We sat down with Tara Tonini in her studio to talk about her company Tara to the T, fashion design, feathers, flight attendants, and daydreaming.
Interview & Cover Photograph: Shoshana of Through the Looking Glass. Article Photograph with Car: Scott Hunter Smith
Tell us about the birth of Tara to the T. How did you get your start?
I’m originally from California and I attended the Fashion Institute in Los Angeles. After working in the fashion industry for a while I was hired by a large corporate company. They snatched me up and moved me to big ‘ol Texas. Tara to the T started out as my hobby, just a way for me to express my creativity and design things that I wanted to make, rather than what I had to design at my 8-5 job. Then in January 2009 I started running my business full time.
What were some of your favorite inspirations in your early hair accessory designs?
In the beginning all of my inspiration came from fashion of the 1920’s through 1960’s. I constructed lots of pillbox hats and fun 1920’s inspired oversized fascinators.
What were some of your most memorable early evolutions?
I participated as a designer in the 2008 Pin Show. The Pin show is a local fashion show that features independent Texas designers. The experience was amazing and it made me very motivated to take my then “hobby” to the next level.
What do you think is secret to your amazing success with the Tara to the T line of hats and hair accessories?
I am an extremely hard worker; I think it runs in my Italian blood, ha-ha. I have also taken several years to create my technique of design and my product is of high quality. I travel the world collecting unique materials and findings to make my designs original. My goal is to create a shopping experience. I have so many retuning customers because they like to hear the inspiration and story behind each design.
Your newest line, Sky Girls is your first full clothing line. How did you make the leap from hats and hair accessories to a full clothing line?
In college I studied apparel, and I always knew in the back of my mind I would enter that market again. So at the 2009 Pin Show I débuted my Sky Girls collection.
What is the inspiration & concept behind Sky Girls?
My Great Aunt was a stewardess during the Golden Age and when she passed away, I was given her vintage Valentino jacket. After doing some research, I discovered that Valentino designed TWA’s uniforms for several years. So my research continued and my Sky Girls line was created.
I wanted to recapture the image of the 1960’s stewardess. She was fun and playful, yet she was a professional and able to travel the world. All of the Sky Girls dresses are 60’s inspired silhouettes, but they are created with modern fabrications. The dresses are designed out of knit, so they are very easy to wear and super comfortable.
In January, you began pursuing your art full time. Please describe your experiences thus far as a full time small business owner.
It has been an interesting six months to say the least. I have managed to launch a clothing line and take my company on the road. Sky Girls is available for sale in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin and in New York very shortly. I’m a strong believer that a small business can survive in this day and age, the business owner just has to be creative in a slow economy.
I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by my very talented and supportive friends; this transition wouldn’t have been possible without them.
With so many projects: the Tara to the T hair accessories and hats line, your Steam Punk line, your burlesque inspired line with Ginger Valentine, and Sky Girls, do you ever find time for yourself? What is your method for juggling so many projects?
I do find time for myself; I just don’t sleep much these days ha-ha. My number one hobby is daydreaming. My boyfriend, Joey Seeman is a very talented artist and we spend most of our time daydreaming and brainstorming. This fuels my fire and gets me behind my sewing machine so I can execute my ideas from my head through my fingertips.
My second hobby is dressing up. By designing everything from retro dresses to Steam Punk accessories, I get a chance to dress up and be creative with the entire process.
As for juggling it all, everyone who knows me knows that I live out of my calendar. My key is to mark everything in pencil so that I can be flexible.. I also lock myself if my studio twice a week, to give myself alone time to be creative and stay focused.
Speaking of your partnership with burlesque entertainer Ginger Valentine, what is the name of the line and describe the concept. What are your thoughts on the relatively recent popularity of the Burlesque revival movement?
While living in Los Angeles, I was fortunate enough to see some very talented burlesque entertainers perform. My favorite book is Pretty Things by Liz Goldwyn and I was able to meet and chat with Miss Goldwyn at a vintage store in Los Angeles one day. So long story short I’ve been a fan of burlesque, its history and most of all it’s costuming for quite some time.
A fellow artist friend recently introduced me to Ginger Valentine and we immediately hit it off! Miss Valentine is an amazing entertainer, her fun and flirty personality shines in all of her performances. I am designing Ginger’s costumes for several upcoming performances and we have launched our Ginger Valentine burlesque starter kit. It débuted at Hot Rods and Heels and we an instant hit for so many of my customers. Inside you get the tips and treats to do a little burlesque of your own. The kits are available on-line June 1st and of course they will be for sale wherever Miss Valentine performs.
What does the future hold for Tara?
My Sky Girls swimsuit line will be for sale in June, I’m very excited about that. I am also having a Carnival theme launch party on Friday June 12th at the Lizard Lounge in Dallas, TX.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to a woman looking to open her own business in a arts related field?
Do what you love in order to live your dream. When there is passion in your heart and a supportive community around you, the possibilities are endless.