Photo by Pedro Sousa
Sick of fast fashion? So is Hudson Valley designer Kristen Sousa. Her clothing line, StellaRay, slows things down with thoughtfully made dresses and textile goods.
Online shopping has taken the world by storm. As brick-and-mortar storefronts shuttered during the pandemic, fast fashion reached a peak. With new styles and trends being introduced at a blinding pace, consumers are inundated with low-quality clothing from mass-market retailers. Hudson Valley artist Kristen Sousa actively challenges this culture with ethically made, bohemian-style dresses and block-printed goods from her brand, StellaRay.
A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Sousa always had a passion for design. When she made the decision to shop ethically and look for slow fashion brands, she still felt “bombarded with new collections and things to buy, and it was overwhelming to even try to stop myself from continuing to consume.”
Then, the pandemic hit. Sousa found herself enjoying home life, donning pretty house dresses, and spending time with her children in the yard and garden. Plus, she homeschools, so she wanted to find a way to work from home. She remarks, “I realized there were a lot of other moms and people out there who love a good house dress, and it was just being home that gave me that space to realize that I wanted to be home with my children and follow my heart.” As it goes, in September 2020, StellaRay was born.
The brand’s “Dress of the Month” campaign encourages slow-fashion shopping with only one style of dress released per month. This model allows customers to appreciate one item at a time, alleviating the pressure to purchase several items at once from a collection. This relaxed release schedule also affords Sousa the time and space she needs to bring together the perfect dress.
When asked about her inspiration, Sousa muses, “It’s interesting because I don’t look for it. I just allow space in my life for it to just come and it just appears to me all of a sudden.” Her dresses are influenced by bohemian living, a lifestyle Sousa once adopted. “When I was younger, I traveled across the country in a van for eight months following music and met tons of amazing people. That bohemian lifestyle is where the inspiration comes from: clothes you can just wear easily.”
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StellaRay’s dresses are ethically made in Jaipur, where woodblock printing originated. Sousa has long had an affinity for block prints, and Jaipur’s 500-year history of perfecting the ancient technique made it the ideal place to source patterns. Along with a small sewing shop in Mumbai, all StellaRay’s workshops are small, each with eight to 10 employees. StellaRay prioritizes shops that support women, mothers, and families, with one of the shops being completely woman-owned.
StellaRay currently offers a selection of robes, nightgowns, and dresses, including the Raya gown named after Sousa’s son. The products are available online and in several locations throughout the Hudson Valley. These small boutiques are part of what Sousa loves about the Hudson Valley. “It’s really special to be a part of those communities the way that we are. I love going and visiting the boutique owners and making deliveries.”
Along with contributing to the selections at these small shops, the StellaRay team is excited to open their first-ever retail space in Cold Spring in April 2023. As the brand continues to expand, Sousa’s hope is that the company “is to grow sustainably and still be able to make the small batches, have the small sewing studios, and keep the core of what we’re doing in place.” Looking ahead, Sousa is eager to meet her customers in person and share new styles with them.
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