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Dressed for Success: Rebecca Bush of Rebecca Elizabeth

One thing we love about doing pop-up events—apart, of course, from meeting our customers face-to-face—is that we get to meet and become friends with other vendors who share our commitment to and passion for local craftsmanship and responsible/sustainable business practices. There’s something incredibly invigorating about being surrounded by like-minded people that you can exchange common struggles and shared aspirations with! We met a Filipino-American couple who are seeking to change the skincare game by using only simple blends of plant-based oils; an accessory designer who makes wallets, clutches, handbags, backpacks, and totes from natural apple peel and other plant-based materials; a group of friends from Brooklyn who make one-of-a-kind streetwear items from secondhand/thrifted clothes… It’s a long list, as you can imagine, because when we’re not manning our stalls we’re just hopping from one neighboring booth to another—because, you know, we’re just chatty Cathies like that!

It was at our most recent pop-up (at the Selina Hotel in Chelsea) that we met the designer Rebecca Bush. She and her assistant were setting up shop in the space next to ours, and our jaws just dropped as racks of their gorgeous flowy dresses—some of them with vibrant, phantasmagorical prints that seemed to jump off the garment with the subtlest of sways—came rolling in. Needless to say, we stopped what we were doing and beelined to them, and before the show could even open to the public we were already flipping through their merchandise!

Designer Rebecca Bush of Rebecca Elizabeth wears her own designs

Portrait of fashion designer Rebecca Bush by Angelo Kangleon

Fashion Designer Rebecca Bush styles her own creations with RIVA New York jewelry

Designer Rebecca Bush of Rebecca Elizabeth wears the Marcella Mirror Dress from their fall/winter 2022 collection, made out deadstock black silk shantung from India and accented with mini round mirrors. She styles her look with RIVA New York’s Two-Tone Wall Street Paper Clip Chain Necklace (paired with a Marquise-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Sterling Silver) and a matching Two-Tone Wall Street Paper Clip Chain Bracelet (paired with a Cushion-Shaped Invisible Clasp in Sterling Silver. She is also wearing our Classic Hoop Earring in Sterling Silver.

Not only were the dresses out-of-this-world beautiful, they were also remarkably well-made (our creative director ended up snagging one for herself), but what really impressed us was their brand story and business model: working in the fashion world for many years designing for other brands had exposed Rebecca to the increasingly untenable dearth of ethics in the industry, not to mention the increasingly wasteful and environmentally harmful production practices, and so one day she decided that she had had enough and wanted to contribute to positive change—and just like that, her brand Rebecca Elizabeth was born in June of 2022, with the promise to make fashion “kinder, slower and more sustainable.” Thoughtful and painstaking research lead her to a small women-owned garment factory in Brooklyn who pays their workers premium wages (on top of offering full healthcare benefits and paid vacation), and this is who she partners with now to bring her samples and production items to life. The brand is also making a deliberate choice to use deadstock fabric in most of their designs, and they also partnered with the environmental non-profit One Tree Planted so a tree is planted for every Rebecca Elizabeth dress a customer buys. What we found enviable, though, was Rebecca’s “transparent pricing” model, wherein she breaks down her costs and markup for each item (2.4x markup, compared to the industry average of 3x to 5x), not only to make her dresses more accessible, but also to inspire the wearers to appreciate slow fashion craftsmanship more.

We invited Rebecca to our studio so she could show us her favorite pieces (from her past collections, as well as from her upcoming spring/summer 2023 collection), and we asked her to style them with her favorite RIVA New York jewelry. She also sat down with us to answer some of our burning questions. Read on!

RIVA New York: What inspired you to launch Rebecca Elizabeth?

Rebecca Bush: “I'm obsessed with dresses! I was the girl in high school wearing my custom-made dresses (and some vintage ones) in a sea full of jeans and hoodies—I really stood out! I always enjoyed dressing up, and I actually find dresses to be so much more comfortable than pants. It's also easy to look put-together in a dress—you have less to coordinate. So when I decided to launch my label, starting with dresses made sense. Rebecca Elizabeth is a line of versatile feminine dresses with an edge. I try to include something a bit different and unique in each design, such as a unique cutout, a cool metal hardware piece, or a silk flower trim.”

Tell us about your ethos.

“I use natural sustainable fabrics, such as organic linen and cotton; or deadstock fabrics, which are left over from other productions. We're not creating any new fabrics that aren't made sustainably. Starting this season [spring/summer 2023], I'm also using our own leftover fabrics to make little girls’ dresses—they are going to mirror the details of our Elektra dress, and they’re gonna be really cute!”

Designer Rebecca Bush of NYC label Rebecca Elizabeth wearing RIVA New York jewelry

Rebecca Bush of Rebecca Elizabeth wears her own designs with RIVA New York jewelry

Designer Rebecca Bush of Rebecca Elizabeth wears the Flavia Dress from their fall/winter 2022 collection, made of deadstock metallic velvet in bronze tones. She completes her look with RIVA New York’s Wall Street Paper Clip Chain Necklace in 14K Yellow Gold, paired with a Cushion-Shaped Invisible Clasp (also in 14K Yellow Gold). She is also wearing our Baby Hoop Earrings, and our Classic Hoop Earrings with our Carnelian Charm attached, all in 14K Yellow Gold.

Tell us a little bit about your creative process, and how you source your materials.

