Hillary Taymour had been running her Collina Strada brand for less than a year when Target asked her to collaborate on a bag collection in 2009.
To ramp up production, she soon found herself sifting through $30,000 worth of leather hides in a supplier’s warehouse in New York. The hides reeked of chemicals; many would be rendered unusable due to tick marks and other blemishes. Taymour was so overwhelmed by the feeling of being “surrounded by death” that she burst into tears.
“It was a deep thing, just to be surrounded by all these skins,” she says. “I was like, this isn’t for me. And if I have to keep doing what I’m doing, I want to do it in the way that makes me feel good. . . I wanted to make sure that if ever I had a voice, I would use my voice for the right thing.
That early experience was formative in shaping Taymour’s approach to his label, but it wasn’t until more than a decade later that his perspective began to garner industry attention in his outfit.
Best known for her colorful and chaotic prints, diverse cast, irreverent sense of humor and memorable runway shows, Collina Strada has become an inspiring new voice in American fashion. In 2019, the brand was named a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist; in 2020, he was personally selected by Gucci designer Alessandro Michele to be part of the GucciFest virtual film festival; and in 2021, the label made its Met Gala debut with pop singer Kim Petras, and again appeared at the after-party on singer-songwriter Lorde.
Although Taymour is now in her thirties and one of its most constant muses is the 70-year-old mother of longtime collaborator and photographer Charlie Engman, the brand has become something of a symbol of youth culture by embodying the values of the next generation.
One of the most important of these values is responsible production. Taymour’s early experiences convinced her to move away from leather handbags and start focusing on ready-to-wear garments made in smaller batches in New York City. The brand maintains an ongoing partnership with The OR Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Ghana, and according to Taymour, 95% of its products are made of materials selected for their low environmental impact, such as “rose sylk”, a fabric made from “natural waste rose bushes and stems”.
She has used her parades to explicitly address climate change – sometimes in the form of a happy song about climate change and agriculture, at other times imploring attendees in her show notes to be part of the solution by learning to compost.
“My goal with Collina is to teach people and have fun. You can’t teach people without positivity, so I try to underpin positivity in everything we do,” she says. We’re just trying to make fashion a little less horrible.”
Improving fashion, for Taymour, has also meant adopting a welcome-all attitude that goes against the industry’s historic exclusivity. Collina Strada’s casting consistently makes it one of the most inclusive shows at New York Fashion Week, with models representing a wide range of races, genders, ages, physical abilities and heights. Taymour often places family members next to each other and works with the same creatives season after season, creating relationships that give the brand an authentically infectious sense of camaraderie and community.
Despite all the cultural waves it creates, none of this has made Collina Strada the biggest brand in New York from a financial point of view. The label employs three people full-time and has “always been a bit profitable,” says Taymour. “No one is here buying mansions or Lamborghinis.”
But it’s this measured approach — making a little money, putting it back into the brand, repeating — that Taymour says has allowed him to steadily develop his vision for 14 years. “We’ve had the most organic type of growth possible,” she says. “I don’t have to be huge, and I’m okay with that.”
When the pandemic and accompanying hardships hit, Taymour quickly turned digital, shooting a trippy and creative video presentation for her Spring 2021 collection that rivaled offerings from much bigger brands.
That — plus a fanbase that continued to buy both practical face masks and fancy pieces, including $2,000 dresses — helped Collina Strada “explode” during the pandemic, Taymour says. She has thus capitalized on what is becoming the signature of a new wave of American designers, many of whom attract an audience by prioritizing innovation, community and social values over building a financial empire.
Taymour is full of dreams for the future. She wants to open a Collina Strada store and she loves the idea of one day taking over as creative director in a big company. How she would do this while maintaining the integrity and do-it-yourself spirit for which she has become known, she will not say, beyond hinting that she would be willing to “make big changes” to the procedures of operation of any brand it would join.
But what excites him the most right now is that Collina Strada has earned the respect that has industry heavyweights coming to him for advice, especially on sustainability and other questions about the future. of fashion. That this happened while the brand remains relatively small proves that it can punch above its weight.
“The real success is the fact that we have a really massive voice in the industry right now,” she says. “If we can start a ‘trend’ to get anyone to make better products, that’s all I care about. I don’t care what other people think of me, I just want to do the right thing.
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