This week I got a chance to catch up with Etsy’s eco lingerie designer Clare Bare. Clare has incorporated thrifted & vintage fabrics into all her designs, taking a once tablecloth, bed sheets, curtains or old granny’s nightie and transforms it into retro eco lingerie. If that isn’t earth hugs and kisses enough, she uses organic cotton to line her sexy & imaginative knickers. These are the kind of skivvies that a green crafter can get all gushy over. Clare is obsessed with her pet bunny, felt frustrated with pro-fur classes in fashion school, and gives advice about how to get started making your own upcycled creations.
Who taught you to sew?
When I was in sixth grade, I took a mandatory sewing/cooking class- we learned how to make nachos and duffle bags…need I say more? Our teacher was the biggest nerd- it wasn’t a very serious class, but I took it pretty seriously. I remember everything so vividly- I bought all this white cotton fabric with little blue cows and red hearts printed all over it and a pin cushion that looked like a mouse, and for my final project I made a stuffed animal rabbit! Even though it wasn’t considered “cool,” I secretly loved that class. I didn’t really sew again until high school when a relative passed away and left behind an amazing old Singer home machine with a sewing table and an entire sewing kit full of fabric, thread and trim. I had a friend whose mother is the ultimate homemaker and she taught us basic construction skills such as darts, hems, interfacing, etc. We were inspired at the time mainly by the Victoria’s Secret catalog (and our lack of funds necessary to buy their bikinis) so we would stay up all night sewing, thriving off of our creative energy, then drive to the beach and lay out all day in our creations. Ironically, now I think that Victoria’s Secret makes overpriced, poor quality garments that don’t fit well-I strive to do the opposite of what Victoria’s Secret is doing in so many different ways.
You went to Parsons School of Design in NYC, did your studies there influence your decision to begin designing lingerie?
While I was in school, I pretty much learned more about what I didn’t want to do than what I did want to do. Originally I went to school thinking that I would be a fashion design major, but after foundation year I felt that I couldn’t chose just one thing. I opted for a new program called Integrated Design Curriculum- I took whatever classes I wanted and worked collaboratively with other students from different majors. While taking fashion classes, however, I was totally discouraged- I practically had to drag myself out of bed to get there in the mornings, I was always late, I just lost my passion for it. It was a combination of things…There was such a contrast between the classes I was taking. I spent half my time downtown working on projects that had a strong emphasis on sustainability and taking fine arts/printmaking classes. Then I would travel to midtown (I hate midtown!) to take my fashion classes where I felt like I wasn’t doing anything that made an impact on anything or anyone (not even myself.) I remember one day in particular- Tim Gunn hosted a presentation to all the new fashion students to promote some fur company. They passed around a bunch of fur samples and argued that it is more sustainable to use real fur as opposed to fake fur, because real fur doesn’t create any waste or harmful byproducts. I thought to myself, “Why not just forget about using either of them? Wouldn’t that solve the problem?” I could go on for hours about how lame and unethical that argument was, but I don’t think I need to convince anyone who may be reading this…I felt like they were trying to brainwash me! Soon after that I broke down and told my teacher I was dropping fashion. I remember the look he gave me- like he felt so sorry for me then asked me the dumbest question I’ve ever been asked to this day, “Do you even like clothes?” Haha, I didn’t even know what to say- so I cried! It was really sad because I realized it wasn’t like I thought it would be. I didn’t want to end up working in midtown, running errands for Calvin Klein or something. I just felt like I was in the wrong place. Maybe it was just me though- I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as the picture I’m painting- I tend to look at everything in an extreme way. I think it was just a matter of me figuring out how to apply ethics and sustainability into fashion in my own way. It didn’t happen for me until a year after college ended and passion came back into my life again. If I went back to school now I wouldn’t let any of those stupid things stand in my way because I have a clear concept and mission now. When it comes down to it I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t lived through those experiences, or if I hadn’t met one of my classmates, Dana, who came up with the name “Clare Bare” (out of my nickname, Clare Bear. I had to make underwear- it just went with my name!
Where do you find inspiration for your designs and your personal style?
I find a lot of inspiration from people I see on the street. My neighborhood (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) is kind of like a fashion freak show- sometimes inspiring, sometimes so uninspiring that it becomes and inspiration for something else. I’m also really into beachwear/ beach culture. It’s funny because you will see a lot of people wearing things that they wouldn’t dare wear in their own towns, but at the beach anything goes. Rules can be broken there- you’re allowed to clash prints, wear brighter colors, walk down the street in a bikini, and it’s not weird at all, it’s just normal! I just love people watching. I think that I take everything in pretty subconsciously though. For instance, I am seriously obsessed with my pet rabbit- I started wearing bandanas tied at the top of my head and someone told me that I looked like a rabbit and I didn’t even realize it!
You use vintage, upcycle and organic fabrics - is this choice driven by environmental concerns?
I really love vintage prints and textiles. Originally I used to collect them for inspiration for my drawings and prints. There is a place right outside of Philly near my hometown called Village Thrift- it’s like a vintage warehouse full of the cheapest/best stuff ever. The linens section spans a 200ft wall! I grab a shopping cart and walk along, scanning for prints that jump out at me, and I usually end up with a whole shopping cart full of stuff- old sheets, curtains, tablecloths, etc. I think it’s my favorite thing to do in the whole world. All of these shopping carts full of fabric ended up taking up so much space in my studio. When I came up with the concept for Clare Bare I was copying prints from my vintage textiles and silk screening them onto organic cotton. Then I was left with the question of what to do with all the fabric I was acquiring. Randomly one day I had an epiphany- why not just use the fabric that I had rather than trying to replicate the design and print it on new material? I always wanted my designs to be environmentally conscious- it was just a matter of figuring out the most effective way to do it.
All your lingerie is made to order, do you find this time with your sewing machine a special sort of retreat from the hustle of NYC?
I definitely appreciate the time I have with my sewing machine. I’m able to completely zone in on what I’m doing and tune out the rest of the world. My machines are just loud enough to block out the sound of my crazy neighbor singing off key on the stoop next door! It’s a sort of meditation- I can sew for hours, not know what time it is, and not even care. I think that’s how you know you’re doing the right thing.
What’s one crafting/art tool you feel like you cannot live without?
My Dremel! Because it pretty much does everything- it cuts glass, tiles, carves wood, sands things, saws through stuff…It’s really helpful because I’m always building stuff. I just finished a mosaic bench public art project and I used it every day. Also, I cannot live without my serger! I got a used Bernina Bernette machine off of Craigslist one day, and the rest is history…
For all the beginning sewers out there is there any advice you can give about getting started?
I’d say take something apart and put it back together- it will help you start thinking three dimensionally. Once you can do that you can figure out how to make anything. It would be especially helpful to do that with your sewing machine. I think it’s really important to understand how things work- that way if something goes wrong you can figure out how to fix it yourself. If you can fix a problem yourself, you don’t have to wait for (and pay for) someone else to fix it for you. My Dad (who knows how to make everything) always says that you can’t rely on anybody but yourself- that’s advice that I never really took seriously until recently. It’s good advice for anyone in any situation. Also- buy an old machine! A lot of times you can get a really good one for really cheap on Craigslist or in a thrift store. The new ones are all automatic and digital for your “convenience”- it seems like a great idea, but if it breaks you’re screwed…They just don’t make things like they used to!
Thanks Clare for Baring your sewl to fellow eco crafters!