by Joanne Xu
Photography by Peter McCain
Hair & Makeup by Jessica Teran
Models: Gabby Tan, Ron Wayne, Ebanie Griffith, Haoqing Geng
Lindsay Stewart strides into Starbucks right on time, somehow simultaneously looking like she threw on the first thing in her closet and deliberately calculated every part of the ensemble all at once. She’s made the trek from North to West Campus by bike; I note envy brewing internally as I realize that Stewart is one of those girls that makes Texas summer sweat look like she just swiped on a little “dewy highlight.”
At the time, it’s been roughly two weeks since Stewart took home the equivalent of Olympic Gold at UT’s annual senior fashion design show: the coveted “Best Collection” award. I begin by inquiring how she’s been since the big win, and I’m met with a reaction of both fresh nostalgia and instant relief. “Life’s been pretty great, I’m not going to lie. I just need time to process it all… I haven’t even cleaned my room since the show. All my garments are still up.”
The last time I’d seen Stewart, we were on set shooting her collection. I was anxious, nervous even, to meet her. Meeting the winner of the UT fashion show is the equivalent of meeting an ex-Project Runway winner — to anyone who doesn’t give a shit about fashion, it’s probably like finding out the one “cool thing” that everyone tries (and fails) to humbly insert into a job interview. But to anyone who remotely understands the UT Textiles & Apparel program, meeting Lindsey Stewart is like meeting fucking Christian Siriano.
At the shoot, I felt like strangely out of my element — ironic because I had probably never been in more of a creatively stimulating environment. I reach out to shake Stewart’s hand, and I’m tugged into an embrace instead. Rambles of gratitude for granting me this exclusive interview are about to tumble out of my mouth when instead Stewart is the one to begin profusely thanking me for “making her dream come true.” I’m dumbfounded, quite honestly, for a moment before I realize that Stewart isn’t the stereotypical fashion girl, and we’re not on a cutthroat reality TV show. She’s just a young woman heading deep down the fashion industry funnel with a serious accolade under her designer belt.
What would follow in the weeks to come was a candid conversation on the state of the fashion industry and how Stewart plans to make her contribution — pretty standard interview topics to hit, although for some reason I’m left pleasantly surprised. It’s not often that you find a young professional with the emotional depth of a creative and the strategic logic of a businesswoman. Lindsey Stewart has both.
Spark Magazine: There are so many myths about the fashion industry. What are some that you’ve effectively debunked over the years?
Lindsay Stewart: That it’s all selfish and shallow or frivolous. A lot of people assume fashion majors are people who just draw and make pretty things and don’t contribute to anything. I think that’s why I [used to] never consider fashion a serious career, even though I’ve been sewing since I was 12 years old. But there are so many opportunities in fashion design to influence people’s lives and the direction that the industry goes in. It is a field where you can make a difference — I mean, everyone needs clothes. Everyone wants to feel comfortable and good about themselves. I want to do just that, but I want to do it in a sustainable way.
SM: On that note, sustainability is such a hot button topic right now in fashion. How do we make fashion sustainable without sacrificing accessibility, in terms of cost and abundance?
LS: I think there’s always a middle ground to meet at. If we’re going to move towards a direction where you’re not just buying clothes and throwing them away immediately — which, you know, is so wasteful and harms not only the environment but people that are laboring in sweatshops — you have to realize that you’ll have to pay more. But the thing is, if you’re choosing materials that are better quality and there’s more heart going into making them, they’ll last for years.
There’s also the other end, though. Brands put the word “sustainable” on the label and think they can charge $300 for it. That’s not the case. A lot of the times those prices are super inflated and rip-offs, basically.
Spark Magazine: And sustainability is definitely something you want to keep in mind with your future designs?
LS: Absolutely. I want to make things that don’t harm the planet but source them in a way that doesn’t inflate the price to be unattainable for the normal person and doesn’t sacrifice quality. There’s definitely a middle ground. I think the culture just needs to change.
SM: Everything you do seems to be very in-tune with what people want, or rather what you anticipate people want. How did you draw on that with your collection?
