Local Designer Heather Brister Gives Nostalgic Style New Life
I always loved the old Sesame Street segment “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” The puppet cast introduced neighborhood kiddos to the occupations and lives of librarians, mailmen and more. It was a vibrant, musical lesson about having a positive sense of community. Central Arkansas’ rich tapestry of folks inspired Little Rock Family’s “The Neighborhood” series. We hope our readers enjoy meeting every month’s featured community member.
Local children’s clothing designer, wife and mother of two, Heather Brister is an excellent example of someone turning creative vision and ingenuity into a fashion reality.
Heather explains, “I have always needed some form of a creative outlet. I don’t really view myself necessarily as having a career in fashion. If I think about what I am doing as fashion, I find myself intimidated—so I just do what I love. I see it is more of an appreciation for design and creating something that hopefully others will appreciate in the same way I do.”
Stitched together in her own words, Heather shares her inspirations and how her career in style got started…
Heather Brister: I began my career simply because I could not find special occasion clothes for my children that completely satisfied me. I wanted something classic and timeless, yet still current. My daughter was getting older, and it seemed as though the only options for her were too sweet or too grown-up. I began searching antique dresses and wondering why more designers didn’t grasp the idea of classic styles for older girls. I purchased a few dresses from the late 1800s, early 1900s from eBay that were in my daughter’s size just to see exactly how they were made.
When I received the dresses, they of course were yellow with age and had many rust spots. I began researching how to restore antique clothing and discovered a process that takes about 3 days of carefully soaking and cleaning the garments. The end result was thrilling. It was as if I had brought life back into these forgotten dresses. It amazed me every single time. I began searching for more dresses that I thought could be restored. I thought this would be my business—restoring and selling antique clothing. Through this process, I found myself also drawn to the styles of the 1940s and ‘50s. When I took home a couple of these dresses and tried them on Garrison, my heart stopped. I loved the way the dresses fit. She seemed to really love the style as well. The problem with these dresses was that the fabrics were very dated, and felt hard and over starched. I began studying how the dresses were put together, and experimenting with different fabrics and ideas of designing the dresses for how we live today. Before I knew it, I had friends asking me where I had gotten the dresses and wanting me to make dresses for their daughters. This gave me the confidence and motivation to move forward and launch Etta Margaret.
When I think about what has consistently inspired me throughout my life as far as design is concerned, I would have to say movies. My mother loves old movies, and she always wanted us to watch them with her when we were younger. I always loved the old black and white movies where the women wore hats and gloves and everyone dressed for dinner. I always loved anything Audrey Hepburn wore. I loved the costume design from “The Philadelphia Story,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Mildred Pierce.” I have always found a great appreciation in how the entire set comes together, everything from the interior design to the fashion. As I grew older, I loved watching John Hughes movies, and how he styled each character—”Pretty in Pink” is still one of my all time faves. I also love Wes Anderson films. The way he puts color together is so gorgeous to me. His movies are a feast for my eyes.
I launched Etta Margaret in September 2012. It began to grow faster than I could handle, and there were many personal issues that kept me from being able to put the time and care I needed into the business. I took a few steps back, and have found a company out of New Orleans that is helping me with making patterns to help with consistency in sizing as well as helping me mass produce the dresses with good quality control. I am hoping to re-launch a full line this fall/winter.
Being a mother is so difficult because you feel the responsibility of raising these little people with all of the love and attention you feel they need. It is easy to forget about yourself and your own needs. I found it hard to separate myself from my children. As they grew older, I saw the importance of allowing them to be who they needed to be without me guiding them every step of the way. I also saw the importance of showing them that you can always make dreams for yourself come true. I believe fear has held me back a lot in my life—fear in many different forms. It may be fear of failure, or fear of not giving every moment I had to my family and somehow ruining their future. It just hit me one day that life is too short and too precious to continually worry and fear. I would hate to reach the end of my life and feel regret because I didn’t try. It’s scary to take chances, but I have come to the conclusion that the agony of regret is much worse than the actual act of failing. The times I have failed, I have always learned something about myself during the process.