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US-Made Esby Offers Womenswear With a Menswear Mentality

After a decade spent designing menswear in New York City for the likes of Converse, Levi’s and Tommy Hilfiger, Stephanie Beard decided it was time to strike out on her own.

“I loved the job I was doing but I didn’t get much interaction with the factories so I couldn’t feel fully proud of my work,” she recalled. So in late 2012 she set out for Austin and by February 2014, launched the sort-of eponymous women’s label, Esby Apparel (the phonetic pronunciation of her initials, SB), on Kickstarter.

She surpassed her funding goal within 24 hours of the campaign’s 30-day run.

Pooling inspiration from her previous posts, Esby consists of simple staples that are the antithesis of fast fashion. “Menswear has a lot of high quality options and timeless pieces and I wanted more of that in my own wardrobe,” Beard said, referring to the line as “women’s apparel with a menswear mentality.”

From the get-go she wanted to make everything in the U.S. but quickly discovered that despite (or, perhaps, because of) the growing American-made movement, it was hard to find factories to take on her production. “It’s sort of difficult if you don’t know someone who knows someone,” she said. Luckily, a friend pointed her in the direction of Nola Sewn, a New Orleans-based boutique-like factory founded by Lisa Iacono, an American Eagle alum who also left behind the corporate world to pursue her own passion.

“One of the biggest reasons we’re made in the U.S.A. is for quality control,” Beard said, pointing out, “Being one person I can’t fly overseas all the time to check on factories.”

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Austin and New Orleans aren’t the only stops on Esby’s production path: Beard sources silk from California and knits from North Carolina and uses a wash facility in New Jersey. But she’s quick to note, “We try to keep our prices as low as they can be without killing our margin but it is more expensive to produce here so I think that’s probably one of the biggest issues.”

Retailing from $36 for a bandana to $248 for a jumper, Beard describes her label as “riding that fine line between being relevant and having longevity.” Pieces are classic yet stylish, simple yet chic, and cut to flatter a wide range of body types. And because the fabric is pre-washed before it’s cut, each item is soft to the touch and fits true to size.

“While we do pieces like jumpsuits that are trending right now we make it completely and totally wearable and something that’s a little easier for our customer to understand,” she noted.

Likewise, tunics, button-front tops, midi-dresses, scoop-back tees and sweaters in a palette of indigo blues, black and natural shades transition between seasons as easily as they move from day to night. The line will grow in Fall ’15 with the addition of such lightweight outerwear options as duster coats as well as a kimono-style flip dress.

Carried at the likes of TenOverSix in Los Angeles and Dallas, Exodus Goods in New Orleans (co-owned by Solange Knowles) and Sunroom in Austin, Beard is pleased with how her line has progressed in the past year. Less is always more in her book, she said.

Targeting customers who “care a little more,” she described the Esby fan as having “a bit of a fashion sense while also staying informed on environmental issues and proven production issues. She follows loyal fashion ways as opposed to fast fashion. She understands that we represent quality and that being made in the U.S.A. gives that to you.”