Tara Scott’s outlook on life is infectious. She’s the kind of woman that can walk, literally glowing, into a restaurant and turn heads, offer endless advice about being an incredible business woman (all in the most humble of manners) and looks like an on screen-siren with her fiery bobbed cut, red lips and admirably fabulous use of the word ‘darling’. Like a wonderful modern day Monroe, I’m pretty sure that even half an hour with this lady could change your view on the mundane- so I caught up with Ms. Scott to chat starting a business, the significance of Mexico, Charlotte Olympia and the importance of a bloody good pair of wool trousers (all over bottomless tea, of course)…
Okay, so first things first- for those of us that haven’t heard of Tara Starlet, can you tell us a little about yourself, the brand and the story behind it?
So, it began actually ten years ago this month- it launched in Topshop for the first year, and it started with my mum and I. I was helping my mum out with her market stall at Portobello and Spitalfields, and she was making this one forties style dress in lots of beautiful fabrics, like men’s suiting ones and florals. One of the buyers from Topshop came to the stall when I was wearing the dress, and loved it. The business was in my mums name at the time, so she asked whether we’d be interested in doing a brand for a younger audience (as my mums was more for business women), and suggested to my mum that she work with me, and consider using her daughters name. I was doing my A-Levels at the time when it launched, and I was working as a sales assistant in the concession, with my mum running the big design ideas, but sure that my age group would be in to it. We then went online, and the day that it launched my mum was diagnosed with leukemia, which was really scary- so where I was just supposed to be my mums ‘muse’ I ended up becoming her full time business partner. I went on to do a degree, and then when I finished, I came full time with the business, which was five years ago.
So, where did the name Tara Starlet come from?
So Tara means star, and that was how it really came about. I can remember my mum throwing name ideas around, and it was one of those things that came up and we were like ‘that’s it!’ It’s nice sounding too, regardless of what the words mean. I always hated my name as a child, and I just didn’t get it- so it’s funny because it helped me like it.
Well it suits you to a tee! Your designs are obviously greatly inspired by vintage designs and the past- what is it you love about that aesthetic?
I just love the way that it honors the female form in its true glory. A lot of modern fashion from the last 30 years is designed by men for androgynous catwalk models, and don’t necessarily work in real life for everyday women. I just love the way you can put together a really cute retro look and it feels uplifting, playful, fun and visually fantastic.
…And how do you go about getting design inspiration?
I love watching old movies- but these days, I feel things have changed so much. My mum and I used to watch old Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe box sets, and you’d sit and flick through old books and old photo albums with pictures of my grandma for inspiration- but nowadays, I’ll go on Pinterest or Instagram and screenshot things that I like. I’m also very aware of my customer, and what she would like to wear- so I follow a lot of them, along with people who I think are influential, and women who have amazing style who my customers look up to, so, I’m always thinking ‘what would she like to wear, what would suit her?’ In terms of era, it’s literally the four, from the thirties until the sixties, but it’s also mood based and seasonal. I find that in summer I go fifties/sixties, and in winter thirties/forties. The thing is, I’m not interested in making costumes for a set; I want people to find my clothes current. I’m not someone who believes they were ‘born in the wrong era’, I love living today, I just really like those clothes.
‘I’m not someone who believes they were ‘born in the wrong era’, I love living today, I just really like those clothes’
So, in regards to the more ethical side to the brand- how do you go about keeping things as ‘green’ as you can, without succumbing to stereotypes?
I’m very passionate about ethics in the fashion industry, and how we can improve things, make it sustainable without it being a real bore, and without compromising on style and creativity. Up until now I’ve always used pre-consumer waste fabric, so it’s not necessarily eco-fabrics as such, but waste from other designers, so using it is ecological- and its not going into landfill, especially if you can make it into something that’s quality and timeless. I also manufacture locally, so I keep the social ethics in mind, as in this country we have laws about quality of working environment and employment, which also means we’re not shipping stuff from one side of the country to another and back and forth, which is really bad for the environment. It also means I know my suppliers, and they know that the wellbeing of their workers is really important to me, and they know that I wouldn’t be working with them if they were in any way taking advantage of their workers.
I wanted to talk to you about Poppy (Tara’s half sister, and talented lady behind Poppy’s Papercuts) and your collaboration, and how that all came about- because, quite frankly, I am obsessed with it!
Well, I was with a mentor of mine, and she suggested it- but because of this pre-consumer fabric waste thing, I had never considered printing my own fabrics. With Poppy, we had talked for years about working together, and knew Poppy’s work would look amazing on textiles. We had actually talked about actually going into business doing scarves, but never really found the time or got it off the ground- and then my mentor suggested collaborating with Poppy, and I was like ‘duh?! How have I never thought of that before?!’
