How Sustainable Clothing Designer Amanda Blake Stays Inspired
Amanda Blake didn't find her passion for fashion by flipping through high-end magazines. Rather, having had a mother who made most of her clothing by hand, the Calder Blake designer first found her interest in the industry by visiting nearby thrift stores and re-working pieces into things she'd wear as a teen to New Wave and straight-edge hardcore music venues.
Designing out of a desire to create something she wanted to wear, but that wasn't available has remained a constant in her career. And although following her studies at the prestigious Parsons School of Design, she worked under such influential labels as Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, ultimately what led her to launching Calder Blake was a gap in the market for garments that were simple, chic, and made to stay in your wardrobe for years — both in terms of design and construction. Additionally, it's continued to be important that her line be increasingly sustainable, from the hyper-local manufacturing to the eco-friendly shipping materials.
Besides running a clothing brand that's offered in the most well-curated boutiques and e-tailers, as well as a staple at the coveted Echo Park Craft Fair, Blake is also a mother to two daughters, Agnes and Calder, and her girls serve as just as much an inspiration to everything she makes as the artists she admires. That she's managed to build such a successful business while staying present for them made us want to learn more about the entrepreneurial mama, so we asked her everything from how she adapts to an ever-changing industry to her philosophy on getting her daughters involved with fashion — plus what's next for her brand.
Did you always have a love for clothes?
Funny but I didn’t always have a love for clothes; I just saw it as a way of expressing myself and loved the craft and the idea of making something that you can wear. When I started to care about clothes, I didn’t identify with what was out there so I decided to make what I felt reflected my personality.
And how did that experience lead you to developing your own label?
I have always been a very determined and hard working person and it has always been important to me to know all the processes that go into creating, envisioning, and executing one’s idea. My years of working around the clock at New York fashion houses as well as Los Angeles startup brands that grew fast gave me the skills to go out and do it on my own. The years before I started my brand I was actually consulting for new brands and helping to launch them, so it was secondhand to me. It was a smooth transition.
What most inspires you as a designer?
That moment when unknown things that don’t seem to work together suddenly come together and make music. It could be vintage shopping and seeing two different strange colors lying together, how someone throws pieces together in a way that never crossed my mind, or turning a garment inside out and seeing the stitching and seaming details that translates into something I’m working on.
Seeing the strength in the women’s community that has been gaining momentum is a huge inspiration and seeing women support one another, although the most important thing I have found is the quiet space needed to allow the inspiration to be heard. It's the moments I might catch a fragrant breeze of citrus blossom and then my mind ignites. And it's never when you expect it.
In addition to your label, you also have a storefront! With retail changing so much lately, what have you noticed in terms of IRL shopping in the last few years and how have you adapted?
The Calder Blake Studio Shop is an extension of the brand and allows the line to be seen in its entirety and with lifestyle items that sit together. I find that the desire for retail spaces to be unique and inspiring spaces that offer something you can’t get in other places is the key. I maximize the space by having everything from the shop to my studio to where I ship from so close, and therefore very flexible to change at any time. As things are now changing so quickly, I feel it is key to have the ability to change things up quickly imperative.
Also, I want everyone that steps inside to feel welcome and at home in a community experience and not just seen as a customer. After all, you may just show up and see my daughter lint rolling new pieces going out on the floor or a photo shoot in the back or whatever. It's the total picture.
You're also a mom of two little ones! How do you make the most of your time with them when you're not in the shop or in an office designing/managing etc?
My studio is two blocks from my house and their schools are also in the neighborhood, so that makes things much easier. In the beginning, I was working around the clock with a babe on the breast and sleep was definitely not the amount that I wished for as I entered orders late at night and carried bolts of fabric around eight months pregnant. But now that it has been five years, I have created a flow in which I spend time at home with my daughters and then work in the office.
There are definitely times when they are with me running to factories and in the studio but presently I find it important to focus on them when I'm home so they know I'm present and there with them. I also have an incredibly supportive husband and we've gotten good at the daily juggle to be there for our family as well as fulfill our creative sides.
Do your kids ever weigh in on new designs?
Ha! Not really unless they are in the studio during a fitting. Since I have two daughters, I am very conscious of the affect that the fashion business can have on young girls and my hope is for them to see the process of creating no matter if it is clothing, sculpture, poetry, etc. I try to not place a lot of weight on fashion in their eyes but rather all creative practices. I’m sure when they are teens that will be different but for now I want them to get dirty and get bruises climbing trees.
What's next for Calder Blake?
So many exciting things! Our Fall Winter 2018 line is just shipping out to boutiques and will be up online shortly with our look book featuring the beautiful and kind actress Jodi Anne Balfour. We will be at the Echo Park Craft Fair again in the winter.
I have recently introduced “The Pouch” as the new way of packaging each garment. It has been extremely important to me to address how both Calder Blake and I can be more responsible in packaging and manufacturing the line. This translates to working with local family-owned factories that practice ethically, working with local fabric vendors that knit in LA and now looking at the packaging process. Upon opening your box, each item will be packaged in “The Pouch” which is made of the waste fabric that usually goes in the trash in the cutting process. It has now been built into each pattern so that less waste will occur and becomes a solution to single use poly bags that just go in the trash/ recycling. The pouches can be reused by the customers so that the packaging serves a purpose instead of being wasteful and polluting.
I'm also looking forward to collaborations and special projects in the new year and introducing some new ideas. Stay tuned.
See and shop Calder Blake's full line here, or visit her Mar Vista shop at 11708 Washington Pl.,
Los Angeles, CA 90066.