When I sat down this week to meet Sara Hankin, who launched her brand Tosia two years ago, it was immediately clear that she is the kind of designer who lives and breathes her brand. With an old-school approach to design, Hankin, 29, offers modern, clean silhouettes that are thoroughly refreshing in today's more-is-more fashion landscape. (However, she's no luddite: for her latest collection, she sought out a Brooklyn-based tie-dye artist after discovering her work on Instagram.) Her designs have already been spotted on celebrities, including Margot Robbie and Alana Haim, and are carried by retailers including Assembly and Fred Segal. We're certain that this is only the beginning of a promising future for the New York-made brand.
Read on for our conversation.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I'm a true designer, always been a designer. I started my career designing the women's wedding and collection at J.Crew, and then in my last position, I was designing runway for Ralph Lauren. That was a huge educational experience. I had been interning since I was 16, and I always knew I wanted to be a designer my whole life. It kind of chose me. I went to Syracuse for fashion design, and knowing that I’d be here [in NYC] forever, I kind of wanted to get out of the city — which is good, because I don’t think I’m ever leaving! Every summer, I was here interning wherever I could. I interned at Vena Cava — they were a small brand, and I was their first intern. I worked at Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Zac Posen, so really learned a lot from that. I wasn't always sure I wanted to start my own line; it's a lot of work and I always thought I'd be happy designing for another label. And then when I was at Ralph, I had this idea for Tosia, and it just hit me that I had the desire to make this collection.
You've worked at some seriously impressive brands. What did you learn that helped you launch your own label?
There are definitely some key things. I think J.Crew for me was a real education in working with a team, and having deadlines and structure. And also, the brand is all about making you feel amazing and being affordable and attainable, and I think that’s something I really want to focus on [with Tosia]. The Ralph Lauren collection was a totally different world: the finest materials, embellishments. And the way that they work is very much inspiration-based, and I think that really resonated with me: How do you build a story that can translate to so many facets of a brand? Ralph is all about a brand and a story, and romancing you with a story. I think that was something I really absorbed and I wanted to create my own story through Tosia.
Tell me about your brand, and what it's all about. Where did the name come from?
It's actually my grandmother's first name. She's amazing. She lives in New York and I definitely named it after her. It's a personal connection, but also she happens to be such a chic woman. She kind of became my muse. And she wears the stuff too, which is amazing.
Your clothes focus on clean silhouettes, unexpected details and working with luxurious fabrics. What is your design process like?
Every season is about evolving the signatures and staying true to them. There's always pleats, there's always ties and adjustability. It's all a balance. The brand has always been about making clothes that are modern, that are clean, that are sensual. I'm one of those designers that believes that you should wear clothes, the clothes shouldn't wear you. That being said, I want to make things that are distinctive.
You're already carried in some pretty great retailers worldwide. How did you get to that point, and where would you love to see your clothes next?
It's really hard, and it's a bit of a catch-22 when you're starting. Everyone wants to see you in a big store before they pick you up, and big stores won't take you on until you have other stores! So starting out was really challenging, and some of our retailers, like Plan de Ville and Assembly, actually just walked by our brand at trade shows and picked us up that way. So some of it luck, and a lot of it was outreach.
Can you share some of the sources of inspiration behind your latest collection?
It's different every season, but I'm definitely an inspiration designer. Sometimes it's something nostalgic, like I'll see a photograph and I'm reminded of an experience. Sometimes it's a trip, like last season I went to Mexico and was super inspired by Luis Barragán, this architect who used these really clean structures with vivid colors. Around the same time I was discovering the work of this choreographer, Pina Bausch, who had this strong feminine energy, but all her performances were pretty, clean and fluid. For fall, I was actually inspired by revamping the uniform. I went to a high school with a strict dress code, so I loved the idea of revisiting those codes and deconstructing and playing with them.
What are some of your favorite pieces, or the ones you find yourself wearing most often?
It depends on the day and the weather and the situation. [For] everyday, I gravitate towards something easy that I can run around in, so a lot of times I gravitate towards our fitted knits. We have a long-sleeved version and a few different versions I like. [For night] I can put a slip dress over it with some heels and I'm done — I love it as a layering piece. I'm really my own customer, so I wear most of the collection most of the time.
What's next for your brand?
It's just a continuation [of the collections], and fine-tuning these codes that we establish, and just taking them a bit further every season. We want to do more eveningwear — non-strict eveningwear — but special-feeling pieces. I think that's a really big thing for us: how to make clothes that feel really special, but easy.
Click through the gallery below to see Tosia's spring 2017 lookbook.