Interview with Alexa Stark
Alexa Stark is a warrior on the front lines of the fashion revolution. She's part of a new wave of makers using fashion as a vehicle for change. Her namesake clothing line values sustainability above all, sourcing high-quality and salvaged fabrics from ethical locations, and producing locally at the Portland Garment Factory. A graduate of Parsons The New School for Design, her studies encouraged to ask herself "the big questions" about the state of today's fashion industry, and her values as a designer. In her interview with Plan de Ville, Alexa Stark talks about her inspiration, challenges, and advice to the next generation of aspiring designers. - Allison Taylor
"I look at the world and ask myself, how can I do my best to help it? Sometimes it’s to make something beautiful, sometimes it’s to be, sometimes it’s to change."
Tell me about starting the Alexa Stark label. What is one memory that stands out in your mind?
Starting the label came naturally. I was making clothing all the time, and when I decided to start selling, I walked out into the streets of NYC and set up a rack. I think my first big sale to a very fashionable Italian woman is my strongest memory because I proved to myself that I could do this.
What are some of your most memorable early experiences as a designer?
I was pretty excited when I first started using a local factory to produce my line.
Who have you learned the most from in your career thus far? Do you have mentors?
My professors at Parsons were pretty amazing. They gave me a lot of courage and made me ask myself a lot of questions. Currently, I like to talk to women in the industry and hear their stories. They contain wisdom that I find enlightening. I especially love to talk with pattern makers and seamstresses.
Tell me about your experience as a student.
Parsons was hard for me. I must have thought about dropping out once a day, not because the classes were hard, but because I was learning so much about how the fashion system worked and I knew I didn’t like it or want to be a part of it. When I said my professors made me ask myself a lot of questions, I really meant it. I was constantly asking myself why I was making/designing. I ended up focusing more of my time there conceptualizing my part in it all, I switched my major to Integrated Design with a focus on fashion, fine arts and communication, all within the context of sustainable design. It was a new program and it took a lot of self direction.
I started my line while I was there. I knew wanted to do it in a very amateur way, no internships turned into part time job turned into assistant to 'blah blah blah...' I wanted to enter into the industry my own way. My later years at Parsons gave me that space and courage to do so.
What was the inspiration for your Spring/Summer 2016 collection?
This collection was about connection. I worked with a local artist and explored the many ways I connect with people and the ground I stand on. There was a lot of feminine power associated with it. Women are constantly fighting for a voice. I felt this collection spoke loud and connected itself to the world.
Who are the women who inspire you each season?
All women from different backgrounds who do what needs to get done in their world inspire me. I like to think that the women wearing my clothes are conscious consumers and are active members of their community.
Tell me about your first sales season for Alexa Stark. What did you find challenging? Rewarding?
I think the hardest part for me is selling – selling the brand, selling its importance, selling myself…it’s all part of fashion and it’s hard for me to give that much of myself at all times. I go into shy artist mode and my brain turns to mush. When a good sale happens all doubt flies out and I am encouraged to keep going.
What’s the most rewarding part of your business?
A woman once ordered a denim dress of mine and came to my studio to pick it up. She walked out wearing it in tears and said “I never thought I was beautiful until I put on this dress”. She was a mother and a lawyer and said she gravitated to the denim dress because is was beautiful but strong.
You are dedicated to maintaining a sustainable business model, from fabric sourcing to minimal waste production. What are some of the challenges that come with that? How is it advantageous?
There are many challenges because good things take time. Small batch fabrics and production take time and tend to be more expensive because it is not part of the mass production rush that factories have mastered so well. Consumers have grown accustomed to fast fashion as well, trends that move to quick and cheaper items fuel a throw-away lifestyle. My biggest challenge is keeping up, but also educating others on the importance of slowing down. I take this on because I believe the fight to be important.
What motivates you as a designer?
Everything. I look at the world and ask myself, how can I do my best to help it? Sometimes it’s to make something beautiful, sometimes it’s to be, sometimes it’s to change.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring fashion designers and fashion students, what would it be?
Keep asking yourself why you are doing what you are doing, and make sure it benefits the world.
What’s next for Alexa Stark?
I try not to think too far ahead of what I am doing now. I have so many ideas and want to explore so many directions within the industry that it’s hard to say what I’m doing next until I am actually doing something new - but I plan to expand my work, and more specifically, to explore the concept of limitation.
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