This Doula-Turned-Designer's Unique Westside Shop Is a Must-See
Welcome to Mama Shops, a new FM Journal series that highlights beautiful stores owned by mothers.
Photos: Ruby Nichols
“It took the metamorphosis of creating a life, giving birth and becoming a mother to give me the confidence and faith in myself to put my own story out there.” — Amanda Blake
I met Amanda Blake at the in-home daycare both of our kids attend. It’s no surprise that our littles became instant besties, because meanwhile I was secretly sweating Amanda’s style. She always appeared quietly cool with an elegant swag. I later learned that she designs her own line and owns the most adorable shop on the Westside.
Calder Blake, named after her firstborn daughter, is an LA-based line inspired by natural materials that form classic silhouettes for a beautifully understated aesthetic. It’s the stuff that makes a minimalist’s heart sing. In addition to classic pieces that return season after season, the shop carries an expertly-curated assortment of other goods with stunning wall art and vintage periodicals for sale.
With a successful fashion career that has spanned coast to coast, we talked about how motherhood changed the trajectory of Amanda’s work and ultimately helped her find her voice. Here, she shares her journey that inspired what we now know and love as Calder Blake.
You've been designing since you were a teen. Did you come from an artistic family? Were you always creating things as a kid?
My sister and I were always creating with whatever we could find outside or around the house. We grew up mostly in Connecticut in an old 1700’s revolutionary war home with lots of fields and woods to explore. Think Andy Goldsworthy on a kid level, where we created with leaves, branches and grass to make shapes and forms. Most of the time, it accompanied a story line we were inventing along the way. We knew how to sew early on and would sew basic pieces for our cat and toys.
My dad is an inventor and industrial designer and growing up, he designed everything from matchbox cars and walking/ talking dolls, to the windows in FAO Schwartz in the 1970’s. Then he shifted into working with doctors to invent instruments to help during surgery. My mom modeled in NYC in the 1960’s, made her own clothing and was always a classy lady who taught us about hard work mixed with grace.
You've said that becoming a mother played a major role in launching your line; your firstborn daughter even inspired the name. Can you tell us more about how motherhood transformed your career?
Wow, this is always hard to put into words. My experience in designing has always been about me putting myself in challenging positions to learn so that I truly know the craft from beginning to end. Before I became a mom, I worked for so many different companies and "wore the hat” of their brand story while designing and managing teams. I would say that it took the metamorphosis of creating a life, giving birth and becoming a mother to give me the confidence and faith in myself to put my own story out there. In some ways, it is similar to a Phoenix process in which you go through a life-changing experience to come out the other side stronger and more your true self.
I read that you volunteered as a doula for homeless teens back in Brooklyn. That must have been such an incredible experience. What was that was like, and what sparked you to do it?
Being a doula and supporting women has always been my heart. Before I knew what a doula was, I was the girl to come talk to about the stuff most young women then didn’t openly discuss. Things like: the condom broke what do I do? Why do I keep getting yeast infections?
In 1997 while walking home one night in Brooklyn, I was attacked by a stranger and suffered from acute panic attacks afterwards. This experience brought up big questions for me about life and purpose. I was working around the clock designing in NYC, but also saw that side of myself that loved supporting women and knew I had to invite this into my life.
While attending a women’s conference in New Hampshire in 1997, I first heard about Doulas and it was one of those “calling” moments where it felt right to look into training and to continue educating myself in supporting women. The first births I attended were with teen moms in Brooklyn living in a home during their pregnancy to learn how to care for their child and learn a vocation. For these women, I was their only support in labor since they had no family members attending. It was amazing to experience the strength of women of all different backgrounds and to be there for them so they could feel safe to give birth. So many beautiful moments in the quiet of the pre-dawn hours just being and helping to create a safe space for them to trust birth and their bodies.
I have attended over 150 births and still do.
You have an interesting background with roots in New York, while your line has European and Californian influences. How have these places informed your overall brand and aesthetic?
I guess you can say that I’m inspired by the spirit of my travels! Calder Blake definitely speaks to my aesthetic, which aspires to a chicness that is effortless and has an ease — it’s sexy and sensual through the person wearing it, not by being overt.
To me, New York and Europe represent culture and the culmination of art, music, dance, food, diverse communities of people and pure design. When designing my line, I like to immerse myself in everything without exception — to inspire and not be in a vacuum.
California represents my natural side where I walk barefoot and can be still letting ideas flow. The marriage of these 2 sides creates the line.
Congrats on just completing your Fall 2017 collection. Can you tell us more about it and what the inspiration was?
Thank you! The beginning inspiration was the layering and pairing of silhouettes in a '90s way. The perfect sweatshirt over a longer dress over some leggings. My old love of hoodies makes an appearance in the line.
My favorite pieces are the heavyweight fleece sweatshirts with the fleece side on the face of the pullovers. I also love the Astrid Dress, which is an easy jersey drop waist dress that can be worn alone or over or under the tees and sweatshirts.
Your shop also carries a number of other lifestyle products. What do you look for when choosing these other brands?
The other brands that I choose to support represent the lifestyle around Calder Blake. So, I look for brands that most of the time come from small businesses like myself and that I’m drawn to. I also love vintage art books and periodicals that I feature in the shop and original art from friends I love to support.
Really, I wanted to have a place that people could “find” when they come to LA and feel that spark that I would feel when I found a little unique shop in Tokyo or Paris or New York. I hope that is what people feel when they step inside, discover the line and feel a kinship towards it.
As a successful mompreneur, did you ever imagine owning your own business? What advice do you have for other mothers who are just beginning their journey?
Ha! I can honestly say that I thought I would never start my own line. Much like I swore I would never date anyone in the film business, and guess what, I married one!
I’m quite organic in regards to making choices in my life. Sometimes I point my compass and reach exactly where I planned to, and sometimes life tells me something that I need to listen to. I always knew if I set my mind to it, I could make it happen but didn’t have a story to tell. I now have a story to tell.
My advice to other mothers beginning would be to set up a strong framework of your business goals and your brand story so that you can always refer back to that. Also, make sure to truly schedule in time for yourself and your family so that you have balance built into your existing calendar. When you have your own business, it’s hard to shut off work, and I find it best to actually create some boundaries to allow life balance. Lastly, find some like-minded people that you can meet with and share your journeys with. It’s so important to have a great community and like-minded network.
What do you most want to be remembered for?
Being a supportive love mom, daughter, wife, sister, friend, as well as part of the art community — always inspiring each other to create the best that we can that will be timelessly relevant.
Ruby Nichols is a Fashion Mamas LA member, the founder of Almanac of Style, and mama to Dash.