Designer Interviews: Barbara Starr of Terra Cotta

I caught up with Barbara Starr of Terra Cotta Clothing Design while she was in town for the Sow to Sew Speaker Thinktank. We sat down at the Boscawen Inn and I learned about her design philosophy, how she got started in clothing design, and how she likes to unwind. 


A: Barbara, can you tell us about the inspiration for your design process?

B: Yes, I'm inspired by my clients, the needs that they have, and the clothing that they wear. They all, for the most part, both work and have children, so I try to marry those two worlds in comfort and ease, yet classic styling, tailoring, things that are going to make it a little more special than just everyday wear.  

A: How do you begin researching and designing for a new product?  

B: It starts with a balance of fabric and fabric resources, what I'm able to get for the following season, and the conversations that I have with my clients, and things that I see that they might possibly want or need for the next season. 

A: Where do you do your work? 

B: I have a very small studio that I've just moved to on Dupont Street, in Junction, in Toronto, and we have three wonderful sample makers that do most of the work.  

A: Where do you source your materials from? 

B: I source my materials from stockhouses in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal,  and for the most part they are coming out of Asia, I don't have a lot of choice on that, as a small company I don't have the resources to buy other fibres at the moment, but I'm hoping to change that soon.  

A: Something that our customers really love about your work is that you use a lot of natural fibres, especially the linens and the silks from this year.  

B: I love using natural fibres. Over the years I have been trying to get my customers back into natural fibres, I've finally been successful. 

A: So how did you get started in clothing design? 

B: I started very young, I started making clothes for myself probably in grade four because I was really tiny, and it was kind of embarrassing to wear little kids clothes. My mom facilitated me in learning to sew. By the time I was thirteen I started sewing for others, because I knew how. After graduating from UCLA, I have a degree in economics, I said, I want a small business, I want to make clothes, and that's what I've been doing ever since.  

A: What's your favourite season to design for?  

B: Probably summer. I'm from Los Angeles, and most of my training is in summer clothing, I love making sundresses, and that said, I also like making suits. So it's kind of a weird thing, a weird balance, but I would say summer clothes. I love working in the wools, but I love the sundresses.

A: You can definitely see that, your sundresses are always a hit at the store. How do you relax when you're not working, what's your way to unwind?

B: One of them is Tai Chi, I've been practicing Tai Chi now for about eight years. I don't get to it all the time, as much as I would like, but I really enjoy it, and I find it settles me down. People are going 'you're a little bit wound', and it's like oh, time for Tai Chi! I'm also a bit of a TV junkie, although I have no TV, because it's not safe. I go to other people's houses to watch TV, but I could potentially watch way too much television.

A: What's your favourite show? 

B: At the moment I don't really have a favourite show, I'm a sitcom junkie, and I really like the British stuff like Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife. I also love the costuming of those shows, so I'm always looking at what they are wearing, and how can I use that in my clothing.  

A: Thanks so much for talking to us! 

B: Thanks for interviewing me!