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Slow and Steady Builds the Wardrobe: Kelley Heyer

We may have found Kelley Heyer when she posted one of her “clowncore” outfits on TikTok. While her penchant for bright colors drew us in, their personality and commitment to sustainability in her fashion journey got us hooked. She is an actor and fashion influencer originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, whose fashion journey started from an obsession with the costumes she wore in grade school theater classes. Recently Kelley has been featured in i-D magazine and Input magazine, among others, for their personal style. Recent acting projects include FBI: Most Wanted (CBS), Untitled FX project, as well as work at SoHo Playhouse and various other Off-Broadway workshops and readings. Kelley lives with their best friend Maya, and her two cats Mooncake and Tiny, and her favorite pastime is playing Dungeons & Dragons with her friends. After inviting her to the RIVA New York headquarters in Brooklyn so she could show us her favorite sustainable outfits, we sat with them to learn more about their fashion direction and sustainability ethos.

Actress Kelley Heyer photographed by Angelo Kangleon for RIVA New York

NYC-based actress Kelley Heyer photographed by Angelo Kangleon for RIVA New York

Actress Kelley Heyer wearing RIVA New York jewelry photographed by Angelo Kangleon

RIVA New York: How would you describe your personal style, and how do you navigate sustainability when it comes to shopping?

Kelley Heyer: "If I were to try and put my personal style into one sentence, it would probably look like this: ''60s hippie meets '70s disco meets clown meets cottagecore meets maximalist meets Y2K meets whimsical meets masculine meets delicate, with an emphasis on multi-seasonal transitional pieces from small designers or thrift stores.' My wardrobe is 90% thrifted and secondhand, 9% comes from small or sustainable designers, and the other 1% comes from fast fashion.

"During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time away from physically presenting in public. Not having to worry about how I looked to strangers on the street allowed me to really think about how I wanted to express myself through my clothes. The pandemic shut down just about every job related to acting, so I got on TikTok to use it as a creative outlet and fashion diary while stuck at home.

"Because of the way TikTok grew over the pandemic and how individual fashion was put on display like never before, fashion trends were broken down into smaller and smaller cycles. There was a rush to consume quickly before one trend cycle ended and the other began. You needed to order that viral dress and post about it right away before the trend was over. I found myself getting swept up in that. If I had one part of my wardrobe go viral (a vintage dress, or a clown-inspired look), I felt the need to repeat that same look again and again to get views. But after a while, that’s not fun, sustainable, or true to my own style and views.

"I’ve come to love dressing how I want in whatever aesthetic I want on that day. My style is 'I know it when I see it.' I have people show me clothing all the time and be like, 'This made me think of you!' And half the time I love it, but the other half I'm thinking, I can’t believe someone would think I’d wear that item! I have very specific tastes and I find the pressure of having to always lean into one aesthetic forces me to either over-consume or completely ignore other parts of myself that I like to express."

NYC-based actress Kelley Heyer photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, NY, January 2023

NYC-based actress Kelley Heyer photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, NY, January 2023

NYC-based actress Kelley Heyer photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, NY, January 2023

NYC-based actress Kelley Heyer photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, NY, January 2023

How do you translate your personal style and ethical standards to furnishing and decorating your apartment?

"I want my apartment to be welcoming and relaxing; bright but calm colors, a couch you can lay on, and chairs perfect for reading. I prefer to buy furniture secondhand because it’s more lived-in and usually better made than things are today. Each piece has personality and a history to it that I just love. Pristine plain apartments stress me out because I’d be afraid of messing something up. I love apartments that feel like a treasure hunt.

"It’s been a 'slowly rather than all at once' process of collecting little trinkets and searching endlessly through Facebook Marketplace for a good deal. Facebook Marketplace is the only reason I still have an active Facebook! In NYC, it’s a gold mine. The apartment turnaround is so quick in the city, so there’s always someone moving and getting rid of their stuff as fast as possible. When I first moved into my apartment four years ago, I got a ton of West Elm furniture from Facebook Marketplace at a fraction of the price. I’m currently in the process of redecorating my space and have now come full circle, listing those same items back on Facebook Marketplace.

"I spent 18 years living in Hawaii before moving to the mainland and that time left a large impact on my taste. A lot of my decor style could be described as  Palm Beach, '80s postmodern, '70s bungalow, and '50s beauty suite. But if you look closely there are little touches of where I grew up. My throw pillows are all vintage Hawaiian quilted appliqué showcasing breadfruit and hibiscus flowers. A lot of my favorite art actually comes from my mom's house and my favorite Goodwill back in Hawaii."

Kelley Heyer's NYC apartment, photo by Kelley Heyer

Kelley Heyer's Manhattan apartment, photo by Kelley Heyer

Kelley Heyer's Hell's Kitchen apartment, photo by Kelley Heyer

What are your go-to sources for secondhand clothes? What about for secondhand decor/furniture?

"For in-person thrifting in NYC, I like L Train Vintage. The Gowanus location is the best L-Train in my opinion because it has a decent sized stock, but it’s not overrun with people like the East Williamsburg locations are. I will also go to the Williamsburg Buffalo Exchange. This store is small and packed with clothing so if you go here be prepared to dig for what you want. They tend to have the most vintage options. Buffalo Exchange is also good if there’s a trend that you really like but don’t want to buy directly from fast fashion. Most often what was trending 2-3 months ago will end up here. Finally the Beacon’s Closet on 13th Street. You may have to dig, but they have the most curated selection of good stuff.

