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Apartment Visit: Thomas Sires

  • We recently caught up with Fiona Thomas and Allison Sires, the ladies behind NYC-based clothing line Thomas Sires, at Fiona’s apartment in the Lower East Side.

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    {Allison is wearing the Thomas Sires Portmore Open Back Shirt and Banks Silk Short; Fiona wears the Hope Bay Sweater}

    How did the two of you meet and what made you decide to start a business together?
    Fiona: We met working together at Loeffler Randall, about five years ago. It was a small but growing company and we were all very close, which is how Allison and I became friends. I knew starting my own business was something I always wanted to do, and over time realized that Allison and I shared this goal.

    Allison: I had also wanted to do something on my own since I started working as a clothing designer — it was just a question of in what capacity, as well as timing. Fiona and I share a similar aesthetic even outside of fashion so it seemed really natural to open a store and clothing line together.

    Your business model is really unique, because not everyone can or wants to do all of those things.
    Fiona: [Laughs] Well, that’s probably because they thought it through first (or rather, counted the hours in a day)! The concept of a store where we could feature our own designs alongside other objects/products was really exciting to me. The store is like a home in that we are able to create an atmosphere that really represents our tastes and helps the customer understand our point of view.

    Allison: Like Fiona said, the other things in the store help explain the clothing, and ourselves. It’s also fun to work on other projects apart from making clothes. Working on merchandising the store or looking for the other objects we carry uses another kind of creativity, so when we go back to designing clothes we feel refreshed in a way.

    Fiona: Our goal is to grow our collection from clothing into additional product categories, like the children’s clothing we already make and carry in the store. When you take fabric or trims out of the context of clothing, you realize they could make all these other things. You start to notice that a fabric could be a scarf, a pillow, a pouch, or even a dog collar. We might have purchased something with a clothing silhouette in mind, but the store allows us to think outside of those confines and try different things.

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    It sounds like the store really worked out as a testing ground for these explorations.
    Allison: It definitely allows us to play around. Over the winter, I got on this yarn pom-pom making kick, and was able to use the finished products for a window display. Recently, I got really into origami, so I’ve made these Japanese paper ornaments called Kusudama that we’re selling in the store.

    Fiona: At times we take for granted things that are a natural interest of ours, but our customers really respond to them. For instance, we re-covered the seats of these vintage Lucite chairs in a beautiful hand-woven fabric and had custom light fixtures made, both to decorate the store. Although they aren’t for sale through us, customers are always asking to buy them, and it’s nice to be able to direct them to those designers. I really enjoy that collaborative aspect to the business and I think this is an example of why the industry is moving in more of a lifestyle direction. A store that represents the brand down to the littlest detail feels more inviting and more inclusive. We have seven year-olds to seventy year-olds who find things they like in the store. Many of the mothers that shop at Thomas Sires do so because their kids see something and want to come in. And then there’s Ivy.

    Tell us a bit about Ivy.
    Ivy is my Norwich terrier. She’s developed quite a following since we opened. Customers come by just to see her. If you work at Thomas Sires, you inevitably spend a lot of time talking about Ivy.

    Allison: She’s our number one salesperson.

    What are each of your roles within the company?
    Allison: We both do a little bit of everything. Since my background is in design, I handle the sample development and clothing production, but we come up with the seasonal concept for the collection and the designs together . We’re such a small company that we also have to do things outside our field of expertise, like accounting, office management, and we also work in the store. We even clean the bathroom!

    Fiona: The idea coming into it was that we each had experience in different areas, but with a small company you end up doing everything and learn early on that some of the things you thought you knew you have to completely relearn because they’re applied in a totally different way. You have to be flexible.

    How many employees do you have?
    Allison: Currently, it’s just us full time, but we do have a store sales staff.

    Fiona: (Laughs) We need help!

