The Stylist Embodied: Cara Bartlett & Vanessa van Zyl of VETTA
We’re continually impressed at the changes happening within the fashion industry to promote the making, wearing and buying of clothes that help more than they hurt. That’s why we’re so excited to introduce you today to two women doing their part to make our closets better.
Meet Cara Bartlett and Vanessa van Zyl of VETTA, a versatile capsule collection made up of only five pieces that creates 30 different outfits. If you’re curious or overwhelmed by a capsule closet, this is the place to start. We’re sharing more about these designers and how you can preorder one (or all!) of their creations below.
Darling Magazine: How did you get your start in fashion?
Cara: I started making my own clothes in grade school, and it’s something I’ve always loved to do. I studied business in college, but then went back to school for fashion merchandising at Parsons in NYC. Once I graduated, I got a job in the buying department at Saks Fifth Avenue, and then later worked as a buyer for Rue La La. On the side, I started researching the social and environmental ramifications of the fashion industry. I started an ethical fashion blog called Bien Faire to help women build a wardrobe that reflects their style and values.
Vanessa: I studied apparel manufacturing at FIDM in Los Angeles, and worked for a small contemporary women’s apparel line while in school. I started out doing inventory, but one day the owner asked me if I could sketch some designs for her. To my surprise, I quickly became her head designer and was able to have free reign with creativity and designs for the line. Some time later, I started working in Northern Uganda teaching sewing construction to women who had been formally abducted and enslaved in a rebel army. The goal of the project was to uplift women through the fashion industry, creating jobs and restoring worth to women in this war affected region. This really resonated with me – the ability to help others through fashion – and it’s a big part of why we started VETTA.
DM: “Ethical fashion” is very much a buzz-word these days. Break it down for our readers, how can we know the difference between a “good” buy and a “harmful” buy?
Cara: Ethical fashion is a really complex topic, and you can approach it from a number of different angles. My dream is that one day there will be a third party rating system that every brand uses to clearly label the ethics of each item, but right now the consumers have to do a lot of the leg work.
I would encourage people to focus on one area of impact at a time: People, the planet, or animals. If you’re passionate about the environment, you should research fabrics, and check the content label when you buy something. If you are concerned about people, you should look for fair trade or locally made clothing. If you want to focus on animal welfare, you should make sure that you buy faux leather and fur, etc. It’s important to do your research, but I know that a lot of people just don’t have the time.
Another option is to find brands that you trust, and that have made it their mission to be responsible and transparent – brands like Reformation, Everlane, Zady, VETTA, and others. If you have a go-to list of trusted brands, it will make ethical shopping a lot easier.
DM: What inspired you to design this specific collection?
Cara: Vanessa and I have been talking about designing a clothing line together for years. We’ve been best friends since high school, where we used to repurpose vintage t-shirts into new clothes, and we’ve just always loved fashion. We wanted to create a clothing line that was responsibly made, but also stylish and affordable.
Vanessa: We came up with the idea of a capsule collection for the everyday woman, where each piece could be worn multiple ways and everything was interchangeable. Our idea was to create these go-to pieces that built on top of each other, so that every time you opened your closet you had something that you loved to wear. It was also important for us to make everything responsibly, so we decided to manufacture our first collection in the US from eco-friendly fabrics.
Our idea was to create these go-to pieces that built on top of each other, so that every time you opened your closet you had something that you loved to wear.
DM: Why only five pieces? Was it difficult to determine which five you’d create?
Vanessa: It was difficult, we had so many fun concepts in the mix. We chose five pieces because we saw it as a great way to introduce the concept of a capsule collection to our customers. We also wanted each piece to have that perfect fit and drape, so focusing on just five items allowed us to get everything just right. The five piece capsule is made up of a v-neck belle-sleeve blouse that can be worn forwards or backwards, a short sleeve tunic that can be tied to create a cropped top, a two-piece dress that can be worn five ways, culottes with detachable suspenders, and a long vest that can also be worn as a dress. It’s not as complicated as some of the other convertible designs that you’ve seen, like a wrap dress you can wear fifty ways. We focused on really simple and wearable designs that provided value and made it easier to get dressed, not harder.
DM: How do you suggest a woman uses this collection? Where should she start?
Cara: The five pieces in the collection are a perfect way to start your own capsule wardrobe if you want to buy the whole capsule and take advantage of how the pieces all work seamlessly together. You could also buy one or two items and add them into your existing wardrobe, mixing and matching them with the pieces you already own.
We designed the collection to fill in those gaps in a woman’s closet that make getting dressed difficult. For example, if you keep buying crop tops but you don’t have any high waisted pants to go with them – the culottes are perfect. Or, if you really want to wear leggings more but don’t have long enough tops – the tunic will solve that problem for you. In the end, how a woman uses the collection is totally up to her – and we can’t wait to see the different ways that the collection is styled!
DM: As a culture, why do you think we’re so obsessed with shopping? How do you hope that changes in the future?
Cara: We have been trained by culture and the media to buy whatever catches our eye, or whatever is on sale, rather than being thoughtful about our purchases. I think people are realizing that the result of that method is a not an ideal wardrobe. It’s a closet filled to the brim with clothes that don’t go together, aren’t great quality, and half of them went out of style last season. We are constantly buying clothes, and yet we constantly have that feeling of “I have nothing to wear.”
We are constantly buying clothes, and yet we constantly have that feeling of ‘I have nothing to wear.’
My hope is that women will start being more intentional about their shopping habits, thinking carefully about what items they would wear the most. I think women would have an easier time getting dressed every day if they thought about their wardrobe as a whole and how their clothing worked together, rather than making individual impulse purchases. My hope is that rather than letting advertisements or the media tell us what to buy, we will think carefully about what we need and then seek out high-quality, responsibly made clothing that we will love to wear for years to come.
DM: Have you embraced minimalism in other areas of your life? Which ones?
Cara: I’ve started to use a minimalist approach with my time. Last year I read the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, and it really inspired me to make clearer choices about how I use my time and energy, rather than just letting my days get cluttered. I loved this quote from the book, “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution.”
Vanessa: I live in South Africa where life is a bit different than in the states. We often have power outages and water shortages, which in a way forces minimalism. The habit of turning off your TV or phone starts to come naturally even when the power is still on. We have learned to conserve resources because they’re no longer seen as a guarantee – you realize it is a luxury no matter where you live. We have learned to use less, give more, and to enjoy the simple things like the silence of a city when all connectivity is removed.
To pre-order your VETTA pieces, find details on the full collection over here!
Images via Trever Hoehne