— interview by Bianca Betancourt @bybiancabee
Lately fashion has seemed so...fast. Between constantly staying on top of the latest runway trends, logomania, Insta-fads and the rise and decline of the fashion blogger, dare we say fashion has become a little less than inspiring over the past few years. While top brands and legacy companies scramble to feed the never satisfied, supposed “millennial palette”, true fashion heads have looked to local, independent designers to re-spark their sartorial taste.
Lilt Clothing, a Chicago based, independent womenswear label founded by designer Tiffany Lee, boldy sticks out in the city’s fashion scene by being the opposite of what’s expected from a Midwest clothing brand. It’s not streetwear focused, there’s no athleisure to be found, and it could care less about today’s trends. Lee’s designs for Lilt echo vintage silhouettes of yesteryear but with a fresh touch due to her color and fabric selections, ethereal designs and her unabashed determination to make clothing that fits and flatters the modern city living woman.
We spoke with Lee below to gain some insight on how her brand began, what inspires her and why she creates for herself as well as for other women.
How do you balance having a 9-5 (still in a creative field) to working on Lilt? I know a lot of creatives who live this dual job life and we're always trying to look for answers to making it easier.
LEE: It’s definitely not an easy or sane way to live but I count my blessings everyday that I get to have such a creative life being an Art Director in advertising and running Lilt. It’s a tricky balance with two high stress careers but I only recently just started finding the sweet spot of juggling everything. I’m always reading and listening to business-related articles and podcasts and one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Barbara Corcoran, is adamant about dividing and conquering the different aspects of your life and being hyper-focused on only one aspect at a time. To me that basically means when I’m at my day job it’s solely about accomplishing tasks related to that and when I’m in the studio designing not letting the stress of my corporate life occupy my brain. For me they have to live separately in order for both to be successful. It also has helped me in my dual work life to be extremely diligent in scheduling my time. I actually have my life scheduled out about two months in advance which sounds completely insane but is the only way to keep myself on track, especially for a one-woman operation.
What is the meaning behind the title of the brand?
LEE: Lilt is a multifaceted meaning for me. I first heard of the word when I was a figure skater in my youth, it was a term to describe a movement with a sudden rise and gentle fall. It was just one of those pretty words that stuck with me. Lilt is also an anagram for I TLL, TLL being my initials. I originally used the name when I was selling handmade clothing and accessories on Etsy in my teens so it made sense to continue that journey of Lilt into my adulthood.
When did you fall in love with fashion?
LEE: I’ve always been in love with fashion. Clothing to me is a means of communicating and self expression. I remember the first thing I ever designed were some crazy flared pants inspired by Selena. I made them out of the toys around me and it was so creatively gratifying! Fashion growing up was a fantasy escape from my bleak, middle-of-nowhere hometown. I was that fashion-obsessed kid on the computer saving my favorite looks from whatever fashion month it was or sewing something. I initially always knew I would go to school for fashion and everyone around also expected me to as well. Family members to this day still assume I have a fashion degree! But I actually got a degree that helped me in my art direction career which in turn gave me a full arsenal of skills that helped me start Lilt like coding, advertising, and graphic design.
What designers inspire you?
LEE: I love anything from Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Rosie Assoulin. Their designs are playfully feminine in a very clean way. I’m also currently in love with Brock Collection and Batsheva, both who make dreamy, vintage-inspired pieces with a modern twist. And of course Celine during the Phoebe Philo era. She really was aware of what women wanted to wear and truly created smart, classic looks that transcend time. As a whole brand I love everything Christy Dawn is about. Her pieces are timeless and thoughtful and their transparency about their sustainable and ethical efforts with their business is a great move forward in the fashion industry in changing the way shoppers think about what goes into a piece of clothing.
You have a lot of vintage inspiration in your designs. What are some of your favorite vintage pieces to look for?
LEE: I’m obsessed with vintage clothing! Nearly half my closet is vintage actually. I’m big on sustainable and ethical clothing and buying/thrifting vintage is such a good way to recycle and re-love. I also hate wearing something that everyone else is wearing so vintage is a great way to stay on trend while owning something unique. When vintage shopping I like to keep my mind open and not have something specific in mind, I usually find my most favorite things just casually browsing the internet. I’ve been striking gold on Etsy and Instagram accounts @noihsaf.vintage and @shop_suki. I’m drawn to anything from the 70s, I have such a big love for any prairie dress that came out of that decade.
What are some of the hurdles to being an independent designer?
LEE: As an independent brand that’s still considered a start-up in a city that’s not considered progressive in the fashion scene it’s been difficult to find or receive support and be noticed. I definitely have to hustle and work smarter especially with no strong ties to the industry. As an independent it’s hard to be in charge of everything but at the same time very liberating to be creating something that can embody everything that I want it to be. It’s just me, my brain and hands behind everything.
What are some of your favorite parts to the journey of creating your own brand and line?
LEE: Being a creative entrepreneur has its many lows but I’ve honestly been having a blast from coding the website to developing the designs and managing spreadsheets — everything really I just love operating a business. I love learning anything and everything so a favorite part has been figuring out how to properly run Lilt to be a sustainable career venture through anything I can read or listen to. I love the critical thinking aspect of puzzling together a piece. It’s incredibly satisfying to go from struggling to develop a design to finally seeing it on a model. I’ve also been shooting all the photos from the past several releases myself and that’s been a memorable part of Lilt’s growth and identity.
What do you want to see in the near future for Lilt?
LEE: The future and the impact I can make is always top of mind. What’s important to me is for Lilt to not only exist on a superficial level of “just clothing” but one that can effect the way we as consumers think about our environmental and global impact of our clothing. I’ve already began Lilt with a foundation of basic sustainability practices from our use of deadstock fabric (leftover fabrics from other brands and mills; I often buy faulty bolts with minor cosmetic issues or bolts with low yardage that don’t meet the minimums of larger brands) and recyclable packaging and materials. I hope to progress those practices into only using fabrics from natural origins such as cotton, wool and linen and exploring alternative textiles such as peace silk and recycled plastic. I also hope to develop and extend the size range. It’s something that’s always been at the top of my list but a bit out of reach where Lilt is currently.
How do you want to grow as a designer?
LEE: As a designer I’ve been focusing on developing clothes that I as a female want to wear rather than what I think people want me to wear. Historically, womenswear was created by men for men and I often ask myself do I actually want to wear and feel comfortable in this or do I want to wear this because it was a trend put on the runway by a male creative director at a major womenswear brand? Growth as a designer is never-ending. I’ve been exploring jewelry design, trying out tambour beading and reading up on shoemaking. There is so much out there to learn and I hope to try out as much as I can.