With designs brimming with ruffles, vintage prints and silk trims - not to mention the brand’s signature pussybows - emerging brand Tanner Fletcher is revitalising retro-inspired fashion with their own twist. Through combining their collective experience in interior design and fashion, the duo have formed a label that incorporates the nostalgia of the home into one’s wardrobe.
The result is a line that flirts with references from bygone decades, successfully teleporting such vintage charm into the 21st century. The brand also adopts both a genderless approach when designing, and with cuts and styling choices that refuse to adhere to any gender binary, constantly demonstrate their philosophy that their clothing is truly for everyone. Here, we talk to Fletcher Kasell of the duo he makes up with Tanner Richie about nostalgia, sustainability in fashion and the inspiration behind their newest collection, Slumber Party.
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Let’s start with your beginnings; what inspired the creation of Tanner Fletcher?
Tanner Fletcher was started on a whim during the pandemic. Tanner and I were both still in college, we had just been laid off and had no idea what would come of the pandemic or our careers. Do we move home? Do we tough it out in the city? Would there be jobs available? What a bizarre time.
Tanner used to make pouches, pillows, handbags and accessories as a middle schooler in his hometown and he began doing it again along with my help as a side project to keep us busy during lockdown. This project was well received and was actually sold at a handful of boutiques. We had always known we wanted to do something creative together but once we saw the positive feedback from this we thought this is a great time to start that something. It was much earlier than we anticipated but the opportunity presented itself to us and we took it.
Can you talk me through your design process? How do you go from an abstract concept to a finished piece?
Edit, edit, edit. This process is very sacred to us. We have almost developed our own creative language and it can be difficult to put into words. We lead with a feeling, not something physical but an emotion. We think of our world as a fantasy world that Tanner and I live in and we invite others to join us there through our work. We dive into that world and take note of our senses. What are we feeling, what are the colours, who's there? From there it develops from a very broad concept and with each time we talk about it, it becomes more and more refined until we are left with the final product. It’s often not developed off one piece either. How each piece fits with the other things is also part of this process. There are so many variables that come into play with development from fabrication, colour, silhouette, to pricing, category, runway, commercial. There are so many things to consider.
Much of your work sources inspiration from vintage clothing and decor, channeling a range of retro silhouettes and motifs in a manner that rejuvenates nostalgic modes of dressing with a fresh spin. What draws you to this revival of vintage in your work?
Nostalgia. We live for nostalgia and love sparking others to feel nostalgic. I remember my grandparents and my parents describing their experiences in their glory days. The smile that was brought to their face when talking about the good old days could light up a room. There are endless twists and turns, feelings, romance, emotions, and trends. I feel as if fashion, hair and beauty trends are often a benchmark of nostalgic conversations. You either look back and laugh at how big your hair or shoulders were or you think wow did I look good. Or you even recall how you saved up for that pair of Guess jeans. I loved hearing these stories growing up and now I’m finally at the age where I have enough years on me to be nostalgic about my own childhood.
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As well as being inspired by vintage fashion, I understand that you also draw inspiration from interior design, integrating aspects of home interior into the wardrobe. How are you able to bridge these two worlds to form a brand?
Yes, this was a must for us. It’s symbolic as it represents Tanner and I coming together to form one combined world. Tanner comes from a background in interior design. For him, a lot of his nostalgia comes from the world of interiors. Him and his mum, Adele, practically thrifted and went to garage sales 24/7. They curated their own home but also repurposed decor and sold it to fund travel or other fun expenses. They made their home into a showcase for their collection. These two brought me into that world when Tanner and I started dating and it’s so much fun to take part in. You can also do the same thing with your wardrobe.
I think this story is a representation of the deep connection that people have with their things, in this case, clothing and interior objects. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of capitalism but we as emotional people become connected with our things. We work hard for them, even put work into them. We save up, we hand pick the things that bring us joy and convey our unique personalities. In the end, what you wear and what your home wears is a mirror into your mind and is almost like an unspoken language that tells others who you are on a deeper level, in a way words cannot describe. It’s a form of messaging and you can tell a lot about a person based on how they dress and the contents of their home.
