If you’re hosting a party or going to a special event, and have nothing to wear, Bespoke Southerly with their made-to-order capsule collection is the perfect solution. When Sheri Turnbow, the founder of Bespoke Southerly joined the fashion world, she fulfilled the need for high quality special occasion dresses that were not only beautifully made, but would last from year to year.
In this interview Sheri shares more about why she founded Bespoke Southerly, her tips for investment dressing and an exciting hint about her upcoming collection.
When did you first decide to create Bespoke Southerly?
I was feeling like I had hit a plateau in my former career and I wanted to try something more creative. I was exploring a few ideas when I had an “aha” moment and realized there was gap in the market for women’s customizable clothing, specifically special occasion dresses. As a lover of entertaining and parties, I have always struggled to find the perfect dress for every event and noted a lack of beautifully-made, quality items that were meant to be worn more than once as investment pieces. There was always one thing about the dress that wasn’t quite right and I never felt I was getting a good value since most of the fabrics were synthetic and the quality of construction was lacking. Fast fashion has really changed expectations about clothing. People actually expect to buy a dress and wear it once! So, after an informal survey of women I know, I decided to design a capsule collection and give it a go! Most women told me they have a rather hectic last-minute search for something to wear to an event. They may find a silhouette they like but they don’t like the color or they may find a dress that requires hemming and they don’t have time to alter it. That is why I really went to great lengths to get these dresses right and offer custom options. And, an unexpected bonus of the custom options is your dress is not one everyone else is wearing – another problem solved!
What is the overall aesthetic of Bespoke Southerly and what do you think sets your brand apart from others?
All of my designs are inspired by my Southern upbringing in Georgia and Virginia and Southerly means “a wind blowing from the South”. So, the overall look and feel of the brand and the garments evoke Southern elegance. That’s why I chose a dogwood bough and muted but rich colors for the brand identity. I wanted it to look refined and reflect the luxury of the dresses but not be too fancy or serious. After all, these are party dresses!
As far as what sets the brand apart, there are a few things. Number one is definitely the ability to customize your dress and personalize it. Men do this with suits all the time but there hasn’t been that option for women unless you are buying bridal. I also wanted the brand to be socially conscious, specifically to be more sustainable. I have a background in sustainability and care about the environment so I wanted to ensure the brand reflected that value. That is why we create pieces made to last as investments in your wardrobe and not throw away fast fashion. We also manufacture made to order, so our partners in manufacturing cut one garment at a time, ensuring as little waste as possible in the manufacturing process and no excess inventory. And, we teamed up with an online reseller of deadstock and unused fabric pieces to sell left over yardage that we can’t use in future so it doesn’t end up in the landfill. And last but not least, all our garments are proudly made in the USA! This enables us to address the ethical issue of labor in the fashion business to ensure good working conditions and a living wage.
When buying a made to order dress, customers are not only able to choose fabric colors and hem lengths, but also accents such as pockets (my favorite!) and ruffles. Tell me about why you decided to go with a made to order concept?
For a few reasons, actually. As I mentioned, made to order means our partners in manufacturing cut one garment at a time so we are able to offer personalization through custom options like some of those you noted – I love ruffles also but they are not for everyone! Eventually, made to order will also allow us to offer made to measure instead of standard sizes as well as more custom options. The future potential was a big part of the decision. In addition, made to order, sometimes called on demand manufacturing, ensures as little waste as possible in the manufacturing process and no excess inventory. You may be surprised to learn how much clothing inventory ends up in landfills every year. And when you consider the amount waste and pollution just to make those garments to begin with, you start to realize how important it is to make better choices when buying apparel. Simply put, made to order apparel is more environmentally friendly and you can get the personalized details that you want.
The Bespoke Southerly capsule collection has five silhouettes with a theme of classic glamour. What inspired the capsule collection?
In addition to my Southern upbringing, I was inspired by vintage couture and the idea of creating pieces that reflect that quality, but have a more modern silhouette in both classic and on trend color options. I wanted the collection to include a variety of skirt styles and necklines since we were starting with just a few designs. I was also heavily influenced by my aunt, an elegant and fashionable woman with great style. She knows what looks good on her and rather than always following the trends, she invests in beautifully-made, quality items that she can enjoy from season to season. So, my collection evokes that “Southern Woman”. Perennially pulled together!