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    {Fiona in Ocho Rios Jumper; portrait of her grandmother, Eleanor, in the background}

    In building your business from scratch, what was a challenge you didn’t see coming?
    Fiona: I think it takes you out of your confines and into a different space. The process of growth is a little bit like leaving home. A lot of times, you expected to spend your day doing one thing, or evolving the business in a certain direction, and it ends up going in an entirely different way. You have to adjust. Personally, that’s something I like and at a certain point you become zen about not being able to accomplish everything in THAT moment. Additionally, being patient about the future and enjoying your accomplishments as they happen. It’s very easy to forget to do that.
    Allison: There are things that have thrown us for a loop, but they mostly have to do with business operation regulations, blah, blah, blah, so I won’t bore you with specifics. Basically, you can strategize on how to deal with challenges that you anticipate, but there are always unexpected things that come up, and they’re mostly things you don’t have experience with. You really have to be able to learn on your feet.

    What’s been the most rewarding thing about it?
    Allison: Hearing compliments on the store and clothing directly from customers is very rewarding. It makes me feel really, really good, especially when that person doesn’t know that you’re an owner/designer. The positive feedback is all the more special because it’s unsolicited.

    Fiona: All the learning that goes into taking that initial plunge and making it a reality. Now, two and a half years later, we’re a part of the neighborhood. We have great customers who respond to our brand, which is exactly what we hoped for. In many ways they’ve become our muses. It’s inspiring to know that what you’ve created captures the essence of what you initially set out to achieve. I love being in the store and meeting our customers–they’re creative, interesting and smart and they get it. It’s such a mix. Many of our customers come from all over the world, and it’s exciting when they respond enthusiastically to our collection and the store, while also recognizing a textile or product from their country from where we have drawn inspiration. It’s sort of a mutual appreciation, which is nice.

    Allison: Agreed. One of the few words I know in Japanese is “kawaii,” which means cute, and when we have Japanese tourists come in and I hear them say that, it’s awesome.

    Fiona: Also seeing our clothing hanging in some of our favorite stores (Steven Alan!) is always exciting. I would love to go back to Japan and see our collection in stores there. That’s truly a dream come true.

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    {Allison in the Alexandria Sweater Tee}

    Where do you get your inspiration?
    Allison: We love prints, and finding or creating ones we like is often when our inspiration starts to come together. For Spring, we found some vintage prints that fit really well with this 1950s-60s Jamaica concept we were feeling.

    Fiona: My grandparents built a house in Jamaica in the late 50′s and I have some old photos with kind of a Slim Aarons style, which we used as inspiration. I also have this vintage Jamaica shirt (like the one from the iconic Jamaica Tourism Board poster) that we turned into an intarsia sweater tee.  Our clothing aesthetic is quite classic, so having a loose concept keeps things fun and light. It also helps us build upon that initial concept with the other products and overall atmosphere in our store.

    How is your aesthetic represented in the collection?
    Fiona: The collection  has to come back to what we, Fiona and Allison, wear and the place we are in our lives. It has to be in line with our overall sensibility in respect to quality and design, and have a certain practicality and purpose. At the same time, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It feels honest.

    Allison: I think in terms of our aesthetic, we both enjoy wearing clothes that are interesting, but not over the top. I don’t mean our aesthetic is conservative–jumpsuits are a mainstay of our collection season after season.

    Much of your inspiration comes from travel. What’s a place you haven’t been but would love to go to?
    Allison: Fiona and I are both dying to go to Morocco. Also, I really enjoyed a trip I took to Thailand and want to go back. In Bangkok there are these amazing outdoor markets where you can find anything.

    Fiona: I would definitely love to visit all the places Allison mentioned, and I also think that there are places that offer consistent inspiration, that one could visit time and again. The more we travel and explore, the more it opens our eyes to the other possibilities for Thomas Sires . . . even just a state away.

    What are some of your favorite pieces from this collection?
    Fiona: We’ve had lots of success with certain styles, like jumpsuits, since we started. It’s consistently something that’s sold well for us. Our Ocho Rios Jumper in the cotton Ikat print is one of my favorite pieces for summer.

    Allison: The Alexandria Sweater Tee is a favorite of mine from this season. I love the marled and solid color blocking.

    Many thanks to Fiona, Allison, and Ivy! You can find pieces from the Thomas Sires Spring ’13 collection at our Tribeca and Atlanta stores, and in our web shop.

    This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 at 4:53 pm and is filed under In Stock. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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