“I start each season with mood boards. I usually like to get inspired by a place I love to travel to! Last season [fall/winter 2022] was inspired by Rome, and the season before that, which was my inaugural collection, was inspired by Tulum. After I have my boards I start brainstorming which new silhouettes are needed, and then I sketch up ideas. I pull it all together and visualize the line with color CADs. Once I settle on the color and prints, I start sourcing. Speaking of prints, I source those a few different ways. I designed our first print myself—the butterfly print used in our Elektra dress—and then I worked with a small Pennsylvania-based family-owned print mill named Little Cocalico to print it on organic cotton sateen. I also source deadstock prints. I've found awesome deadstock fabrics at Mood Fabrics and Truemart Fabrics, both in Manhattan, and sometimes I also buy some from Etsy sellers.”

Any memorable customer stories you want to share?

“When you launch, your first customers are always going to be friends and family, which is both a blessing and a curse because, while that can get the brand going the first season, if you don't expand beyond that then you'll quickly have some serious issues. It's a huge win when you see people you do not personally know placing orders and showing interest in the brand. I think it's incredibly important to follow up with them and ask how they found you. It's hard to be a new brand right now, especially on Instagram with its changing algorithm. I have one standout customer who I love keeping in touch with: she found me on Instagram and has really cheered me on since the beginning, and she’s been providing very helpful feedback, too! I'm so grateful for her! Creating a compelling brand story and fostering relationships with customers is very important to me.”

Designer Rebecca Bush of sustainable label Rebecca Elizabeth wears her own dress design

Designer Rebecca Bush of NYC based slow fashion brand Rebecca Elizabeth wears her own designs

Designer Rebecca Bush of Rebecca Elizabeth wears the bestselling butterfly-print Elektra Dress from their spring/summer 2022 collection. She completes her look with RIVA New York’s Astor Paper Clip Chain Necklace in Sterling Silver, layered with our Script Initial on White Enamel Pendant Necklace in Sterling Silver. She is also wearing our Wall Street Paper Clip Chain Bracelet in Sterling Silver, paired with a Heart-Shaped Invisible Clasp (also in Sterling Silver), our Citrus Wedge Ring in Yellow Enamel/Sterling Silver, and our Citrus Wedge Stud Earrings in Yellow Enamel/Sterling Silver.

Which Rebecca Elizabeth pieces are your favorites?

“I have two! Our Elektra dress from spring/summer 2022 is by far the bestseller of the year. I think the dress is so great because it's fun, flirty, and can be dressy but also very comfortable and casual—and, of course, the butterfly print is just irresistible. This spring I'm going to be introducing a few more fun prints to this style. The other style I'll mention is the Flavia dress from the fall/winter 2022 collection. It was a creative challenge to figure out how to get this concept to come to life and create the illusion of the floating cutouts around the neck, but I did it! I think the design is so unique, and I love it that it will always serve as a reminder of a creative triumph!”

What is your message for aspiring designers who want to go the responsible fashion route?

“I would say, ‘Trust yourself and don't just accept the status quo.’ I feel like I did for far too long. There's a reason design schools may prepare students better for being employees than for being independent and starting something on their own. If you don't like the way the fashion industry is run and you see toxic situations, you can do something about it. Even if it is your goal to work for a company, more and more brands are becoming responsible. Keep in mind that greenwashing is a real issue in the industry. If a company isn't transparent about their supply chain and practices, it's a huge red flag.”

Rebecca Bush of Rebecca Elizabeth wears her favorite pieces from her latest collection and styles hem with RIVA New York jewelry

Designer Rebecca Bush wears her own designs and styles it with RIVA New York jewelry

Designer Rebecca Bush wearing RIVA New York jewelry photographed by Angelo Kangleon

Designer Rebecca Bush of Rebecca Elizabeth wears the Aurora Dress from their spring/summer 2022 collection, updated for spring/summer 2023 with a new color orchid. She styles her look with RIVA New York’s Gold Grain Necklace in 14K Yellow Fairmined Gold, layered with our new Enamel Heart Pendant Necklace in Pink Enamel/14K Yellow Gold. She is also wearing our Wall Street Paper Clip Chain Bracelet in 14K Yellow Gold, paired with our Heart-Shaped Invisible Clasp in White Enamel/14K Yellow Gold. On her right hand she is sporting our Gold Grain Stackable Ring in 14K Yellow Fairmined Gold and our bestselling Enamel Heart Stacker Ring in Pink Enamel/14K Yellow Gold; while on her left hand she is wearing our popular Moody Ring in Gold Vermeil. She is also wearing our Baby Hoop Earrings, and our Classic Hoop Earrings with our Moody Charm attached, all in 14K Yellow Gold.

Where do you see Rebecca Elizabeth 5 or 10 years from now?

“I plan to grow the line into a sustainable lifestyle brand. I would love to add sustainable footwear and swimwear into the mix. In the near future, I hope to open up a design studio, something like a loft space where I can work with a small but talented team every day, and where I could finally offer clients in-person fittings. I'm exploring the possibility of offering custom or made-to-order services for people who want their own unique Rebecca Elizabeth dresses for special occassions. I've had a lot of requests for wedding guest dresses, and have found out that many of our clients have wearing the dresses they bought from us to weddings, so I think it makes sense to explore a made-to-order route! I'm quite excited about what the future will hold for the brand, not to mention the rapidly developing new technologies in sustainable materials that slow fashion designers like myself will be able to take advantage of.”

Article, interview and photographs by Angelo dela Cruz

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