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Meet Nia Thomas, the founder and designer behind eponymous fashion label NIA THOMAS
. Established in 2018, NIA THOMAS was created for all beings who respect Mother Earth and all of her inhabitants. Collection after collection, the goal remains the same: NIA THOMAS stands for love in its highest form – connection, affection and vulnerability. In this Q&A, Nia tells us the story behind her independent fashion label, unveils her creative process and discusses how how a fabric influences her designs. We also ask her about the factories that she works with to bring NIA THOMAS' pieces to life, what a day in the life looks like and what she's looking forward to in the near future.
Who is Nia Thomas?
Nia Thomas is my name and the name of my eponymous fashion label. I am an ever evolving black woman who has a deep care for the planet and all it’s inhabitants. Like my brand, I try to create everything in my life with intention.
Can you tell us about NIA THOMAS’ beginnings and how the brand has evolved throughout the years?
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology with my BFA in fashion design in 2017, I was creatively restless working in the corporate fashion world and felt that it lacked total creativity and innovation. I started making clothes again to have an outlet to express my thoughts and as of fall 2018 it gradually evolved into a e-commerce business.
You collect fabrics, trims, beads, embroidery, pearls and anything else you find interesting while you travel - what are some of your favourite finds?
Some of my favourite finds are embroidered curtains I found in a flea market in Lisbon, Portugal that we recycled as jacket linings and Job’s Tears I found from plants in Hawaii that I am using in NIA THOMAS' accessories (coming soon!).
Can you let us know what your creative process looks like when you are designing for NIA THOMAS?
My creative process usually starts with one of my five senses – the way a swatch of cashmere feels in my hand, the smell of organic indigo used to dye our bodysuits or the look of silk draped on the bias. From one of these sensations, I can close my eyes and know how the piece should look from there. Then it is simply a matter of experimental trial and error with my artisans and factory workers. I trust their expertise and it is 100% a collaborative effort.
Where are your favourite places to shop and eat in NYC?
I love shopping at Café Forgot because they always have funky new designers and their location in Bowery is an ever-inspiring area. I also love Handmade By Liv and Tangerine in Williamsburg Brooklyn – it oozes “cool girl living in Brooklyn” energy. There are also amazing vintage stores all over Brooklyn from Park Slope to the Greenpoint location Beacons Closet. For food, I love the Ethiopian restaurant Bunna Cafe and the vegan restaurant Le Botaniste.
Can you tell us about the factories you choose to work with to bring NIA THOMAS’ designs to life?
We are currently working with two factory’s. One in NYC’s Garment District and one in Hong Kong. We started working with both in 2021 and it has been an incredible journey learning about the production process from these experienced factories. We create our basics in NY and cashmere and knitwear accessories in HK. Both factory’s have a knack for incredible attention to detail and superb garment construction. We are always challenging ourselves to see how we can reduce waste while making our garments more durable and pleasing to the eye. I wouldn’t be able to have my business be where it is today without Rosanna and Dora, the heads of both our factories.
What are life’s small pleasures for you right now?
Food truck vegan tacos, watching weird art house films with my friends on a Friday night, buying my fruits and veggies every Tuesday morning from the farmers market and smelling the Calla Lillies next to my bed every morning.
How do you choose which fabrics or fibres to use for your designs? Do you find the fabrics first and then come up with a design? Or does that fall into place later?
The fabric comes first 90% of the time. Fibers are crucial for understanding the silhouette, fit and shape of the garment. Sometimes I make 2 samples of the same garment in two different fabrics to see which one fits/drapes better on the body.
What does a typical day in the life look like for you?
It changes everyday. One day I can be on location on the beach shooting content for e-comm and social media. Another day I can be meeting with my artisans and having a fitting on our fit model to see the new styles we are developing. Or I am working in a cafe on my computer making line sheets or sending invoices while having a zoom call with my mentor. It changes so often which keeps life interesting and me on my toes. My favourite type of work day is editing film scans on Lightroom while laying in bed listening to a good podcast.
Is there a what, who or where that inspires your designs for your collections?
Definitely a where. I feel so inspired when I travel. I try to bring that element of the location into the garments somehow. A Who as well as I have so many muses – from friends to Solange and cool girls I follow on the internet.
Something that recently challenged you?
Working with artisans who don’t speak any English. Working with an overseas factory. Shooting all of my content on film and not having the safety net of shooting on digital.
In the near future, what are you looking forward to most?
Expanding my brand to a global level. Doing more in-person pop ups. Evolving the brand from just clothes to incorporating home goods. As well as continuing to meet so many wonderfully talented people on this journey.
What are some skills you would say are important for the next generation of clothing designers?
Don’t expect overnight success, don’t be mediocre, do the research, make sustainability a main aspect of what you do and put the hard work and time into learning your craft.
What do you imagine the future of fashion to look like?
Less fake diversity, I truly want everyone to have a seat at the table and to have their voices heard.
What does the slow fashion movement mean to you and how does it shape NIA THOMAS as a business?
Slow fashion means to me: creating WITH waste, not overproducing, using only biodegradable fibers, having a sustainable supply chain that doesn’t create too many carbon emissions and designing pieces that will stand the test of time while not relying on trends. I choose to work with artisans so that I am directly supporting crafts valued in indigenous communities for generations.
What is the legacy you hope to leave on this world with NIA THOMAS?
I hope I will be known for making chic clothing that people are wearing for decades because its durable quality and timeless nature. This industry has a way of hardening people and I don’t want that to be my legacy. I want to be remembered for being kind.