BY Britt Warner, April 22, 2010
I first met internationally-celebrated designer Tara Lynn four years ago in Vermont.
My mom had taken a brief break from the frenetic pace of our native Los Angeles and owned a house in Lyndonville for a few years…before high-tailing it back to the West Coast, where, as it turned out, she belonged. Over each of those years, though, I used to stay with her for a few months at a time, becoming acquainted with quite a few amazing individuals in the process.
On one of the rare occasions that I ventured down to Phat Kat’s for a drink, I spotted a hot little sprite with wild blonde hair shaking her booty on the dance floor. The other patrons sort of hung back self-consciously, not yet emboldened with liquid courage. This woman was not drunk, nor did she appear to need alcohol in order to let loose and enjoy life. First impressions can be quite telling, and I will always think of Tara as a free-spirited individual who can’t resist a good song, expressing herself simply because she has to. You can stand against the wall or join her on the dance floor, but that’s your call. She’s gonna dance regardless.
As a designer, her styles are whimsical, innovative, and refreshingly fun – just like Tara herself. Rather than trying to contort into the overly-sophisticated, oft-pretentious mold of high fashion, she stays true to her own unique fingerprint. Every garment is a custom-made collaboration between Tara Lynn…and you. Brides-to-be are flocking to her in droves with requests for one-of-a-kind wedding gowns, excitedly articulating all the little fairy-tale details they’ve been dreaming up since childhood. Tara creates the reality, working closely with each individual client to bring their vision to life while simultaneously infusing every piece with her own essence.
Though she works mainly out of her studio in Sutton, Vermont, Tara Lynn’s loyal clientele consists of women who live all around the world. First, she instructs them to visit a local tailor to acquire their exact measurements. With email, digital images, and snail mail, Tara Lynn can then design, cut and sew a dress or “Earth Bitch” jacket with a perfect fit and all the little details dreamed up between her and the client.
She’s rapidly gaining a large following among women who seek a more earth-friendly lifestyle. Tara insists on using natural fiber, stocking the shelves with hemp, wool and organic cotton, as well as vintage and recycled materials collected over years of yard sale scavenging.
Tara Lynn’s perfectly organized sanctuary of creative genius.
Her colorful designs are all made using solar electricity. Hanging on the walls are meticulously organized drawers of vintage buttons, lace, beads and trimmings. The ceiling is adorned with inspirational images of wildlife that gaze down over a floor of antique sewing machines. Tara Lynn drapes her original designs on a dress form by the window, able to admire her hard work while simultaneously drinking in the satisfaction of doing what she truly loves for a living.
She put the needle and thread down momentarily to answer my questions and provide some insight into her busy life.
This is pretty sad, but there are still people – in this very country! – who don’t realize that Vermont is a state.
(laughing) Sad, sad.
I know! Are you from there originally?
I am from Setauket, New York, which is in Long Island.
How did you end up in Vermont?
I fell in love with Vermont in the seventh grade while on vacation with a friend. I bought property up here with my man in 2000. I was in college, living in Manhattan, and they all thought I was crazy. I moved up as soon as I graduated and have been here ever since.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a fashion designer. I wanted to move to Vermont, buy a huge Victorian house, and start my very own fashion house. I couldn’t afford the Victorian, however, so I am building my fashion house.
It’ll probably turn out to be even better that way. You can customize it from the ground up. When did you start sewing and coming up with your own designs?
I started sewing when I was in the third grade – I was taking a quilting class – and made Barbie a few dresses. By high school, I was made fun of daily for the crazy outfits and makeup I wore. I would stay up ‘til two am, ripping apart a jumpsuit to make a dress. I was obsessed with Harper’s Bazaar magazine and Jean Paul Gaultier in the Nineties.
There are those who love to lecture artists about the “hard life” we’ve chosen for ourselves – as if traditional nine-to-five careers are any easier or desirable! Have you come across these attitudes, and if so, how do you respond?
Life is harder on some, but when you are passionate about what you do and love what you do, you will work your ass off to get where you want to be. It’s me that chooses to work hard – life has offered me easier paths, but I choose this one. I have so many things I want to create, I can’t slow down.
Are your friends and family supportive of your art?
They love me so they have no choice, although sometimes they could be more optimistic.
Describe your typical day.
– Up at 6am, catch the news on NPR
– Off to school to teach fashion design at a local high school from 8-10:30
– From 10:30-11:30, I grade, plan, and make photocopies
– Home by 12:00 (ideally)
– Have lunch with my husband Evan
– At 1pm I’m in the studio. I turn on Pandora radio, check email, pay bills, draft a pattern, sew, send press releases, sketch a dress, ship a jacket, and do a fitting
– At 8, Evan wraps up in his shop and calls me in for dinner
– At 9:30 I check email again and work on business plans
– 11:30 ice cream
– 12:00 bed time…though if we are lucky, we don’t actually go to sleep till 1!
Yeah, baby! (laughing) What inspired you to work with organic and recycled materials?
I’ve been working with recycled materials since I was a kid, simply because it was fun. Then in college, I saw things differently. I thought the fashion industry was really wasteful and ugly. Then I learned of Sally Fox. She produced and cross-bred organic cotton plants to grow cotton in colors. I started looking for some natural fiber clothing shops in Manhattan and found a hemp store. I started working there and began making custom hemp clothing and wedding gowns in 1999. The recycled and vintage fabrics were a great way to add color and interest to hemp fabrics at that time.
What do you love most about designing and sewing? What are some of your challenges?
I love designing custom and original clothing. I love creating the artwork. I love listening to really loud music with all the windows wide open and making something beautiful with no interruptions. I love when I get a letter from a bride telling me how special she felt in her dress on her wedding day. That makes me smile.
Challenges include getting it all done, balancing life, love and business, hitting the deadlines in the fall, and finding a good team to work with! I happen to be looking for a sample maker right now and it’s not easy in Vermont. And money of course…knowing how to designate the funds and when to take out a loan.
Many people are going to see your designs and fall in love; however, not everyone is in the market for a wedding dress or jacket. What else are you willing and able to make on request?
I make custom natural fiber clothing for all occasions. Since 1999 people have requested everything from gowns to suits to underwear to p.j.’s in hemp, linen or silks. Right now I am draping a custom jacket and skirt for a mother of the bride. I make beautiful cocktail dresses. Someone will bring me their favorite blazer and ask me to make five copies in different natural fabrics/colors, no artwork. Some people send me their favorite jeans and ask me to do ‘em up with artwork. Something I have been hired for a lot this year is taking old dresses and recreating them into something new, kinda like the prom dress in Pretty in Pink, just prettier.
This beautiful dress was manufactured with the help of sunlight.
You create your designs using solar electricity, but it’s not always very sunny in Vermont. Do you need a back-up source for gloomy days? How does that work?
Yes, we use a generator on gloomy days. Today happens to be nice and sunny, so I am sewing, doing laundry, and Evan is working in the garage. Other days we need to be more conservative. We just applied for grid power, though, and will be hooking that up to certain appliances and tools so we can run more efficiently and take the generator out of the equation. It’ll be one less thing to have to deal with.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what were the last ten songs you played?
(laughing) Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough by MJ, Flashdance, What a Feeling, Cruel Summer, Tainted Love, Enjoy the Silence, Take On Me…all played on my Pandora’s Madonna Station, and then I will switch over to Goldfrapp Radio. Music is so important to me. It keeps me focused on the job.
Speaking of which, you’re having a sample sale on your Earth Bitch site April 22nd, which, not coincidentally, is also Earth Day. What else is up next for you?
I’m starting a new bridal site, a men’s collection, and am almost finished building my new studio. It’ll be two times the size of what I am in now, with a 7’x8’ window in the center of the back wall overlooking the river.
That’s so exciting! Congratulations on the well-deserved success, and thank you for letting us feature you.
Thanks for the great interview Britt!