"My go-to online sites for thrifting are eBay, Etsy, and Facebook Marketplace. You have to be willing to scroll and scroll and spend time looking for what you want. The perfect item is waiting for you, you just might need to click through 24 pages of listings on eBay. It takes some practice, but after awhile you’ll really come to learn what to look for in photos (quality, feel of the fabric just from photos, wear of zippers and buttons), what size you wear in vintage measurements, and when to step away from a cute item because the shipping cost is more than the item (heartbreaking).

"Facebook Marketplace is the place to go, especially for home furnishings, but it's like the wild, wild west. Half the time, items are already sold or the owner never gets back to you or they say you need to pick up the item that day. My advice for people who want to try Facebook Marketplace is be ready to go and be ready to deal with bad communicators. Also always ask for measurements! You don’t want to get something that won't fit in your apartment."

Actress Kelley Heyer on her personal style

Actress Kelley Heyer on her unique and sustainable sense of style

RIVA New York interviews Kelley Heyer on her personal style

What are your favorite ethical fashion brands/labels right now?

"In the high fashion space right now, I am really in love with Itiya Studio, Michaela Stark, Kasia Kucharska, Ester Manas, and Tanner Fletcher. I think they are all doing something really interesting when it comes to playing with shape and structure and how clothing sits on our bodies. I think there’s so much freedom in fashion when you can step away from the idea of how clothing is 'supposed' to be worn. It’s a very dated idea that you have to dress to flatter your shape. Once I stopped dressing to look pretty or skinny or desirable, my sense of fashion changed dramatically. I love seeing more brands create new ways for clothing to be worn, it’s so exciting."

Name five of your favorite thrifted items.

"I have two favorite pairs of vintage Rocky Mountain Jeans that I thrifted from eBay. I’ve had them for over five years and wear them constantly. They’re such staples in my wardrobe. The waistline is very unique compared to those of today's jeans, and I always get compliments on them.

"As for my favorite dress...Laura Ashley is one of my favorite vintage designers. Her work from the '60s to the '80s is just so beautiful, and the dresses hold a really special place in my heart. Over many many years I have curated a small collection, and one of my top favorites is this soft yellow halter dress. It’s from her Made in Wales collection, for which she used fabric with really beautiful patterns. I wore it to Fashion Week last year paired with a cowboy hat and bolo tie.

"And I recently got the most beautiful Barbie fairy flower lamp! It’s vintage from the '80s and I found it on eBay for $80. I was looking up a specific style of stained glass hanging lamps, or 'Tiffany Lamps.' After scrolling through tons and tons of pages I found this beauty. Great condition, perfect length for my ceiling, and my favorite color, pink. It’s just magic when everything lines up like that!

"And, oh, I am obsessed with my new couch! I had my old one for years and decided it was time for an upgrade. My old couch was pink, and so it was a requirement for my new couch to be pink, as well. But all the new couches I looked at only offered pink in a velvet fabric which I didn’t love. Finally I found a store that did, like, a 'make your own' couch where you could customize everything. I ordered and they gave me an eighteen-week delivery time, which came and went. Eventually I found out the company was going bankrupt so I canceled my order! I then went and did what I should have done in the first place. I spent three weeks checking Facebook Marketplace and Chairish (a website for secondhand furniture) every day looking for the perfect couch. I knew I wanted it to be a little curvy and big enough to lay out on. Then one morning I saw it. On Facebook Marketplace, walling apart, covered in dog hair, brown, and dirt cheap. I contacted Laura at HiLoBrooklyn who specializes in couch restoration. She sourced all the sustainably made pink fabric she could find and in one month she turned that Facebook Marketplace listing into my dream couch. I couldn’t be happier!"

NYC-based actress Kelley Heyer photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, January 2023

NYC-based actress Kelley Heyer photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, January 2023

NYC-based actress Kelley Heyer photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Brooklyn, January 2023

What pieces of advice can you give to anyone (a friend, a family member, a follower) looking to edit their wardrobe (or their decor) into a more responsible, sustainable one?

"It would be dishonest to say I follow all the advice I’m about to give all the time. Living sustainably is a marathon, not a sprint. Being judgmental of the ways in which you might not be living 100% sustainably continues the narrative that each individual person is responsible for climate change, and not the ten major companies ravaging our planets resources. Do what you can, when you can. The important thing is that one is being mindful to make change when they can.

"My first advice is just consume less. Try doing a 'no buy' month. Or if you see an item you really want, tell yourself you have to wait a week or two before buying. If after that time you still really want the item, then go for it! The main reason for waiting is to try and curb impulse buying, something I’m very guilty of. It’s also important before buying something to ask if that item will be filling a spot in your wardrobe. 'Do I need this sweatshirt when I already have three other sweatshirts that I don’t even wear regularly in my closet?' It’s important to shop with intention. When I go to thrift stores now I really try to buy items I know I will wear and not just items I think are cute. And, again, this is an ongoing practice for me! It’s hard. Buying things makes our brains happy in the short term. But the result is that our closet fills up with stuff we don’t even wear that will eventually go to landfills. One step at a time, and maybe we can make things a little better."

Article and interview by Rebecca Doudak

Photographed by Angelo dela Cruz

Photos of Kelley's apartment courtesy of Kelley Heyer

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