If you think that the fashion industry is full of norms and that only projects that have a large budget move forward, you haven’t met Liv Jane yet. By Liv breaks the rules to give us garments that transcend the limits of the clothing. Made from textile scraps, her designs come to life in the wardrobes of those who are able to establish an emotional bond with their clothes and know how to listen to their inner child when dressing. Fashion as a form of free expression that finds its greatest virtue in spontaneity.
You describe the beginning of By Liv as finding a way to combine the clothes you wore in the classroom as a preschool teacher with outfits that made you feel good after work. Do you think we should stop saving clothes for special occasions and use them to bring joy to our routine?
Absolutely, I think saving clothes for special occasions is silly, every day is a special occasion. I regress every morning when I get dressed because, much like a 6-year-old, I want to wear everything I own all at once! I have always had a passionate love affair with pairing jeans, heels and a puffy tutu party dress. I like to treat my clothing like they’re my friends, though this has resulted in a very complex relationship with my closet. About once a month, I look like an absolute crazy person trying to wear all of the pieces that haven’t been worn in a while all together so that they don’t feel left out!
The materials that you use consist of antique kitchen linens, blankets, bedsheets and other fabrics that may be deemed unusable with age. Are these fabrics with history the ones that inspire your designs or do you look for the fabric that best suits the idea you have in mind?
Oh, this is a tricky question for me. It always trips me up when people ask this because I don’t always know how to best answer.
When I begin to sew I never know what I’m going to make so it really depends. Sometimes I see a textile in an antique shop and immediately know what I want it to become, other times I’ll get an idea for a garment at the most ridiculous time, like while I’m in the shower or while I’m at the grocery store and I’ll have to drop everything and rush to my sewing studio like a madwoman.
Once I’m there, I pick up the first fabric that catches my eye and make the piece before I lose the thought. I don’t use patterns, so my process is pretty sporadic and spur of the moment, it does make for truly one of a kind pieces, though! I like to use the unusable because I feel like they have more personality, the pristine pieces are too straight and narrow for me, I almost feel like they judge my process. The pieces with flaws feel authentic and real.
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Your brand follows the zero waste philosophy, reusing even the thread of the pieces from which you make your creations. Being old clothes, how do you ensure that the fabrics do not deteriorate with handling? What process do you follow once you acquire the materials to guarantee their use?
When I get my material, the first thing I do is to inspect and repair. My studio is almost like an operating room, I take these sweet wounded soldiers and fix them up so they’re good as new. The majority of the thread I use comes from large brands actually, when they buy too much of a colour and don’t need it anymore it comes to me. My studio truly does feel like the island of misfit toys.
Among your designs we find a very '70s inspiration which does not adhere to any rule, and has fun with shapes and patterns, how would you define your clothes in your own words? How do you think the person who buys By Liv is?
These clothes are truly inspired by my students, past and present. They have such a childlike aura to them, they don’t follow the rules, they don’t adhere to anything that they classically should, they are truly all over the place but they are also brilliant and one of a kind. They have a mind of their own, once you stop trying to control the garment making process they come into their own, much like children. They almost create themselves in a way!
I think that the person who buys By Liv is in touch with their childhood self, or is able to be when they put on one of my pieces. I've found that I feel like I’m 6 years old again when I wear things that I make, 6 was the best age!
Although your collection may seem made for a female audience, on your website we also find some male models. Do you consider that your clothes are genderless?
Absolutely! Since the shapes are not as tailored as traditional 'women’s clothing,' they leave lots of room to fit people of all shapes and sizes and genders and styles. They somehow fit everyone in their own unique way! I find my boyfriend stealing my clothes more often than not, so I try to make them universal enough to fit us both so they don’t end up stretched out and misshapen when I go to put them on after he’s lounged around in them all day.
“My studio is almost like an operating room, I take these sweet wounded soldiers and fix them up so they’re good as new.”
Each garment is handmade by you, before starting the brand, did you have any previous sewing knowledge? What has been your relationship with fashion throughout your life?
I have no formal training in sewing. It has always just been a hobby of mine. I actually only got my first sewing machine in the Winter of 2018! I taught myself to use it and everything. I've always been that way if you ask my mother she would tell you that as a child you could give me a cardboard box and a few minutes later I would have transformed it into a five-star restaurant fully equipped with indoor and outdoor seating and a staff of twelve talented actors still searching for their big break.
Just kidding – she would probably tell you that I only wore floral clothing and made big messes everywhere I went, I don’t think much has changed actually. I went to visit my parents the other weekend and got into quite a quarrel with my father when I cut his favourite wool socks apart and turned them into a sweater for a stuffed alpaca that I had accidentally melted the fur off of. Long story, but I can assure you that contrary to popular belief I am absolutely in my twenties and a fully functional adult.
My relationship with fashion can be summed up in a short story. I once put on every pair of underwear I own, one on top of the other, and tried to leave the house. When I was told I could not do this, I put on everything flowers and pouted the whole walk to school. This was definitely not last week, I promise, I was 5.
Do you think that the fact of not having professional training in fashion has allowed you to develop an alternative production formula totally unrelated to how brands usually work today?
I absolutely think that not having any professional training has given me a very different production process. I literally do not use patterns. Ever. Not even for pants. It sounds insane, but it's just what works for me. I don’t want to create anything more than once anyway, that takes the fun out of it! Then there’s no surprise and the piece doesn’t get to be the very special only one ever.
In addition to selling online, you also go to local markets, how important do you think it is to maintain a physical sales channel where the customer can be in direct contact with your product?
Interacting with customers is my favourite part, I think it truly gives them a glimpse of what By Liv really is all about. Even through Instagram, I love chatting with customers through direct messages. I really do think that once customers make that connection with me, it all makes sense, like “Oh, this is why By Liv is what it is, because it truly is Liv.”
I can't wait to have a shop of my own so I can talk everyone’s ear off, I’m like a little old lady if you have the time to listen I can tell some pretty far out stories! The product truly does reflect who I am, so I like when people can make that connection, first hand.
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Each garment is unique, do you think this makes the purchase decision to be based on something much more emotional than if it was a conventional brand?
Each garment is unique and each piece truly has a personality and mind of their own, so yes, I do see it as an emotional purchase. I find that when someone purchases one of my pieces it is because the piece makes them feel something. Sometimes I feel like a matchmaker when selling my garments as if I’m setting the customer up with their new best friend!
And finally, what are By Liv's next steps? What do you wish for 2021?
I have so many plans for 2021! This Spring I am planning on doing a By Liv Handmade pop up in Brooklyn, where customers can come meet me and try on my pieces in person. Since the project really took off during the quarantine, I haven’t been able to create something like that yet and I’m very excited to do so. Hopefully, it will be a success and I’ll be able to continue and have my own permanent shop.
I also plan to continue to teach kids sewing lessons, teaching is my biggest inspiration and sewing is my absolute favourite thing to teach so when I can combine the two, I am one happy camper. There is nothing in the world that is more wonderful than the look on a child’s face when they try on something that they made themself for the first time, it's like Christmas but better because it's not just the dopamine rush of having something new, but the sheer disbelief that this new thing was created by their own two hands from an idea in their own beautiful minds.
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