In regards to Poppy’s work, I was having a bit of a block with designing the collection- it was to do with grieving for my mum who passed away, and feeling a bit lost without her, and I started really doubting my ability. The collection is all about family love- and that’s where the whole thing started. It’s about the love I have for my mum, and more than that, looking at Mexican culture. Family love is so important and how they honor their dead. It’s why we had the skeletons and things like that, as they have the ‘Day of the Dead’ festival, which was when my mum’s funeral was, and I went there on the anniversary of her death too. So again, it’s been huge in defining my relationship with my mum really- so working with my sister on everything couldn’t have been better. That’s what we’re all about too as we’re a family business.
I was going to ask you about the Mexican influence to the collection too…
Again, it was my mentor who said I should try, in some way, to try and honor her in the collection- so make the collection about her, without being too direct. It was my mum who was completely obsessed with Mexico, she took me there as a child and was in love with Frieda Kahlo. My home as a child was always decorated and painted in these loud Mexican colours with art all over the walls- sombreros, everything. We went there, and she took 3 suitcases, and filled them up completely with memorabilia and sold it on her stall at Portobello and Spitalfields. It’s also somewhere that Poppy is heavily, heavily inspired by- with their papel picado, paper cutting and collage in their culture. Poppy’s mum also has a lot of Mexican art, and the real forties and fifties girls also loved Mexicana because it was such a huge thing in that era, like souvenir skirts and memorabilia.
My mum was also obsessed with Western movies and spaghetti westerns, and she used to work a lot with the Pogues, and their costumes and videos, and for one of their album covers she made the coats inspired by the Long Riders. I look at some of the old pictures at some of the things she did in the eighties, and wore rockabilly cowgirl shirts, circle skirts and things like that- and especially this gingham skirt. In one of my favourite pictures of my mum she’s wearing a black and white gingham skirt, so it’s references that probably only really I know, but it’s been really emotionally healing for me. The thing with the business, and taking it over from my mum, and the kind of limitations that I have set, it means that sometimes I lose the creativity and I’m such a creative person. The customers expect a certain aesthetic, so doing this has helped me do more as an artist – and to use that process as a means of expressing and healing my grief, in a way that’s not off putting to other people.
That is so beautiful- you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect fit for a collection! Reverting back to something a little more boring- what does the typical day in the life look like for you?
It’s very difficult! There is no typical day, as there’s so many different things happening at different times of the year. If I had to generalize, I start my day with yoga and a really healthy breakfast of papaya with some green tea! I then go to work, and start my day with emails, and may then do something more creative in the afternoon- like working with my pattern cutter on new designs, or going to meetings with people. After work I try to meet a friend- especially at this time of year when the evenings are so long, you finish work and think ‘I still have another 5 hours of sunlight ahead of me!’
I know- I love it! Do you have any advice for young budding entrepreneurs?
Make sure it’s something that you would be doing if you weren’t getting paid. I think a lot of people think that having your own business is a way of making a lot of money, and usually it’s not. You might have a high turnover business, but a lot of that money is going to be going on wages and running costs, rent, bills, production and that kind of stuff- especially in fashion where you have to focus so much money on marketing and production. If it’s something you can’t help but do then definitely monetize it. If it’s something that you started as a hobby, and people are into it and there’s a market for it- then absolutely go for it- in a way that’s going to be efficient and fit with your life. The number one thing though, that I learnt the hard way- is to put the health and wellbeing of yourself, and your employees first, before anything. Because when you’re off sick, everything suffers, and when your staff are sick everything suffers. If it’s a joy, and it contributes to your wellbeing, everything will be so easy, and all of the abundance will come with that.
Very wise words! What has been the highlight for you so far?
Probably this collection! The answer to this question used to be, showing at fashion week, which was kind of a milestone, and definitely a goal that was realized in the early stages of the business. This collection has been a huge highlight for me, working with Poppy has been brilliant and doing something where I feel like I can look at the collection and think ‘that is me down to a tee’ feels really good.
I’m already working with two designers on SS and AW collections next year, and we’re moving into organic-which I’m really excited about. Without sounding douchey, I do a few interviews and one of the questions I usually have is ‘where do you see the business in five to ten years?’ and even a few years ago my answer was always working with the artist that I’m working with next summer and printing on organic fabric, and that’s exactly what’s happening next summer- and it suddenly dawned on me that it was a goal of mine that’s now becoming a reality, which is quite cool! Which is why it’s so important to record your goals- the amount we realize and achieve without even noting!
Finally, as part of the Girl Crush series I have to ask about the women you look up to and admire yourself- who is your girl crush?
I love Charlotte Olympia! I remember a few years ago, I was saying to myself that I want my work to be recognized alongside the brands that I admire, and next to the brands that I feel are representative of what I love, and Charlotte Olympia being absolutely number one on that list. So to have her be a genuine fan and customer is absolutely amazing and a huge honor. She genuinely, admires my work- but she is fantastic. I love her creativity, how she is a true artist, and how she takes an otherwise mundane object like a shoe, and turns it into an absolute work of sculptural genius. I also think she perfectly encapsulates the idea of being inspired by a particular era without being out of date too.