While hitting the books as an International Studies and Political Science major at the University of Washington, Deborah Roberts discovered her love of fashion during a language immersion trip to Perugia, Italy. She had always enjoyed fashion on an appreciative level, but it was during this trip that the light bulb flipped on and she realized that this was what she wanted to do as a career path. After she graduated from UW, Deborah switched gears and dove into an intensive program at the School of Apparel Design & Development at Seattle Central. It was here that she learned the technical skills that would bring her vision to life. After completing the program, Deborah got her feet wet in the industry as an assistant designer and materials developer at Eddie Bauer before launching a line of her own in 2013.
Silvae, which is taken from the latin word meaning “into the woods”, is a line obsessed with organic shapes and patterns. There is a streamlined flow and distinct femininity in the lines of Silvae. The silhouettes are flattering and extremely wearable. The designs are conservative enough to be worn to work, but still carry enough personality to make a statement. Soft silhouettes and a love for the surreal combine for an effortless execution of creativity and put-togetherness.
Like the clean lines and feminine silhouettes in our collections, the Silvae woman is confident but full of grace. She is looking for unique versatile pieces that she can wear for years and that could be easily worn running errands around town or to an art or restaurant opening.
You’ve said that your aesthetic is inspired by the Pacific Northwest. Where can we see that in your designs?
There’s an untamed quality to the Pacific Northwest that I have always found compelling. The landscape of Seattle is dynamic with moody weather, mountain ranges to the east and west, and the waters of the Puget Sound that bring in salty air. I am particularly interested in shapes found in nature and have looked to local flora, ferns, pinecones and topography maps for inspiration. I also love that a lot of areas in the Pacific Northwest feel untouched. It’s wonderful to escape from the city and imagine I’m exploring a section of beach or woods for the first time.
You collaborate on prints with Seattle-based artist, Olivia Knapp. What is the best part about this collaboration? What is the most challenging part?
Olivia and I share a similar vision, and the print collaboration has been so natural and fun. Usually I come to her with an initial idea for the season, and then she’ll take that and put her spin on it. I love seeing how the idea evolves into the final print, and something truly unique. We’ve started to do events together that showcase her art and Silvae’s collections, and it’s really fun to see the conversation between art and fashion. I think the most challenging aspect of prints is wanting to come up with an idea that feels new and exciting while being wearable. I think we’ve succeeded so far, and I’m excited about how we are continuing the dialogue in upcoming seasons.
What role does community play in your brand?
One of the most enjoyable parts of starting Silvae has been meeting other artists in the community. I’ve had a lot of support from local stores, photographers, stylists and press, and its been fun getting to know other designers in the Northwest. I attended Seattle Central’s Apparel Design and Development School and have had help from old instructors and interns from the program, which has been really key to our development. It’s also been a lot of fun to meet other designers at Capsule during Market Week in New York. It’s really encouraging to see more brands popping up across the country, and witnessing their creativity and success.
I travel to New York twice a year for Market Week, and found my production team there last fall. They’re a small company managed by a husband and wife that work with a number of factories in the garment district. They did my Spring 14 production, and I’ve started outsourcing my pattern and sample making to them as well. At the beginning of a season I’ll send them a tech sketch and speck pack with measurements and construction details. They’ll do an initial pattern and then sew that up in muslin (a cheap cotton fabric) and send that to me for fittings. I’ll make my corrections and send it back, and this continues until we are happy with the fit. It’s a lot of back and forth via phone and email, but it’s been great working with them so far and I’m really happy to support domestic production.
How has working with Eddie Bauer helped to inform the launch of your own line?
I’ve always wanted to have my own line, but it was really helpful to work in the industry first and get a better understanding of how the seasonal calendar works and all that goes into designing and producing a collection. It was also very helpful learning how to communicate with garment factories and fabric mills, as well as how to problem solve when there were quality issues. It also provided me with an opportunity to meet a number of people in the local apparel industry who have become close friends and invaluable assets as I’ve launched the Silvae line.
Where is your studio? How have you organized it in ways that are conducive to productivity?
I used to have a shared space behind Neumos on Pike & 12th which had lots of sewing machines and pattern making tables that I used to develop the Spring 14 collection. Now that I’ve outsourced the production, I moved to a live/work space on Madison & 19th. The space is really long and open which has been a great layout for all of my garment racks, fabric and supplies, as well as having buyers or clients over to show the collection. When I develop each season, I like to make inspiration boards and spread out, so it’s been nice to have the space to do this at the new location.
The fabrics you use are extremely luxurious. How do you choose your fabrics and where do you source them from?
As a small brand, sourcing fabrics can be one of the most challenging aspects because there are often large fabric minimums. I’ve started traveling to LA for their fabric show which happens twice a year for Spring & Fall and offers a number of mills with more workable requirements. I love playing with textural fabrics, and as I grow I would also love to check out Premiere Vision in New York or Paris. We’ve been doing our own prints via digital printing, which is a relatively new technology and gives smaller brands the opportunity to create something unique without having large minimums. I work with a digital printer on the East Coast, and have printed primarily on silk, but am looking at printing on other fabrics like cotton, bamboo and rayon in upcoming seasons.
What is the most satisfying part about having your own line?
When starting a new season, it feels like a clean slate and an opportunity to re-evaluate the culture and world we live in. I love seeing how these seasonal ideas evolve into physical garments that tell a story and help define the brand. When building Silvae, I wanted the clothes to be easy to wear, feminine and strong. I think we’ve succeeded in the first season and it’s been wonderful to collaborate with friends and industry professionals on Silvae’s development.
What is the next step for Silvae?
I’m currently working on the Spring 15 collection, and am really excited about our fabrics and prints this season. Each year I am hoping to grow the size of the collections as well as our relationships with stores across the U.S. I made my first international sale to South Korea from the Fall 14 collection, so I’m also looking to work with more international stores and may be making a trip to Europe over the next year to grow the brand. We’ll be showing our fall collection at the Independent Designer Runway Show with The Bellevue Collection in September, and in the future I may look to doing presentations in New York during fashion week.