We are fortunate to have Rita Van Tassel working next door at The Lunenburg Makery, so we asked her to take a few minutes to answer some questions about her design process and the inspiration that goes into Rita Statement Accessories.
How did you get interested in designing accessories?
R: Even as a kid I was always fascinated with bold and often weird accessories. I was always aware of what was trendy with my peers but I was more attracted to a sense of originality than just what was popular. I wasn’t a bold person and I think playing with accessories allowed me to “speak out” in a creative way.
Designing my own accessories came after I graduated from NSCAD when I was having hard time finding truly unique, bold accessories within my price range. I started getting so many complements and inquiries about where I got my earrings that I started making some to sell. Things grew very organically from there.
What does the creation process look like for your accessories?
R: It usually starts with a small sketch of an idea, and usually one that I did weeks or even months ago. These get saved in a sketchbook with clippings and swatches and when I’m ready to start working on new pieces I pull them out and see what ideas work together. Of course, there are also times when I find an incredible hide of leather or bolt of fabric and just know that something MUST be made from it!
Once I have a plan then comes the samples. Nearly every design I’ve done is something that I also want to wear, which is really important to me. I need to be able to wear it out in the world and get feedback from others, particularly from strangers. If I don’t get people asking about what I’m wearing then that usually means it hasn’t passed the test.
Where do you find inspiration?
R: Like most small designers of my generation online sources like Pinterest, Etsy, and lately Instagram have been huge. I’m often looking to other cultures such as African and Indian for their incredible use of natural materials, rich textures and stunning textiles.
Where do you get your materials?
R: It’s important to me to be able to source my materials as locally as possible. I purchase the rope for the core of my rope necklaces by the spool from an independent boat outfitter’s shop down the street from me. Much of my leather comes from a local cobbler/leather shop which just so happens to be run by my parents. I grew up with rolls of leather hides around the house my whole life, so it was inevitable that I would be using it as raw material at some point. Nearly half my fabric comes from another small shop in town.
What pieces are your favourite to make?
R: The leather earrings are the most fun to make because I can be so much more spontaneous with the combinations. I always have a stash of different pre-cut shapes, sizes and textures on hand which is helpful if I’m stuck for inspiration.
Aside from your accessories you also sew and make other crafts, what do you enjoy working on the most these days?
R: I have a few vintage dress patterns from the late 1940’s and 50’s that I’ve pulled to start working on for my Spring wardrobe. I’ve also become a bit obsessed with textiles used in home decor - cushions, bolsters, hangings, etc. which has become a great way to use some really amazing fabric finds from over the years. Oh yeah, and plants. I love plants. I bring sick little plants home like stray animals.
Are there other kinds of accessories you are interested in making that you haven’t yet?
R: There was a moment a few years ago when I got pretty obsessed with researching hair accents like fascinators. I couldn’t quite find a way to make it work with my style in a way that I was happy with so I left it alone, but I feel like that would be my next arena.
Describe your personal style and what influences you day to day.
R: My tastes tend to run pretty eclectic, and my dream clothes are never the ones that are even remotely practical for my actual lifestyle. I suppose my staples are dark denim jeans, t-shirt or tank with a cardigan and then layering interesting necklace and/or earrings on that. The flip is wearing a really bold print dress or skirt, which is when I tone down the accessories.
If you could accessorize any person (celebrity, historical figure, etc.) who would it be and why?
R: Iris Apfel, hands down. That woman wears exactly what she wants just because she wants to, and everybody loves her for it. I would also be crazy excited to have Robyn rocking my work. She has an amazing and eclectic sense of style and clearly isn’t afraid of taking risks. It’s that kind of sense of confidence that I’d like my accessories to inspire in whoever wears them.