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Sarah Richards of RICHARDS

Twentysomething fashion designer debuts with a strong collection of approachable print-heavy pieces.

Interview By Alison Baitz, April 2, 2013


In a market as oversaturated as fashion, how does a fledgling label stand out from the pack? It helps if the wares are unique—read: dizzyingly intricate prints in ultra-rich colors—and if its founder is a something of a wunderkind. Sarah Richards is a 23-year-old native New Yorker and recent RISD grad who has just launched her own label, RICHARDS. We first came across Richards while perusing Opening Ceremony's blog—the young designer was interning for the headquarters of cool kids everywhere and wearing pants of her own design, a clear precursor to the signature look of RICHARDS. Years later, the line’s debut, largely unisex, SS2013 collection consists mainly of button-downs adorned with nature-inspired prints: collaged gardens and zoomed-in plants, never-ending. Impressive patterns that make other digital printers look like they’re doing it wrong. We grilled Richards on the founding of her label, the dangers of overexcitement about digital print technology, and the role that the Internet plays in her research. 

How did you get interested in fashion?
I’m one of those people who wanted to do it since I was, like, five, so I don’t really have a moment of inspiration. I think maybe growing up in New York had a lot to do with it. I remember looking at a lot of windows and stores and things but I sort of stuck with it forever. I took classes in high school and interned… and I feel like if I stop doing it, I don’t know who I would be anymore.

Can you tell us a little bit about your time at other labels? What did you take away from those experiences?
It’s such a complex industry in terms of just the production line and all the different facets of sales and production and marketing––all the things that you don’t learn in school. So just observing the chain of how things are done, I think that’s what I picked up the most when I interned at places like Proenza [Schouler] or Peter Som or Diane Von Furstenberg. And then when I work at places like Tory Burch or New York & Company, I learn more about being really organized and how to make a completely clear technical package for factories and things like that. 


Starting your own label is not exactly easy, and you’re really young—how were you able to get RICHARDS started?
Well it is a lot of hard work but I think the best asset I have is I had so many great friends—mostly RISD alumni—who have collaborated with me and I don’t know what I would do without them. Like I had a friend who does the photography, I had a couple friends do the production of the show, I also have a friend who does the shoes, and it’s just been really amazing having all those people collaborate, because I never actually have any employees.

So you do it all by yourself?
Yep. Right now. My studio is actually just very small, I literally can’t even fit another person in it.


Starting a fashion label isn’t cheap. How were you able to fund your line?
I was working freelance part-time—I actually am about to start doing that again so that’s how I supplement things. I just took like six weeks off right before my show, so most of the year I’m freelancing part-time. And I live at home with my parents, so that cuts out like a huge amount [of expense.] I have to be very careful with the way that I purchase raw materials and production, which is actually a good thing, I think, because it helps me make an efficient product, and it helps me keep the price down, even though that’s a constant struggle. 



How would you describe RICHARDS? What’s your design aim and what inspires you to create?
I think the main goal of the line is to create very beautiful and interesting and new-looking prints. The clothes themselves––it’s a little more like classic sportswear. I really want to make pieces that are totally wearable, so you can kind of get this really interesting print and not be intimidated by the actual garment that it’s on. I want to continue using it as a platform for really engaging, innovative prints.  

That’s a nice way to describe it, that you shouldn’t be intimidated by the silhouette of a piece itself.
Right! Because I think the most important thing about creating a piece of clothing—putting all this work and effort into it—is that somebody’s going to wear it and enjoy wearing it, feel comfortable in it. I don’t want people to just look at the piece from afar and be like ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ you know?


Yeah, and you can get a sense from looking at certain designers that they’re probably creating exactly what they want to make, while others go all-the-way commercial. You might be striking a nice balance between those.
I think that’s what the digital print technology allows, because you can do this “visual art thing,” you’re really creating this composition of color and pattern, and then I want to do something that’s approachable. 

What kind of image-gathering do you do and what inspires your prints?
I’m addicted to Google image search and I look at tons of blogs and books and scans. I basically just look at so much stuff, and then I gather it into folders and, when I start concepting and researching a season, I’ll pick out the ones that are really sticking to me aesthetically. I don’t really over-think it—I just think ‘This image looks new to me and inspiring.’ I look at what I’m looking at, and try to figure out what’s making me like certain things. With the spring collection, I was so magnetically drawn to all these green images, so that’s sort of how that came about. 

Sarah Richards of RICHARDS

But it’s a very Internet-based process.
I don’t want to say that I’m inspired by the Internet, but I do almost all my research from it––so there is a certain element of the way that you consume images on the Internet that must be affecting my work. And I’m kinda just going to accept that. There’s a patchwork-y collage aspect to everything.

You can sometimes find “think” pieces on sites wondering when the print will go back out of style. What do you think of the concept that prints are a trend? 
I have heard that. Print will never really go out, it’s a heritage thing. Print design I think is forever. But there is a certain kind of digital print that I think saturated the market—this really opulent [look with] many, many colors. It’s, I think, the reaction to the technology because when it first comes out, you’re like ‘Wow, I can do a million colors, and there’s no limit to the print size.’ I think the reaction to that is that more subtle prints are going to be coming in. But there’s so much you can do with digital prints and ways to make it look fresh that I’m definitely not going to shy away from it, although I am looking at a lot more whiteness and blank-ness within prints—doing something a little more subtle.

You can see a little bit of that transition in RICHARDS from spring to fall.
Yeah, because when you first start using [the technology], it’s just so exciting. And then you sort of have to pull back and think about it more.

Visit RICHARDS online