Out of the five silhouettes, which one is your personal favorite that you would wear to a party or event?
That is such a hard question! Of course I love them all, and it depends on how formal the event is, but I think the Lily dress is my favorite. It required creating several versions to get the interior corset right and multiple types of pleats for the right amount of ‘pouf’! One of my personal pet peeves is seeing women pulling up strapless dresses – I feel like we’ve all done it, but that is because the dress isn’t made well or doesn’t fit right. You should not spend your evening worrying about keeping your dress up. In the Lily you don’t have to and it looks amazing knee length, tea length and full length!
Your dresses are made from fine silks and silk blend velvets that are meant to last from year to year making them an ideal investment piece. Where do you source your fabrics?
The beauty and luxury of real silk is unparalleled. It has a depth and sheen that can’t be duplicated by synthetic fabrics like polyester. And, it feels wonderful against the skin, which is why all Bespoke Southerly dresses are lined in 100% silk as well. Our velvet took a long time to find because I wanted something very soft and fluid that reminded me of the velvet I used to wear as a child. We source all our fabrics through US wholesalers in New York City. They, in turn, source the fabrics from Asia, France and Italy. Our dream as our company grows is to source directly from those countries and if possible find more sustainable fabric options and silks closer to home. Ideally, we plan to avoid using any polyester, which is petroleum based, unless it is deadstock or recycled.
What are your tips for those who want to get started in ‘investment dressing’?
I love this question! Anyone who decides to edit their wardrobe and create a closet of investment staples will ultimately save money, find it easier to dress well and feel better in their clothes! My primary tips include choosing classic clothing that won’t go out of style next season. Think classic colors, styles, and shapes like a little black dress, crisp white shirt, dark denim jeans, or a black or navy blazer. And, of course, at least one great cocktail dress and evening gown! In addition, look for high quality clothing items that are fully lined, have prints lining up at the seams, sturdy construction with finished seams, and natural fiber fabrics like linen, cotton, wool and silk. If you choose items you love and can mix and match, you will feel and look great. If you don’t love it, skip it – you’re just wasting your money. It will take some time to create your best wardrobe, but enjoy the process knowing each piece will make you feel confident and pulled together no matter what the occasion.
You work with domestic artisans and manufacturers to bring your designs to life, how closely do you work with the artisans/manufacturers?
Very! In order to ensure high quality and full understanding of the various details, I visit my manufacturing partners in person as well as stay in constant contact with individual seamstresses that handle any hand draping or sewing. My pattern maker is one of the key people on the team and she has created the runway collection patterns and samples for some major couture designers. I see her quite regularly, especially during design development and fittings to ensure the finished product will be of the highest quality. This is also another reason we make our garments in the USA. We built a relationship with our garment making partners so that we have more control over quality and if anything ever does go wrong, we can work it out because we actually know each other.
Bespoke Southerly was a part of the Harvard Identities Fashion Show this spring. What was the most exciting aspect about taking part in this event?
It was an honor to be chosen by the Harvard Identities team to show Bespoke Southerly fashions at their annual fashion show. We were in such great company with brands like Monique Lhuillier, Zac Posen, Prabal Gurung who were also featured in the show. I made the trip to Boston to oversee the fittings myself and the most exciting part of the event for me was seeing how much the student models loved the dresses! Even some of the models not wearing my collection commented how pretty the dresses were and wanted to wear them in the show. Of course, meeting super model Coco Rocha was exciting as well ?!
Are you currently working on your next collection?
Yes! We have just completed the patterns and initial samples for three sleeve versions of the Camellia dress including a cap sleeve, a three-quarter sleeve and a ruffle sleeve. Those will be available this coming fall/holiday season. We are also adding a bolero jacket and an evening coat and have several design sketches that are undergoing a narrowing down process. Development of each design is very time consuming and costly, so during these early stages, we need to limit the number of new pieces we can make each year as the company grows. I can give you a hint on the styles though – timeless, feminine and flirty! Gorgeous!
Keep up with Bespoke Southerly through the following links…
All images in this post were provided by Sherri Turnbow of Bespoke Southerly.