ETHICAL. EFFORTLESS. BEAUTIFUL.

 

interview by NANCY GORDON
photography by BENJAMIN CLAY PHOTOGRAPHY

. . .


“I only design things that I would personally buy and wear

and that work with my lifestyle. I’m pretty simple … I don’t
like overly fussy things. With that said, I always want

to look fashionable and put together, but honestly, I don’t have

the time in the mornings to spend an hour getting myself ready.”


TAMARA SAVAGE CLAY, founder, designer
Savage | Clay

 

Tamara, you’ve had a 25-year career in the apparel and fashion industries. What aspects were you involved in?

Yes, I’ve worked as a stylist and art director in commercial photography since 1998. Being a stylist means styling apparel, both on-figure (on models) and off, for photo shoots for brand catalogs and websites, editorial fashion pieces and sometimes television commercials.

In recent years, I’ve focused my time more on art direction, which essentially entails collaborating with incredibly talented crews to realize a client’s vision for their photography. As both a stylist and as an art director, I’ve worked with many types of products: apparel, bedding, home and beauty products, etc.

You must have learned so much. What stands out?

Oh, gosh … I started out in this industry when I was 22, so yes, I have learned everything I now know through my experiences over the past 25 years. When it comes to commercial photography, what you’re really working with is light and composition, in a particular proposed aesthetic, and highlighting the features of a product as best you can. On every shoot, you learn something new. So much of our job, as part of a photo crew, is figuring out the solution to a new problem. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about it … I’m never bored, there’s always a new challenge to solve with other creative people.

I think the big life lessons I’ve learned from my career are to be flexible and work collaboratively… that is when shoots are most successful and you will see it in the imagery. You have to let go of any ego, because it really is a team effort and you have to stay open to the possibility of learning something new.

You talked about a “turning point” and being “conflicted ethically” with the fashion industry and some of your clients about seven years ago. What precipitated this and how has it played out?

I’ve been fortunate that many of my clients have been like-minded in terms of ethics, sustainability and clean fabrics/products and that is a big reason I’ve enjoyed working with them. Seeing the choices that some brands in the fashion industry made was disconcerting, and the more I learned about the huge negative impact that fast fashion has on the environment and the humans who work in those types of factories the less I wanted to be a part of that world.

“I wanted to be a maker,” you said. How did you set about to choose a direction?

At a certain point, I wasn’t feeling as fulfilled or joyful in my career. I was traveling a lot and my kids were young, so being away from them was really challenging. But, like I mentioned, I was also questioning the ethics of certain elements of the business and simultaneously I realized I was missing the feeling of making something of my own. I studied studio art in college, before changing majors to art history, so I had always painted, made ceramics, etc.

It became what felt like a crossroads and I started contemplating a career shift. I felt strongly that I wanted to be creating something of my own, but it took a lot of pondering and a long time to get clear on what I wanted to make. Even though so much of my world, and for half my life, was about apparel, fabrics, textiles and clothing, it took a while to put the pieces of my experiences and knowledge together and realize that this was something I could actually do. And it fit so nicely with the career I already had!

Four years ago, you were diagnosed with Lyme disease. How did this help you to develop your clothing line?

When I started having chronic symptoms about four years ago, it took a year and a half to actually get the diagnosis. I was incredibly fortunate to find a doctor who helped me to resolve the Lyme completely. It was especially tough in the beginning when I didn’t have my normal energy, was not feeling well and didn’t know why. I spent a lot of that time at home resting and that forced me into more free time to research and educate myself on the new direction I wanted to go in and the new business I wanted to create.

Also during this time I became sensitive to a lot of different things. I think my system was just taxed from the Lyme and co-infections. While we already ate organic and healthy foods and used naturally based cleansers in our home, I started looking at the bath and beauty products I used more closely, as well as the fabrics and dyes in the clothing I was putting next to my skin each day. I think the combination of all of these things really helped to inform further what I wanted to create in the brand and prompted further research and education on my part.

How long did it take you to put all the pieces together and launch Savage | Clay, your small-batch clothing company?

It’s been about three years from the time I decided that this was what I wanted to do to launching the first collection this past spring. From the initial concept, I started researching and learning about the parts of the industry where I lacked knowledge, started sourcing fabrics, vendors and partners. From there, I was eventually able to start making the designs a reality.

It’s been challenging and certainly more costly to do it the way that I wanted to—to keep the fabrics organic and ensure all vendors follow guidelines that are congruous with the mission and ethos of Savage | Clay. I think those facts probably made it take a bit longer, but it was absolutely worth it. It’s been such a fun and rewarding journey so far … I’ve learned so much, but I’m definitely still putting the pieces together.

