We love talking with designers and getting to know where their inspiration comes from behind their brands. Big and small. Today, I caught up with Devan Gregori a sustainable designer based in San Francisco who is debuting her brand and first collection.
Tell us about yourself and your brand!
Well, I’m Devan, and I’m a fashion designer! My brand has been something I’ve dreamed of doing since I started design school. I was born and raised in San Francisco, in a very entrepreneurial family. You could say entrepreneurship is in my blood.
I’ll never forget the first day of class of my second year in design school. My professor told the class that we all have aspirations to be fashion designers, but 95% of us wouldn’t actually get there. It’s blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice, and most people aren’t willing to put the real work in. As soon as she said that, I told myself that I wouldn’t be the 95%. I’d start my line and be the exception to the rule.
That snippet plays over and over again in my head. When I came back from living abroad back in 2015, I started working in tech as a way to put money aside. As the years passed, it got harder to break away from the comfort of the lifestyle I was building for myself. I was still designing on the side, creating custom dragwear for drag queens in San Francisco, and participating in a competition in France, but it was overwhelming to think of breaking away from a steady income to launch something completely new.
I reached my breaking point a year ago, and with the support of family and close friends, I finally decided to take the leap and dedicate myself full time to building out my company. I couldn’t let myself be part of the 95%!
This brand is an extension of myself. I’m an active person – I’m a fitness instructor, a salsa dancer, a runner, and I love getting outdoors to hike or walk whenever I can. I sit cross-legged on the floor and stretch while I read. So I gravitate towards clothing that allows my body to move. I’m designing a line of womenswear with a focus on jumpsuits, tops & pants for women who want to feel secure in what they’re wearing without feeling constrained.
You went from going to UC Berkeley to attending design school in Lyon, France. What was that experience like and what were the biggest style and life lessons you learned during your time there?
It was one of the most important experiences I’ve had in life. It’s a humbling experience to move to a new place where everything is unknown. When I first got there, I struggled to understand others and expressing myself and letting my personality come through in a foreign language. Every day was a challenge, and, at first it was incredibly frustrating. I was alone in a foreign country while my friends had moved to San Francisco into apartments together. But the more time I spent there, I learned to be patient with myself and to be strong. I learned to ask questions, be more curious, and not fear making mistakes. I came to call Lyon my home, and to this day it holds a special place in my heart. The friendships and relationships that I made there were some of the most precious. I would move back in a heartbeat.
In terms of style lessons, I learned everything! A lot of who I am and my style now is from that time in my life. Often I would go on a walk, find a cafe and sit there with my journal, watching people pass and taking note of their looks. Both men and women, everyone was so put together! I think the biggest lesson I learned there was that there is no one “look.” A lot of my friends had very different styles, but everyone looked fantastic. Generally, it’s not about wearing the latest trend or trying to look like everyone else. I think universally, style is all about finding pieces that flatter your shape, and when in doubt, simplicity is key. What I learned about my own personal style is that I gravitate towards neutrals day-to-day with a pop of color through a piece of statement jewelry or shoes.
TS: When did you first start designing?
DG: I’ll be honest Tori, I was not that kid who was obsessed with fashion growing up. In fact, I wouldn’t consider myself a “fashionista” even today. I don’t like that term. I consider myself a designer, a creator, a storyteller, and what I make is an expression of who I am and what I want myself and other women to feel.
So my designing days really started when I began school in Lyon. Before that, I expressed my creativity through painting and drawing, which has been a part of my life since I can remember.
As soon as I started school, I was hooked. The first year is a preparation year, so I was required to take one class in each design field. Then you choose a design specialization, and if you are accepted into that program, you move forward to that dedicated design field. I was exposed to graphic design, product design, interior design, fashion design, but also took classes in fine arts, sketching, and art history. I was constantly being exposed to new artists, techniques, events, opportunities….it was like a wonderland.
