How Tanya Taylor Became a Leader in the Slow Fashion Movement

Her label was one of the first high-end brands to offer extended sizing. Now she's opening a boutique in NYC.
Tanya Taylor (Photograph: Sharon Radisch)

Tanya Taylor started her eponymous womenswear label in 2013. Within a few short years, her designs had been picked up by major retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus and she’d earned an A-list clientele, counting Michelle Obama and Beyoncé as fans of her signature hand-painted floral dresses. Identifying a market gap, Taylor was one of the first high-end designers to offer extended sizing. She has also become a leader in slow fashion, the practice of producing a smaller collection of better-quality garments that last. This fall, she marked a major milestone, opening the doors to her first stand-alone boutique—a 130-square-metre space on Madison Avenue on NYC’s Upper East Side.

Title: CEO, Tanya Taylor

Degree: B.Com., McGill University, and AAS in fashion design, Parsons School of Design

Age: 37

From: Toronto

Currently lives in: New York

My favourite childhood memory is: My parents worked for the Red Cross, and we travelled all over to places like Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, Italy and France. They would bring back art and textiles, and the walls of my childhood home were decorated with murals inspired by the world we discovered.

The biggest takeaway from my education is: I am so thankful I went to McGill before Parsons because business school taught me how to build the framework to turn my creativity into a company. It’s also where I really discovered fashion. There were so many cool independent designers in Montreal. I volunteered to model in the school fashion show, and it kind of turned on a light bulb.

My first job ever was: At Paper Bag Princess, a vintage store in Toronto. I did window displays and eventually got promoted to help with alterations. I told my boss I could sew, but I definitely couldn’t, so I had to learn on the job.

A significant challenge I had to overcome was: When I moved to New York to go to Parsons, I didn’t know one person. I was living alone and trying to navigate a new country, school and professional industry without a road map. But I think being uncomfortable helps you grow. It helped me to be on my own—I was able to take a pause.

Something that really needs to change in my industry is: We need to do more to support younger brands. Many don’t survive because they lack resources. I volunteer a certain amount of time every quarter to do mentoring and teach classes. I try to teach things that were missing from my education. For example, no one taught me how to do pattern-making for extended sizing. And size inclusivity is something I want to see more of in our industry.

The moment I knew I’d made it was: I brought my mom to the White House. The Obamas had a party at the end of their term, and I was invited. Michelle is a big supporter of new brands, and she wore Tanya Taylor designs 13 times while she was the First Lady. It was amazing to show my mom the perks of my job—we were dancing in the Red Room with Paul McCartney, Diane von Furstenberg and Usher!

“Business school taught me how to build the framework to turn my creativity into a company”

The thing that keeps me motivated is: Seeing women wearing my clothes. It keeps me motivated to constantly learn more about our customers and challenge myself to design better. I’ve really learned how women see their bodies and how they feel comfortable—when they feel beautiful, what volume they like, what proportions they like, what style of sleeve makes them feel happy.

The biggest misconception about being an entrepreneur is: That as you grow, you can step back and pass on responsibility. But as your team grows, the needs become more complex. When there were just three of us, we would turn and talk to each other. Now, we need processes and calendars. In a way, being an entrepreneur is akin to being a mom for me. Your responsibilities grow, you learn in each chapter and you evolve as the company evolves.

Related: How to Better Manage a Borderless Team

The advice I always give others now is: Be the most curious person in the room. Getting to know people and exploring the situations you are in will give you the greatest insights.

Before I retire, I really want to: I would love to teach a high school fashion class at my alma mater, Havergal College, and an entrepreneurship class at Parsons.

Caitlin Agnew
Caitlin Agnew
Caitlin Agnew is a freelance writer and editor based near Toronto. She writes about fashion, beauty, wellness, retail and lifestyle trends.