A self proclaimed adopter of the work uniform, dressed in black pants and a white tee, I met Althea in her Brooklyn studio to discuss all things GRAMMAR. The NYC based designers' emerging label is focussed on white shirting for women with her debut range centered around five unique designs. Each one caters to a certain style and ocassion but all offer sustainability and ethics. With organic cotton poplin the fabric of choice and all production completed locally in NYC's garment district, these shirts check all the boxes! At the heart of the range though is quality, each style is meticulously thought through and fit to perfection. After having the opportunity to try on all five shirts it was hard to choose a favorite but easy to identify their value and longevity in your wardrobe.
Learn more about the brand and the face behind it all in this Q&A with founder Althea Simons and pre-order your shirt now through Kickstarter before September 30th.
What was your inspiration behind starting GRAMMAR?
I’ve always wanted to start a sustainable fashion company. Well, I’ve always wanted to have my own business, and since I went to Parsons I’ve wanted to start a sustainable fashion company. I didn’t feel ready at the time, and in retrospect it’s clear that since then I’ve been collecting experiences to help me feel confident enough to run my own business. The catalyst to finally starting was in January 2016 when I was starting my last semester at business school and my apartment building burned down. I lost all of my stuff, and had to replace my carefully curated wardrobe. It was really hard. I realized that there wasn’t a brand made for me; I wanted classic, go-to pieces that were well-designed and different – and bonus points if it was sustainable – but I couldn’t find anything that I wanted to buy. I thought, I’ve always wanted to start a sustainable fashion business…if not now, when? That’s when I started to really think in earnest about what that would look like.
Why did you choose to focus your range on white shirts for women?
I realized early on in the process that I needed focus. Because I was starting the business on my own and bootstrapping, I needed to be really lean and purposeful with my operations. It makes sense at the beginning to focus on one fabric – you can meet higher minimums and therefore have more options. I liked the design challenge of picking one type of garment and creating different versions of it, and from a brand perspective it’s strong and clear what Grammar is about. I love white shirts – they are so iconic and versatile, they look good on everyone, and they work for every occasion. When I was working in branding I developed a work uniform: white shirt, black pants or skirt, black shoes. The benefits of a work uniform are numerous (see Huffington Post), but best of all it saves time in the morning and reduces decision fatigue. It was powerful to be able to throw on one of my white shirts and feel like I could take on anything my day would throw at me. I want to empower women to feel that way too.
What made you choose to use organic cotton and have GRAMMAR manufactured entirely in NYC?
Organic and local are part of my value system. My mother started a natural food store in the early 90's when I was young; knowing where your food comes from and understanding how it’s grown or made has always been a part of my life. Many people don’t realize or think about the fact that cotton is an agricultural product; conventional cotton is subjected to chemicals and pesticides just like fruits and vegetables. Everyone understands how bad this is for human health and the environment, and yet less than one percent of all cotton grown in the world is organic. I want to be a part of changing that statistic. The change has to come from the demand side, because farming organically is unequivocally more difficult than conventional. Producing locally, I get to see with my own eyes that the factories are ethical. I have a relationship with the people who make Grammar shirts. I would love to have a factory one day and produce in house, but in the meantime there are so many amazing factories in the Garment District who produce for some of the most prestigious brands in New York. The talent here is unsurpassed in the U.S..
How did you come up with the 5 shirt designs that make up the range?
My process includes a lot of research – perhaps a hold-over from my neuroscience days. I’ve talked to so many women about what they want, and I try to incorporate their needs into the designs. For example, I heard from a lot of women that they want shirts they can wear under blazers for work, so I made sure that I had styles that could do that (The Conjunction and The Verb). I love this interview with Lorde in New York Times Magazine. In it, she describes her creative process, which I feel is really similar to mine. I have a vague idea of what I want and then keep working at it until it’s right. I collect ideas – details, silhouettes, shapes, functionality – that I want to include in the collection, not knowing exactly where they will fit. Then I just keep refining until it feels good. I wanted the shirts to all be really different, so part of it is pushing them away from each other design-wise so they are each distinct. Finally, I think about what I would wear. I have to love it. If I love it, chances are someone else will too.
Why is a white shirt so important in a woman's wardrobe?
So many reasons! I think you’re hinting at a feminist angle – or maybe I’m projecting – either way, a white shirt is really powerful. A (male!) friend of mine recently texted me: “Grammar is going to redefine and support the 2017 work woman’s badass approach to thriving in the formerly male workplace.” I love that idea, and I hope it’s true!
With just over a week left in GRAMMAR's Kickstarter campaign time is running out to get your hands on a signature shirt from this emerging brands debut collection! Get yours HERE.