LS: In women’s wear, stuff just isn’t functional, you know? A pair of pants has a pocket not even big enough for… a pocket. I design for people. I’ve always been very inspired by the actual person I’m designing for. So, for example, with my wedding gown, it was inspired by deer. This is so cheesy, but I had a dream where I saw myself as a deer, and I wanted to create a gown that transformed the woman into this spiritual, free being. I wanted to free the woman of the traditional wedding look, so I made it very unconventional.
For my collection, I wanted to create something visually-stimulated. I took a very literal approach to my people-minded “aesthetic” and designed for the human body itself. I looked at the physical attributes of the human body and I wanted to enhance them rather than cover them up. A lot of clothing now seems to conceal the body… I wanted to unabashedly show it off. With all the skin toned colors in my collection too, I wanted to convey this commonality amongst all humans. People, I think, is what makes me passionate about things.
SM: Where do you think that passion for people came from?
LS: I’m just a very emotional person. I think I was raised to be very in tune with my emotions, to put myself aside and focus on other people. I got that from my mom… It made the value of people something very special to me. I mean, I think it is important to be selfish sometimes. There are times where you can be proud of yourself and put yourself first. There’s always a balance.
SM: Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion design? What was that journey like?
LS: I actually started at UT in the Architecture program because I was creative with good math skills. It just wasn’t for me. I wanted to be more creative and abstract. I think it was just a few days before coming back for the second semester of freshman year that I just broke down.
My dad was a doctor and knew he wanted to be one since he was a kid. I think that’s part of the reason why I chose Architecture — because it’s very structured and has a direct path almost. At the time I could never have admitted it, but I had a lot of shame switching into Textiles [at first].
SM: Which brings me to the topic of stigmas that still surround creative professions. With a lot of people still, we all get lumped under the same umbrella —
LS: — Yeah, I get a lot of: “Um… so what is it that you do?” —
SM: Exactly. What has your experience been like dealing with that judgment and stereotyping?
LS: I could definitely tell people were judging me or apprehensive of my new major. But I think confidence comes from knowledge. As time went on, and especially in this last year with creating my collection, I really started to gain knowledge on fashion and the industry and the science behind it. And then it didn’t matter what those people thought. I believe if you’re an expert in what you do, it doesn’t matter anymore if someone thinks you’re not contributing because you know you are.
SM: I think that’s one of the easiest things to forget or dismiss about in fashion, that your tangible end product was created through a deliberate, methodical process.
LS: I think a lot of people assume that clothes are made on some sort of conveyor belt and that some machine is just stitching everything together. That’s not the case. Almost everything you wear, there was a person’s hands on it at some point, creating it and piecing it together and being away from their family to make it. It’s so important to acknowledge that — it’s a product that someone else invested time and labor in. Being the person that creates those things just makes you realize the amount of time and heart that has to go into every piece of clothing… what I did in 10 hours, these people are doing in 10 minutes.
SM: What was your design process like for this collection?
LS: I like to have a whole concept laid out before I start sketching. It’s hard for me not to be super anal or perfectionistic, but it’s kind of like how you write with your heart before you edit with your brain. But probably an hour before I had to submit my design concept for approval, I started just redrawing everything.
SM: Oh, wow…
LS: The best ideas sometimes come in that last 30 minutes, you know? Until the moment where you know you’ve come up with what you’re going with, you’re in constant turmoil. It’s just part of being a creative.
SM: Now that you’ve graduated, what’s the one thing you want to let everyone in on about the fashion industry? Or just life in general?
LS: You always remember the names of people that win the big awards, but there are so many people that worked behind the scenes or stood alongside me that didn’t receive nearly as much credit. I could tell you something about each designer that they do better than anyone else, including me. That’s a huge thing in the fashion industry — it’s never just the person getting credit on stage, there’s an army of people behind them. We all poured our hearts and souls into this. •
Joanne Xu is a full-time fashion enthusiast from the greater Dallas area. She currently serves as the Communications Director at Spark and loves it so much she might just make a career out of it. If needed, you can find her in the corner of a bustling coffee shop furiously writing away on her laptop while admiring the eclectic people of Austin. Or holed up watching late night TV reruns. That, too.