Bright Young Things Need But One LBD

Goodlifer: Bright Young Things

Sometimes restrictions breed incredible creativity. Such was the case with the Uniform Project (which I wrote about last year), where Sheena Matheiken wore the same dress every day for a whole year, and used only vintage accessories to style it. The designer behind the now famous little black dress is Eliza Starbuck, who recently decided to make the dress available to everyone, under the name Bright Young Things.

The Bright Young Things Premier Edition is $185. Made-to-order in a high-quality 97% Cotton, 3% Lycra blend piqué weave fabric. Comfortable year-round, and for any occasion.

The Bright Young Things Premier Edition is $185. Made-to-order in a high-quality 97% Cotton, 3% Lycra blend piqué weave fabric. Comfortable year-round, and for any occasion.

Starbuck herself is a true inspiration, part classic beauty and part fairy-tale fairy, she is an avid thrift store shopper and stone collector. “When I first met Sheena Matheiken of The Uniform Project in 2008, I had come to the conclusion that fashion made a better creative outlet than a meaningful career.” She had decided to walk away from the fashion industry and seek out something different that the mass consumer culture it perpetuates. “So when Sheena told me she was looking for someone who could make her a dress, I was hesitant. But after she explained the concept behind the Uniform Project, I was excited at the prospect of using my skills as a fashion designer for a charitable cause that would also promote sustainable culture.”

 

Bright Young Things designer Eliza Starbuck thrift shopping.

 

As the Uniform Project gained in popularity, people started asking where they could buy one of the dresses for themselves. Starbuck was, again, reluctant. “At first I shrugged off the request. I still did not want to get into the business of making or selling clothing and I was wary of taking on production on a commercial level. But the inquiries kept coming, along with amazing stories from U.P fans that had started their own Little Black Dress challenges and who wanted to wear my dress for their own causes. In general, there seemed to be growing demand for my dress design as women made the shift to save their money and get creative with what they already had. That was the epiphany: if I could offer women a dress that functions as a versatile base palette for their personal style and creativity while giving them the opportunity to support a good cause or a positive change in their lifestyles, then maybe looking into production wasn’t such a bad idea… If by buying my one dress, women would forego buying five cheap and trendy dresses this year, that would be a big feat. Keeping that much junk out of the landfills alone would make production worthwhile to me.”

Production is something that more designers need to pay attention to. It is often done overseas by workers that are underpaid and treated badly. Child labor is also not uncommon. There has been much attention paid to this in the press in recent years, but few people still manufacture locally. Says Starbuck: “As a designer in the fashion industry, there were always certain disconnects between the process of design and the process of production. I would submit my sketches and then, as if by magic, sample garments would arrive 2-3 weeks later from China. This never sat well with me. A process so fast had to be cutting corners and taking major short cuts, and from the other side of the world I could never see or know what was really going on. With the launch of Bright Young Things, I decided that I wanted to be a part of my production process. The best way to do that, I figured, was to produce locally in New York City. By doing so, I not only help to support the local economy – I can also visit the factory anytime.”

Even though the factory is in America, nearly all of the workers are immigrants who need the work to maintain their life in America and to support their families back home.

Care labels are carefully printed directly onto the pockets.

How does one cut the pattern pieces for 365 dresses at once? With a special fabric-cutting gig-saw, of course!

The name is as clever as the dress (which is reversible and infinitely convertible), so what is a Bright Young Thing? “A Bright Young Thing is defined as someone who is open minded, optimistic, playful, appreciates beauty and still is conscious about their actions effects on the world around them. A conscious Joy-maker. It has nothing to do with your age, it has everything to do with being nimble, inventive, and enginuitive within the social, physical and environmental constructs of our times,” says Starbuck.

The Style Challengers: Leah Chernikoff or Fashionista, Yuka Yoneda of Ecouterre, Emma Grady of Treehugger, Roberta Correia of It's Only Fashion, Pamela Castillo of Market Publique, Tiffany of Triskaidekaphobia & Six Six Sick, eco model Summer Rayne Oakes, yours truly and Felicia Walker Benson of ThisThatBeauty. Which look is your favorite look?

The Style Challengers: Leah Chernikoff or Fashionista, Yuka Yoneda of Ecouterre, Emma Grady of Treehugger, Roberta Correia of It’s Only Fashion, Pamela Castillo of Market Publique, Tiffany of Triskaidekaphobia & Six Six Sick, eco model Summer Rayne Oakes, yours truly and Felicia Walker Benson of ThisThatBeauty. Which look is your favorite look? Photo collage via kaightnyc.blogspot.com.

The Style Challenge is a fun new project, where Starbuck invited some of her favorite Bright Young Things (I am honored to be one of them) from NYC to vintage store Cobblestones on the Lower East Side. She gave us one of her LBDs and let us loose amongst the racks to come up with two looks each. I can assure you it was lots of fun (visit BYT’s Facebook page and vote by “liking” the daily post of the Style Challenger you like the best). The Challengers came up with looks that were as creative and innovative as they were different — all using the very same dress.

One of my looks in the Style Challenge.

One of my looks in the Style Challenge.

So how often does Starbuck herself wear her LBD? “I’ve worn my LBD for a month straight, during my wear-a-thon, but now that is over and I’d say I wear it at least two days of the week. It really is the go to dress in my closet, and I always feel really put together when I put it on. It is the answer to the ‘I don’t have anything to wear’ conundrum.” Her favorite way to style it depends on the weather. “My wear-a-thon was one of the hottest June-July months I’ve ever seen, so I was really enjoying wearing it open. But my default way to wear it is with a belt. I think it’s really flattering when you accentuate the waistline that way.”

Starbuck on Day 19 of hear wear-a-thon.

The Uniform Project and the Bright Young Things Style Challenge are both excellent examples of how much one can do with one single garment. The takeaway? We can make do with less, as long as we make sure the pieces we have are well-made, timeless, durable and versatile — the basic tenets of slow fashion. But is the mainstream ready to adopt this way of thinking about fashion?

“Absolutely,” says Starbuck, “it’s already happening. If not for environmental reasons, then surely for economic reasons. The thing about sustainable fashion is that it doesn’t actually have to be this selfless reprieval of fashion. Being sustainable is as easy as flipping a switch in your consumer habits and being more conscious of your waste. It’s a matter of buying fewer items, for more money, that are fully functioning and well made. Or buying second-hand, or not buying anything at all and just getting creative with what you have through styling or DIY refashioning. As more bloggers take on these kinds of challenges and causes, I think it will seep into the mainstream until it is mainstream. Really it seems to be everywhere I look in New York, so if that’s any gauge, it’s already in the water.” Drink up.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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