Meet Sally Esposito

Sally Esposito is earning a strong following in Santa Cruz for her bold textile choices, feminine silhouettes and modern (yet retro-influenced) designs. I saw her dresses in a local store, Stripe, in downtown Santa Cruz, and noticed the impeccable craftsmanship of each garment, assuming that the graceful frocks would have a recognizable label inside. And then I was told that Esposito, the fashion designer behind each of these pieces, was in fact a local woman. I had to meet this creative denizen and find out what makes her tick, who influences her style and the reality of starting your own fashion line. So I caught up with Esposito, took a look at her daring fabric choices and talked about the business and artistry behind fashion design.

How did you first get into fashion design?

I started making clothes in college, primarily because I would have an idea of a dress or skirt I wanted but either it didn't exist or I couldn't afford it. I started out hand sewing everything—which took forever. In my sophomore year of college, my mom bought me a sewing machine and it changed everything. I started reading books about sewing, which helped a lot. I read "Sew U: The Built by Wendy Guide to Making your Wardrobe" like there was going to be a final exam.  I began making clothes like crazy, lots of clothes. Soon I had a whole collection, so I decided to bring them to a shop in Brooklyn (I was studying at Rutgers in New Jersey at the time) and the owner agreed to sell them. I was psyched. After that I kept making clothes and the next summer I did an internship with Akademiks clothing company in New York.

What brought you to Santa Cruz and when did you move here?

I moved to Santa Cruz in 2008 after living in San Francisco for a bit working at a lighting design company. My boyfriend is a grad student at UC Santa Cruz and after many weekends of cal train and bussing it back and forth, we decided we wanted to live in the same place. So yeah, I moved here for love.


Tell me about your first line of dresses—when did you start making these?

I did the dress line specifically for Stripe in fall 2011. I created it really trying to keep in mind the Stripe customer (someone who is fashion-forward, very quality conscious, and looks for classic but different pieces that can be worn forever), while still incorporating my own style into it (one-of-a-kind pieces with a vintage flare). I really wanted the shape of the dress to be flattering and classic on women, but modern and updated at the same time. My grandmother made a similar style dress in the 1960s and I just adore it. It will truly never go out of style. 

What goes into making one of these dresses?

Oh boy, lots of time and lots of "This American Life" podcasts. One dress takes about 10 hours, and that's not even including picking out the fabric! Making one dress includes a lot of ironing, a lot of thread color change (since I like contrast colored linings), and a lot of hand sewing (for the inside bodice and hem). After measuring, lining up, and cutting the fabric, it's ironing, darting, seam sewing (I use a lot of French seams since they look so good so that adds some extra time), ironing, lining sewing, more ironing, zipper inserting, and then a few good hours of hand sewing. And then, ironing. There's a lot of ironing in sewing.

Who are your fashion inspirations?

I'd have to say my grandmother is a big one. She was beautiful and really had some amazing dresses. Aside from her, I really like Heidi Merrick's designs, Zachary's Smile, Dear Ceatures, EmersonMade, and select artists from Anthropologie. 

What spring fashion trends are you ogling over right now?

I love the color mint, so I'm pretty excited about the return of that this spring. I'm also happy to see some good color blocking. Oh, and maxi dresses and skirts. 

What's next for your line of clothing?

My spring line is definitely shaping up to be much more colorful and full of printed patterns than my holiday line. I plan to start making some dresses with flared bottoms, rather than a fitted pencil bottom. I think eventually I'd like to get back to making lots of different items, shorts, jackets, tops and skirts.

Learn more about Sally Esposito at her website or visit her Etsy store. Her clothing is also for sale at Stripe, 107 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz.