Changemaker: Tara St. James

By Staff | Changemaker
Posted Oct 17, 2016

Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Tara St James moved to New York City in 2004. She now calls Brooklyn home. St James graduated in 1997 from LaSalle College School of Fashion Design in Montreal, one of Canada’s top design programs, with a degree in menswear tailoring. Prior to graduation she spent a year studying French art and literature in Toulouse, France.

After 10 years designing mens and womenswear in both Canada and the US, Tara launched the New York based label Study NY. Conceptual design and sustainability define this women’s RTW brand. Study cuts & sews collections in NYC’s garment district using both ethical fabrics and production methods. Many elements from the collections collaborate with artisans around the world; for example, locally sourced Peruvian alpaca is used in much of the knitwear.

Shortly after starting Study NY, Tara focused on educating the next generation of designers on the importance of sustainability in design. She has extensive lecturing and teaching experience in NYC. Some of the courses Tara has taught as a part of FIT‘s Sustainability Certificate include: Corporate Social Responsibility, Supply Chain, and Sustainable Materials and Eco Labels. She has also critiqued and lectured at Parsons, Pratt and FIT. Currently Tara is working as Production Coordinator and Research Fellow in the Sustainable Strategies Lab for Pratt’s new Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator.

In 2011 Study NY was awarded the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Grant for sustainable design. In 2013 St James’s Anti-[fashion]-Calendar was named one of Sustainia100 Solutions for Sustainability–a global initiative spearheaded by Arnold Schwarznegger to promote innovative global solutions across all industries. In 2014 Study was awarded runner up in the CFDA / Lexus Eco Fashion Challenge.

Tara St James thrives on challenging her own preconceptions about design. Though vocal about her choice to use sustainable and ethical design principles for her label, Tara wants to be judged the same way all designers are judged, ostensibly for her design.

If your life had a mission statement – what would it be? 
Making fashion without making waste (I stole that from the Yield exhibit I was part of a few years ago)
If you weren’t a founder/creative director/designer what would you be?
When I was 10 I wanted to be an astronaut, when I was 15 I wanted to go into politics and be Canada’s first female Prime Minister (that goal was shattered before I graduated high school)
What’s one thing people wouldn’t know about you from social?
I am a big foodie, I like to cook with whatever is in my fridge or pantry and I rarely repeat the same recipe twice, save a few favourites (Sunday is pasta night, always, keeping up a tradition my Italian grandparents maintained their entire lives of feeding the whole family on Sundays). Oh and I guess because of my last sentence, most people don’t know I’m half Italian, and very proud of it.
What about your childhood mapped your current life path? 
I was allowed, and in fact encouraged, to experiment, try new things, figure out what works and what doesn’t.  I was on the swim team, debate team, I figure skated, was a baton twirler. I designed and produced my first collection for my high school fashion show when I was 16. After that I was hooked.
What’s the one thing no one told you about, or you didn’t expect about your work? 
There’s no time to design! I usually do that in my spare time. My days are filled managing production, shipping orders, contacting new stores, updating the website, basically running a business. But I love the freedom of running my own show, even if it is terrifying sometimes.
What’s wrong with the world right now?
How much time do you have?  what’s wrong with the world is that humans run it.
What’s right with the world?
Art, music, literature, nature, people (as individuals, but not always collectively), technology, innovation, the internet (sometimes), human connection
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about our future?
Both at the same time. I try to be optimistic because I’m facing the future, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult. There are a lot of great new innovations in technology that are making huge strides in sustainability especially in the textile industry (waste recycling, dyeing, printing, etc..) so that’s encouraging.
Where’s your favorite place on the planet?
Too many choices.  I love Havana, Mexico City, Tokyo for different but similar reasons: onslaught sensory emotions.  But I have to say my mother’s dining room table with family.  That’s where the best food, conversations and experiences happen for me.


Want to learn more, listen to our interview of Tara on Magnifeco Radio on iTunes or on the Heritage Radio Network.

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