Shaina’s unique design sensibility shines through in the distinctly architectural, complex yet graceful forms her eponymous brand is known for. Her references are subtle and diverse, with nods to Japanese martial arts, the delicately balanced art of Carol Bove, the colors and textures of rural California, West Texas, and Nayarit. When you encounter the collections you get the sense that they’re outcomes of an unusually expansive design process, one that extends far beyond the timescale of a single season. It’s that development of a long-evolving (and geographically situated) thought process that makes the label so compelling and distinctive, but ultimately it’s the clothes themselves — their beauty and functionality — that so many women are connecting with.
On a sun-soaked morning we dropped by Shaina’s studio in downtown LA to say hi and watch her team at work. While we chatted in the bright space (fresh stems from the nearby flower market on the table), we watched her pattern maker cut and measure across the room. A calming, refreshing, and inspirational studio visit.
When we first met a few seasons ago you mentioned that you’re completely self-taught as a designer. That blew my mind! Can you talk more about how you got started?
I first started designing while working as a buyer and vintage curator for a fashion company here in LA. I saw a lot of polyester fabrics and trend-based styles coming in and out of the shop and in and out of fashion, and it felt disposable and unsustainable.
I felt torn at the time because I’ve always loved fashion — how it relates to identity and has real power to change how we perceive ourselves and others. Out of this love for design and a desire to create pieces with lasting impact I decided to work on a collection of pieces that weren’t too loud, that were well constructed and thoughtfully designed with top-notch sustainable fabrics. So I took a pattern making apprenticeship, and then for my first collection I made each pattern by hand on the floor of my studio apartment in Highland Park in 2011.
How would you describe the sensibility behind Shaina Mote?
I’m drawn to design that evolves through time with the wearer and holds its relevance, function and beauty. Along with that comes a sense of intrigue in pieces that can be worn more than one way or that find themselves useful on different occasions.
I always favor quality fabrics and construction and try my best to bring awareness to each choice I make, working with family-run and women-run contractors and businesses where I can.
What were some of the aesthetic references for the spring collection?
Travel and experiencing different lifestyles is always a source of inspiration for me. For Spring 2017 particularly, I was intrigued by the color palette and the ease of life in Nayarit, Mexico. I spent a good portion of my time there on sailboats and fell in love with the angular, open shapes of the sails, the sun-faded colors and nautical stripes.
One of the components that makes the collections so unique are the materials you use. How do you source them?
The fabrics come mainly from Japan and Italy, and the sourcing process typically entails sifting through thousands of swatches of fabrics each season, looking for hand-feel, wearability, sustainable content and so on. Our jersey knits come from one of the last industrial knitters in LA, a family-run company that focuses on materials like bamboo, tencel and micro modal. Most of these types of knitters went out of business years back when the majority of this production went overseas to China in the eighties.
What kinds of things inform your work that remain constant for you from season to season?
The musician Terry Riley is a constant spring of imagination and inspiration that I keep coming back to when I work.
My time in Kyoto was also very powerful — I talked to dozens of craftspeople, from broom makers to paint makers to indigo dyers who have carried on their family craft for generations. The attention to detail and intent I found there was really profound.
Do you have any studio essentials, things that make your work life calmer or more beautiful?
I’m guilty of having many! Fresh Lilies of the Valley, Ippodo Matcha Tea…. and I’ve recently been obsessed with a candle Gabriela Artigas makes with rose water and cedar called Early Morning. Good music can take things a long way too!
What are you reading or listening to at the moment?
I recently became obsessed with gardening and collecting rare seed varietals, and I’m reading “The Seed Underground” by Janisse Ray, which sheds light on the state of agriculture and the importance of keeping plant diversity alive.
I also love Alan Watts, who talks about Japanese aesthetics and the tea ceremony in his book “You’re It,” from 1971 — it’s a soulful, deep, and inspiring read.
Shop the Shaina Mote SS17 collection in our store.