Hawaiian designer Taleah Smith has made every-day pieces more interesting with unexpected cuts and a mantra of sustainability – all of Taleah’s designs boast the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits. In her latest collection, Indigo Sage transforms what is a simple black suite into intriguing, comfortable, and easily wearable and matchable bikini separates. In today’s Designer Spotlight, Taleah tells us about her commitment to sustainability and the challenges she faces as a result.
What is it like to live and grow a business in Hawaii?
Living in Hawaii is wonderful. The weather is nice year-round, the scenery is beautiful, the people are friendly, and it’s generally safer and more relaxed than anywhere else in the States. It truly is a paradise, and it is difficult for me to imagine living anywhere else at this point. However, growing a business is a challenge here, particularly in the field of fashion. There is not much of a fashion scene in Hawaii, and trends often take a long time to reach the islands, but this can be a positive as I like to think I design beyond the trends. I nurture my relationships with local customers but it is essential that I reach out to a wider audience in order to grow my business in a financially sustainable manner.
What do you think about fashion today?
I laugh at myself sometimes when I think about being part of the fashion industry. My general impression is that modern fashion is frivolous, outrageous, and largely non-functional. Of course, this doesn’t apply to every brand out there. But I do believe that fashion should be less superficial and have more of a story behind it. I would like to see less mindless consumerism based on labels, and more connection with what the clothing says about the person wearing it.
What is your fashion philosophy?
My philosophy is that fashion should be a form of self-expression and communication. Whether a woman views herself as bohemian, or bombshell, or sporty, or edgy, or something else entirely, she can use fashion as a way to convey how she feels inside. It can also be a way to illustrate her values based on the stories behind the brands she chooses. Love it or hate it, we live in a world where we are judged by our looks, and first impressions are formed within seconds. We can use fashion to our advantage in this regard, by allowing it to convey what we think, feel, value, and believe in.
How and why did you start designing?
I think style and design are just a part of my identity and self expression. In preschool, my mother made me a semi-sheer, sparkly blue skirt that I was only allowed to wear at home. One day, I snuck it to school in my backpack, changed into it in the bathroom, and rocked it all day until my mom picked me up and discovered what I had done! Honestly, I have probably been creating my own clothing for most of my life. I remember making dresses from my grandmother’s silk scarves when I was five years old. By sixth grade, I was hand sewing alterations on my old clothes to make them more stylish. When I was fifteen, my mother gave me her old Singer sewing machine (no manual included), and I taught myself how to use it through lots of trial and error and tears. My entire life has been a never-ending series of creative projects, with adulthood revealing more refinement and focus on my interests. It only seemed natural to develop my passion and inspiration into a career.
What have you been up to since your initial launch on Nineteenth Amendment?
In addition to developing my swimwear collection, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the first annual Honolulu Fashion Week last November. I showed several pieces from my collection with Conscious Designers Hawaii, a Hawaii-based organization dedicated to social and environmental responsibility in the fashion industry. I also showed my full collection, including my new swimwear line, with RAW Artists Honolulu.
What is your brand aesthetic?
Indigo Sage is a lifestyle brand that reflects the relaxed, easy-going vibe of tropical, beach-centered locales. The designs are flattering and chic while also being incredibly comfortable and casual. The fabrics are made from sustainable and natural materials, and each piece is made by hand in an ethically, socially-responsible manner. The Indigo Sage girl is carefree, genuine, confident, intelligent, and passionate. She spends a lot of time outdoors, in and around the water, and often in a bikini. She loves to travel, learn new languages, and experience traditional cultures. She considers herself a citizen of the world, and endeavors to share her positivity and generosity wherever she goes.
What inspired your latest collection?
My latest collection was inspired by a niche in the market that I felt wasn’t being addressed. In Hawaii, swimwear is an important part of the wardrobe. The lifestyle is very ocean-based, and many people wear swimwear every day. This necessitates the need for stylish and flattering, yet highly functional, swimwear options. While there are brands that fill this description, none are addressing the issue of sustainability. In a culture that derives so much enjoyment, recreation, food, resources, and employment from the ocean, it is counterintuitive to support industries that contribute to polluting the ocean. Unfortunately, the fashion and textile industries tend to be highly wasteful and unsustainable.
I spent close to two years searching for a sustainable swimwear fabric that met my standards, and finally found one that I am very excited to work with. It is produced in Italy from a blend of 100% recycled polyamide and Lycra. The company even incorporates fiber from reclaimed fishing nets (removed from the ocean where they would potentially cause harm to marine life) into the regenerated polyamide fiber. In addition, this fabric is resistant to chlorine, suntan creams and lotions, provides SPF 50+ sun protection, is soft and smooth, ultra-thin, and retains its shape well.
Say “Aloha” to the beach with Indigo Sage.