Let’s discuss your FW23 collection, Slumber Party. What was the vision behind the name, and the collection itself?
Tanner and I were reminiscing about our childhoods and what sleepovers used to look like for us. We both recalled feeling a barrier here because many of our closest friends were girls from a very young age. Being two effeminate and emotional boys, growing up in small northern Midwest towns, girls were naturally the peers we gravitated towards most. In our childhood, boys had sleepovers with boys and girls with girls that's just the way it was. We like to reframe something quote unquote traditional in our culture in a freer way. It’s taking something that everyone already has preconceived notions about and repackaging it in a way that makes them rethink the concept altogether and why things are the way they are.
Slumber parties can be such a fun (and somehow frightening) experience as a kid. Do you remember any in particular from your childhood?
I definitely had some great memories in the early days with some of my close male friends but the ones that stand out to me the most are the ones where I wanted to have a sleepover with female friends. My parents knew me well and knew this was a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Maybe I was 12 at the time? Certainly not out yet and wasn’t really thinking any sexual thoughts. This was about the time when almost all of my friends were girls and I stopped being invited to sleepovers with boys because I don't think I was heteronormative enough. They weren’t my vibe anyways. I remember hosting a sleepover at my house with my closest girlfriends and we had conspired about this at school beforehand so I knew no other boys could be invited otherwise nobody’s parents would let them come. I probably invited six girls with a fantasy of having a slumber party like the one in Grease. Some of the girl's parents flat out wouldn’t let them sleepover at a boy’s house and many of the parents needed to speak with my mum beforehand to make sure no funny business was going down. Little did they know the edgiest thing I planned on doing the entire evening was belting out “look at me I’m Sandra Dee” while doing each other's hair. I played it off cool, but I remember this being such a process and it made me feel like an outcast in such a bizarre way. I didn’t fit in with the other boys so a sleepover with them wasn’t going to happen. All of my girlfriends were on board, but their parents wouldn’t allow them to sleep over at a boy’s house simply because of my gender. Talk about confusion! I had no idea who I was or where I fit in. So, looking back, this is why we did Slumber Party. We wanted to portray a fantasy sleepover where everyone is welcomed and nobody is judged. Just a bunch of people, being their authentic, goofy selves and no labels.
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Let’s say you’re throwing your perfect slumber party. Who are you inviting and why? From friends and family, to celebrities or people you’re interested in.
My perfect slumber party is the Tanner Fletcher FW23 Slumber Party. We had Jake Fleming, Ashley Rous, my sister Quinn, our friends Phil and Maude from Montreal, not to mention a full hair and makeup team. A dream comes true!
You’ve stated that you aim to create clothing unshackled from the gender binaries that the fashion world, and the world at large, often reinforces. What inspired this genderless approach to design? What has the response been like?
This comes from the time and place that both Tanner and I grew up in where gender labels were even more reinforced than they are now but much less strict than they were previously. Both of us have experienced gender segregation, labelling and stereotypes throughout our entire lives. From attempting to shop in the women’s department and then passively being redirected to the men's to being called ma'am on the phone or even mistaken for my mother. I even remember calling and booking hotel reservations for my mum because my teenage voice passed as a woman's. I could go on all day with this list. The fact is, my gender labels have been an inconvenience to me my entire life because people try to put me in a box but there simply isn’t one I fit into. And to tell the truth, I’ve had it easy compared to a lot of others. Because of this, I’ve also been very aware of similar inequalities happening to women in general such as sexism and the pay inequality. Then I started noticing most in the LGBTQIA+ community experiencing similar issues especially now with the hatred going on around trans people and drag culture. All of this because not everyone fits into one of two boxes? Not okay with me! We didn’t even consider making Tanner Fletcher a men’s or women’s brand.
