and hitting some pretty hip bars as well. What do you wear? (preferably something from your line)  🙂

Stephanie:

I love this question! I’ll use any excuse to dress up and if I’m going out on the town, it is usually for a happy hour.  I would wear the printed wrap dress from our upcoming SS17 collection.  It is black and white (a color combination you can’t go wrong with) and has a belted waistline which is super flattering along with pockets. Pockets tend to make me feel powerful, confident and comfortable–all great feelings to have when networking!

What’s your favorite spot to eat in Austin, Texas and what do you order there?

Stephanie:

This is probably the most difficult question for me to answer!  It truly depends on the day of the week and whether it is casual or fine dining but if I must choose one place, I would have to say that Barlata, a Spanish tapas restaurant, is at the top of my list of favorites.  I always order the Arros Negre, an incredible rice dish with squid ink that tastes just as authentic as the paella I had in Sitges, Spain last year. That dish paired with a glass red wine is my happy place.

Find S.t.e.f. in Austin, Texas

 Check out S.t.e.f designs at the following locations in Austin, Texas and on her website.

1. Kiki Nass Boutique – 1100 S Lamar Blvd #1130, Austin, TX 78704

2. The Lion’s Nest – 1008 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

3. Blue Lux – 4477 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78745

4.  Design Lab – 6550 Comanche Trail #106, Austin, TX 78732

5. Golden Bones – 3210 Esperanza Crossing #110, Austin, TX 78758

A complete list of these boutiques and their locations can be found on the S.t.e.f  website.