*I received a fee from Grammar NYC in exchange for writing this story and access to my audience. All opinions are, as always, honestly mine.*
As I sat down to chat with Grammar NYC founder and designer, Althea Simons, she paused to dump a tupperware full of greens, quinoa and broccoli into a large bowl, top it off with a little lemon juice and tuck in to enjoy her lunch with a big mason jar full of tea. "I'm trying to eat super healthy before, y'know, the launch" she explained as I jealously admired her bowl of goodness. This self-awareness and sense of care for both the body and the earth is a reoccurring theme in the journey that brought Althea to her brand's big debut on Kickstarter this week. Grammar is built on the ideas of quality and consciousness, finally bringing perfectly fit, durable, sustainably & ethically made, and most importantly, well-designed white shirts to an online store near us all.
When I read Althea's bio, I was surprised to see that this designer had begun her career with a BS in neuroscience at Brown. When asked about her background and the connection between the two worlds of fashion and science, Althea made sure to note that "it didn't really happen like that." She explains that both of her parents are architects, "so design has always been a huge part of my life." Her mother eventually stopped practicing architecture to open a natural foods store in 1993. "It was the first one in Maine, or one of the first ones, so sustainability has always been a huge part of my life, too." With this foundation, Althea found herself growing up as "a bit of a contrarian" who had math and science skills, a flame for art and design, and an ingrained reverence for sustainability.
When studying at Brown, Althea reached a crossroads where she questioned whether she should do something "sciencey or artsy." The contrarian opted to continue her studies at Brown as she took extra classes at RISD and planned to study art abroad in Paris. "When I studied abroad in Paris, that's when I started making clothes and I just really fell in love with it. I started thinking this was something I could do." Ever since then, Althea has been positioning herself to become a success as a fashion designer and entrepreneur by continuing her education in business and fashion design as well as working for some of New York City's fashion greats like Yeohlee Inc and Issey Miyake, USA.
"I was always into style. I do really love seeing how people put things together. I love watching people in the street. But I was also always really interested in visual perception and behavior. I think that's the neuroscience thread there that still makes sense. I am really interested in style as well as in the brain and humans. I still think about it all the time."
Naturally, it would be a geek or nerdy type to bring such impeccable detail and nuance to a button down shirt. Each of Grammar's five white shirts that became available for pre-order this week on Kickstarter can be described as an age-old staple but each one of them is clearly so much more. For example, Grammar's Verb shirt would be much less exciting without the small-but-important fitting details and the mitered edges at the cuffs and collar. "One of the factories told me that it is so much harder to include that mitered edge because you have to press it separately and everything. And I told them, well you know what? I don't care! That's a design detail that gives such a refined edge and makes it look kind of architectural in my mind, and that makes it more special." It's through these very details that Grammar's debut collection sets itself apart.
Althea was able to achieve these beautiful details as well as an impeccable fit by working with the right people and partners. "The patternmaker that I ended up working with is this amazing Japanese man who was trained at Comme de Garcons" where he became skilled in design and construction as well as patternmaking. Althea also took full advantage of her Pioneering Membership at the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator where she worked with the Production Coordinator and Sustainability Consultant Tara St James to find her ideal fabric and produce her samples at their sustainable factory in Brooklyn. Despite the help, the design process proved to be much more difficult than expected. When asked about it, Althea laughs saying "I feel like I talked to everyone in the world to find the fabric!" She was looking for something organic - ideally grown, spun, woven and finished 100% in the US, which proved to be impossible. Eventually, Althea settled on a high-quality organic poplin sourced from a mill in India, where around 70% of the world's organic cotton is grown.
"There are way too limited options for sustainable fabric. It's taking, in my opinion, way too long for the industry to catch up with what consumers are demanding."
Even with sourcing difficulties, Althea is upbeat and optimistic about incorporating sustainable and ethical practices into Grammar's DNA. By using organic cotton and by encouraging women to incorporate uniform-dressing into their closets, Althea is promoting not just a brand but also a wellness product that intends to decrease the toxin and stress load that is put on our systems every day by the fashion industry. "We are bombarded with so many stressful
decisions every day, getting dressed shouldn’t be one of them." Althea explains that this commitment to fewer, better items in her closet has always been something that resonated with her, but that a recent experience turned the ethos into her business. "My parents are entrepreneurs and my dad has his own practice, so I've probably always wanted to start my own business in a way," but it was about a year and a half ago when Althea's apartment burned down that things began to crystallize.
"I lost all of my stuff. So I had to go out and try and find a new wardrobe and I just didn’t like anything and that was a realization. There isn’t a brand out there for me, and maybe that is true for other people too."
So Althea's background in neuroscience, design, entrepreneurship and sustainability all converged to become Grammar NYC, a "brand with really high quality clothes, that are made with sustainable textiles and that are made in NY." After the years of learning and positioning and the months of sourcing and refining, Althea's debut collection of five white shirts is finally available for pre-order on Kickstarter. Althea is obviously excited to unveil what she's been working on to the world, and she is excited to see her products on people already. "Everyone that I’ve tried it on so far, it looks good and that is just the most amazing feeling!" As any good designer does, Althea is taking this excitement and looking already towards the next thing; black pants, blazers, and more white shirts in different fabrications for different seasons. Get ready, because Grammar is about to be the uniform for every conscious woman with a penchant for style and quality.
All images are by Michelle McCormack for Grammar NYC.