The reality is that gender is a made-up construct and we all fall into a different combination of masculinity and femininity, our bodies are all different shapes and sizes and we’ve all been through a lot of different shit. That’s it! So, wherever you fall in terms of gender is who you are and when you’re free to come as you are, it’s when you shine the brightest.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive! The feedback we continue to get from people all over the world from every walk of life relating to our work is the reason we set out to make change in the fashion industry. People are looking for something that allows them to be their authentic selves without labels or judgement. It’s for everyone, you don’t have to be non-binary or part of the LGBTQIA+ community to wear Tanner Fletcher. The beauty is that there is space for everyone as they are. We have got some pushback and it’s been difficult to appeal to some of the more traditional retailers, but we know we cannot make change without a little pushback. We look forward to the day when we don’t even have to use the word genderless because gender labels will be a thing of the past.
Your work also incorporates elements of sustainability, by adopting a responsible approach to production and material selection. There’s also something to be said about the modern revival of traditional, vintage styles and silhouettes that combats the fast-fashion mentality of constantly pushing new styles to cater to fickle trend cycles that are shortening exponentially. What steps would you like to see the fashion world at large take in an attempt to make the industry a more sustainable one in the long term?
Something that has gone out of date and is quickly working its way back in style is attention to detail and intricate techniques. Sure, they’ve always been around but they are expensive to do so they have not been offered as much in a mass way. I think the concept of craftsmanship is something that cannot be argued with and will never be out of fashion. We’re noticing this shift coming from the consumer and I honestly think the most change will come from consumer led initiatives because the large companies likely won’t do much until the customer demands. Why does it always seem the smaller companies are the most sustainable, especially when they have more limited resources? Once the larger companies initiate change it will be easier and more cost effective for the smaller, more niche companies to do the same.
People are and need to continue shying away from fast fashion or anything that is produced with low quality materials or craftsmanship. Something that is sometimes a difficult pill to swallow for the consumer is spending more on less. Consumers should be spending more money on higher quality products which will allow them to purchase less things that will end up in a landfill. The higher cost also comes from taking care of and repairing what they already own. The catch is people often complain about these costs but there's an easy solution. If you simply do not have the budget, I would recommend buying just a few new pieces a year (whatever you can afford) and thrift the rest.
There’s certainly a lot of change that needs to be led by the consumer but also change that can be led by the industry itself. I believe there should be a higher number of products offered as made to order. Anything that can sustainably be made to order, should be. This reduces the amount of material that goes to waste, and it only takes a bit more time to get your delivery. Deadstock material is another way to reduce waste. Instead of creating a new material, use something that is already in circulation. And lastly, companies should be educating their customers and providing resources on how to clean, repair and store the products. I feel like this step often gets left behind because people don’t know how to take care of garments on their own. This is something we’re working on at Tanner Fletcher.
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Various motifs and a range of patterns feature in your designs, along with nods to moments in fashion history that span across decades. What role do these references, through pattern and motif selection, play in the creative process? How are you able to curate looks that incorporate such variation?
These things play a huge role in our creative process as they truly carry the storyline. To us, each collection, even each piece tells a story and exudes a particular mood. Although we pull inspiration from many different eras and past types of design, the final product ultimately needs to be modern and of the moment. We pluck pieces of a past story or a historical mood and we work it into what is relevant right now. Not everything from the past works well for the modern consumer. No era is off limits so we have the freedom to curate techniques, silhouettes, materials and most importantly stories, moods and nostalgia to form a very cohesive selection that fits with what people are looking for now and will be timeless for years to come.
If you could only select one, what would be your favourite creation of yours?
This is extremely difficult to choose but the Walt Bow Blazer is one of my favourites and has really helped to create a signature look for the brand.
Finally, what do you have in store for Tanner Fletcher in the future?
Endless things! We hope to continue what we’re doing with RTW as well as expand into other categories such as handbags, shoes and home. Up next, we’re looking forward to a great show at NYFW in September and finding out if we place in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in October.
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