What drew me to fashion design, however, was the constant challenge. Imagine a garment as a pliable sculpture. Now that sculpture isn’t a standalone piece; it needs to fit over another sculpture, the human body. And on top of that, that body isn’t a constant size; each one is different. It’s a never-ending challenge, and I never back down from a challenge. It was a perfect match.
TS: Where did the inspiration come from for your brand?
The inspiration behind the brand comes from a desire for a certain freedom – the freedom to run, to explore, to take risks, to be who you want to be. As a woman who is active in her personal life, I gravitate towards garments that let me move freely, whether that be to dance, run, sit cross-legged, you name it. I want each woman to be able to adapt to the spontaneity of life and feel supported in whatever she takes on. For that reason, I love designing jumpsuits and pants, and as the line evolves, you’ll see more of that shine through.
Another huge source of inspiration for me is my time living abroad, and the people I’ve met along the way. My time working for Yoshi Kondo in Paris, the years living in Lyon, France, and my experience in Mexico City working for Trista, all of these experiences have shaped how I design, whether that be the silhouette, textiles, embellishment techniques, or color palettes.
TS: Is your line a reflection of your personal style? If so, what 5 words would you use to describe it?
DG: This line is a reflection of my personal style, along with my vision of what clothing can be. What we wear is so closely connected to how we feel about ourselves, how we are perceived, and how we approach the world. I want women to feel empowered, and ready to take on anything. If I could describe it in 5 words: strong, confident, playful, honest, elevated
TS: What made you make the decision to design a sustainable womenswear brand?
For any brand, regardless of how established, I believe it’s important to take what steps you can to do what’s best for your planet and your community. It’s not a choice, it’s a responsibility. As a small business owner, I am doing what I can right now to reduce my impact on the environment and I continue to learn about sustainable practices that I look forward to incorporating into my business strategy.
TS: Aside from using sustainable materials and fabrics, how else does DGS try to minimize its carbon footprint?
Reducing our carbon footprint is definitely a priority, and I strive to be mindful of my impact. As you mentioned, I use certain sustainable materials (such as Tencel), but I also am mindful of the small everyday decisions I make. The cardstock for my business cards are made from recycled T-shirts, and I’m currently researching biodegradable packaging materials. I keep my correspondence to email and try not to consume paper products. Whatever fabric I have leftover from production, I find a way to reuse. For example, I’ve been making face masks out of leftover fabric from prototypes and sample-making.
Something else that’s close to my heart is honest manufacturing practices. I work with a friend and colleague who has started his own business in garment production. Rather than sourcing factories all over the world for the lowest possible price, I decided to invest in his entrepreneurial spirit and his team of extremely talented people. Normally (not during a global pandemic), I travel twice a year to work side-by-side with him and his team on each collection. We work on perfecting samples, modifying patterns, and I incorporate everyone’s feedback, finalizing all the small details that make each piece so special.
TS: What brands (sustainable or not) inspire your own?
I first would have to say that Yoshi Kondo (based in Paris) is a true talent. I’ve been so fortunate to have worked for him while I lived in France, and continue to call him a mentor. He is a true creative and it shines through in every collection.
I am also inspired by Rujuta Sheth based out in New York. She juxtaposes incredible hand-loomed textiles with modern silhouettes and maintains a commitment to sustainable practices in all facets of her work. I love her jumpsuits!
Two other brands that speak to me are Black Crane, based in Los Angeles (their silhouettes are so unique and airy – elevated simplicity) and 7115 by Szeki, based in New York (pieces that are comfortable to wear every day while still maintaining a level of cool style).
TS: What are your plans for Devan Gregari Studio? Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?
DG” In 5 years, the Devan Gregori brand will be growing! I see it as a dialog, building a community of real, strong women who are all doing different and incredible things across the globe. I eventually would like to have a storefront/studio where I can host community events, and give people an opportunity to peek into the creative process. And as the brand builds, I’d also like to start a menswear line down the road (there have been requests!). But first things first.
You can check out Devan’s sustainable womenswear brand here and follow her on social media: