Tracy Reese has designed clothes through many of fashion’s rockiest shifts. Having launched her eponymous line in 1998, she was there for the boom of e-commerce; led the conversation on diversity and inclusivity (see: her early-’00s runway shows and the “real women” she began casting for lookbooks in 2016); and witnessed the ups and downs of department stores and retail in general. Perhaps most important, she’s kept up with the industry’s zero-to-60 increase in speed, effectively growing her business on a global scale and producing upwards of 10 collections a year.
But after Spring 2018, she pumped the brakes. Fans of her label may have noticed that she’s been absent from the New York Fashion Week calendar for a few seasons, and her Instagram page has been relatively quiet. (She’s been traveling and competing in the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative, but has not shown new collections.) As it turns out, she had something up her sleeve: Last week she announced the launch of her brand-new label, Hope for Flowers, which is focused specifically on sustainable materials, ethical production, and handwork. It’s based in Detroit.
On a recent call, Reese said she simply couldn’t ignore the impact her original brand (and much, much larger ones) was having on the environment. Sustainability had been on her mind for the better part of a decade, largely thanks to a design assistant who left to earn a master’s degree in green sciences. But it wasn’t until her former business partners approached Reese about doing “volume production”—i.e., lower-priced, high-quantity collections—that she put her foot down. “The more I learned about fast fashion and cheap production in general, I just knew that was the antithesis to everything I was thinking about,” she says. “If you’re selling a garment for $10, let’s just do the math and understand what that means for all the people along that supply chain. It’s like slavery. I knew I didn’t want anything to do with that, so it made me get really serious about what I did want.”
Reese had always been confident that her factories had fair labor practices and wages, but found there was “zero transparency” in her fabric supply chain. “I knew it was time for me to look at my career and my dreams, and rethink how I was going about the process and ask myself: How can I do better?” she says. “This many years into my career, I needed the challenge. I needed to shake things up and to recommit to my work in a fresh way and in a way that I felt good about. Not just the routine of designing collection after collection, but a slower, more thoughtful model where everything has intent. I’m getting back to all the things I love about design.”
On that note, Hope for Flowers is inherently Tracy Reese, with its feminine prints, floaty materials, and bright palette, but virtually everything else about it is different from her former brand. For starters, it’s very small and she intends to keep it that way. “I want to ship fewer collections, because the world just does not need so much merchandise,” she explains. “This is going to be a smaller, tighter ship.” In lieu of polyester or blended synthetics, Reese is working with natural fibers like silk, Tencel, Lyocell, organic cotton, and organic linen, and the clothes are being produced in small quantities for select retailers not massive chains around the globe.