There is a very poignant quote by fashion designer and author Orsola de Castro at the bottom of your Our Story page: “Demand quality, not just in the product you buy, but in the life of the person who made it.” Have you met Orsola?

I have not met her, but I really respect and admire the work she and others are doing to promote transparency and to improve working conditions and the environmental impacts of the fashion industry.

Your designs are wonderfully everyday comfortable, realistic and fashionable. Are the designs related to your lifestyle?

Thank you! I’m so glad you think so. I only design things that I would personally buy and wear and that work with my lifestyle. I’m pretty simple … I don’t like overly fussy things. With that said, I always want to look fashionable and put together, but honestly, I don’t have the time in the mornings to spend an hour getting myself ready. I have children and businesses to run, so I need pieces that are simple and versatile. I like items that I can throw on and they work as well going to the bus stop, or a playdate, as they do for a big shoot or a meeting.

You’ve kept the color offerings minimal. How did you decide?

Honestly, I had to keep the colorways limited for the initial collection because each additional fabric run is costly, but I would like to expand the options in upcoming collections. I would like to at least be able to offer a neutral, a cool color and a warm tone for each style. For the launch, we chose to go with neutrals that seemed like they would be the most versatile and work for most people. Denim/chambray blues are always a neutral, in my opinion.

You’ve started with three pieces: Layering Tank, Woven Tee and the Twill Pocket Dress. Tell us about each piece and how it came to be.

The Layering Tank is a piece that I use on a regular basis throughout the year… obviously layering it in cooler weather and on its own when it’s warmer. It’s just a great staple and is made with organic cotton, so that it is very safe and healthy to have next to your skin, but also has 5% spandex, which keeps the integrity of the shape and thus the longevity of the garment, so it will last longer with proper care.

The Woven Tee is one of my favorite designs. It’s a very simple boxy, cropped tee made from 100% organic cotton woven fabrics. It has a gusset detail sewn under the arm, which allowed us to create this carefree, breezy shape but still give the wearer great coverage. I usually don’t gravitate to items that are too boxy, but this falls really nicely and I find it to be really flattering. I’ve been wearing our cream colorway a lot this spring!

The Twill Pocket Dress is a simple sheath shape that has a slightly lower neckline in the back, with vents at the hem, and pockets. Who doesn’t love a dress with pockets? You can just throw it on alone, or with a denim shirt, jean jacket or cardigan … pair it with heeled clogs, or sandals to dress it up, flip-flops or sneakers to go more casual. Again, 100% organic cotton twill.

“Ethical. Effortless. Beautiful.” is your tagline. Please explain how each is reflected in the garments.

Ethical.

To me “ethical” means that our company is committed to mindfully sourcing the best available fabrics, and choosing organic and natural fibers whenever possible. We seek out vendors committed to supporting fair wages and safe environments and create garments that are healthy for our customers and the people who make them. We will always make conscious, low-impact choices for the planet. We truly believe that in our small way, our choices and the purchases of our customers make a big difference.

Effortless.

I’m always striving for an effortlessly pulled-together look and I also want the shopping experience for Savage | Clay customers to be “effortless.” We’ve done a lot of research, so that our customers can feel good about their purchases and what’s next to their skin. We create pieces that aren’t fussy, made for everyday life, that you’ll want to keep in rotation. Items that you can just grab from your closet and throw on, so you can focus on the day ahead.

Beautiful.

Getting dressed should be fun and should make you feel good! We are so proud to design here in the beautiful and inspiring state of Maine and have our pieces sewn in the USA, right in Nashville. We put attention into every detail to create pieces that let each individual’s unique and beautiful style shine though.

How has Ben Clay, your husband and photographer, helped you with Savage | Clay?

He has been incredibly supportive and my biggest champion in this endeavor. It also helps to have a talented photographer when it’s time for photo shoots. : )

What has creating Savage | Clay given you, personally?

It has been fun to learn new aspects of the business and grow further as a creator. I am happy to be doing something I enjoy and to be part of what I view as a solution for positive change in the industry.

What do you hope to give people via Savage | Clay?

I hope to be a resource for the importance of small-batch, locally, sustainably and ethically made purchases. I also hope to become a shop that people can look to for items that they know have been vetted … they can rely on the fact that we’ve done all the research. They can just feel good about their purchases and feel beautiful wearing them. I also hope to support organic cotton growers, textile makers, fabric vendors, pattern makers, cut-and-sew studios—all of which are part of the solution to creating better products and a healthier planet for our kids.

. . .

savageclay.com
Instagram: @savage__clay (double underscore)

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