Q&a With Field Study Clothing
by kiana moridi
Carly Sowecke’s path to becoming a fashion designer and creator of Field Study Clothing wasn’t a predictable one. In fact, she was previously in a field some would call polar opposite to fashion. Sowecke, who didn’t pursue fashion as a career until recently, has a BA and MA in Geology from Stanford, where she was also a competitive rower on scholarship. And as if that wasn’t impressive enough on its own, the now business owner decided it was time to turn her eye toward something creative.
Now, Soecke runs Field Study Clothing, a hand-made sustainable clothing line full of playful prints, colorful tones, quilt coats, and more. Often using bedspreads, sheets, and upholstery fabric, Soecke creates one-of-a-kind pieces with intentionality and deliberation in mind.
Here, the business owner/designer tells us about her new collaboration with Sarah James of Whoorl, the story behind the name, and how she wants her customers to feel in a Field Study Clothing piece.
What is your background in fashion and design?
My mother is a seamstress and taught me how to sew when I was a young child, and it created an appreciation for and fascination with fashion. I’ve always loved to create things – I made and sold purses at school (shiny red lining with leopard on the outside!) and I even entered a prom-dress-making competition in high school (my dress didn’t win, and I wasn’t asked to prom…womp womp).
What inspired the idea to create Field Study Clothing? When did it begin?
I hadn’t seen a lot of locally-sourced, made-by-hand clothing options here in OKC, or even when I travel. When I shopped at big box stores or chains, I didn’t feel like I loved the way I looked or felt in things, and I felt some buyer’s remorse as I watched the clothes I bought on sale slowly dither with each wash or wear. It occurred to me that I could merge my love for making clothes, my joy in finding that one-off perfect piece of clothing, and my longing to do something different, into one. Field Study is a shop where people can buy clothing that is cut and sewn in OKC from mostly-found or vintage fabric; it gives people an alternative to the mass-produced fashion that is hard on the environment and on the people who labor to make clothing; and I could do it relatively affordably. I launched Field Study in September 2020.
Tell me about your upcoming collaboration that's dropping on March 18.
This is going to be so good! One of the pieces in my first collection was making simple cardigans out of kantha quilts. Kantha quilts are part of the Indian tradition, made from multiple layers of fabric sewn together with long running stitches. Sarah James from Whoorl loved these kantha cardigans but wanted to make something a bit more elevated with a jewel toned color palate. Well, I’m all about elevated and jewel tones, plus Sarah is DELIGHTFUL, so I was in. Sarah and I picked out a set of vintage kantha quilts and created an 8-piece mini collection of really luxuriously beautiful cardigans—every single one is pure joy. These drop on March 18th at 11 a.m. CST on my website, but if you want a preview of the collection, subscribe to my email list and you’ll get a first look at everything.
What's the story behind the name?
When I studied Geology, I’d go out to Colorado for field work, collecting data to complete my masters degree. Most of my adult life has been working in Geology, and now I'm starting a new field of study, so the double-meaning was attractive to me, and felt like a unique, memorable name for what we do at Field Study.
Tell me about your sewing process. From finding fabrics and inspiration to concept and design.
My personal style is very easy, flowy, and bright. I like things that are oversized with a hint of skin, bright colors, prints, wide leg pants, vintage, and layering. I follow a lot of street style and vintage inspired Instagram accounts, but my favorite place to find inspiration and see what trending is through the Vogue Runway app. It’s really mind-blowing the number of images and videos on this free app – you can view tons of past seasons from a huge variety of designers, many of whom I’ve never heard of. I love it because it’s a direct line into what other designers are doing and thinking, it’s very inspirational.
My concept and design process are a bit more scattered than I’d like to admit. I don’t necessarily sit down and sketch a “collection”, then go out and buy coordinating fabrics. It’s a bit more free-form than that and that’s because I use a lot of vintage or thrifted fabric, so it’s difficult to coordinate colors and patterns when I’m at the mercy of whatever I find. But I actually like it that way—that allows me to really think creatively about what can work for clothing. I often use bedspreads, sheets, upholstery fabric—and then make one-of-a-kind pieces.
Do you create your own prints for some pieces?
I do! I took a class on block-printing and just fell in love with it. The process of going through idea, sketch, carving the block, mixing the ink, and creating a textile with my own two hands, is so fulfilling. It’s extremely time-consuming, but so satisfying. The funny thing is, it’s very hard to communicate with customers how much work went into garments that are block-printed, but the best way I can express it is to call our clothes wearable art.
How do you come up with design ideas? Do clients request styles, or do you create more on a collection/season basis?
I really use myself as a guide, thinking about what I want to wear that season. A lot of my design ideas come from things I’ve seen that I put my own twist on, and a few things I’ve made come from making stuff I couldn’t find anywhere else.
People do request styles all the time! I take what people want into consideration, but I try to stay true to my personal style instead of chasing trends. There are a few trends I do love right now, including the quilt coat and the puff headband, but it’s impossible for me to keep up with all trends, nor do I want to.
The other thing that’s difficult to communicate with customers is that we are so used to industrially produced garments. Almost all of the garments we wear use industrial machinery from cutting the fabric to sewing on buttons. Every single thing I do is by hand, so a piece of clothing that has 10 buttons, gathers, and a collar, takes me a long time to produce. And that really is the special thing about Field Study—it’s clothing made by hand in a slow and deliberate way.
Who is the Field Study Clothing customer? How do they live and what do they do for fun?
Oh, I love this question! Again, I think of myself here – someone who likes to ride their bike around town but also wants to look stylish and fun while doing it. Someone who would equally love to lounge on the porch or jump into a double-dutch competition all while wearing a really nice French silk scarf. My customer wants their clothes to be easy to move in and comfortable. They don’t wear high heels, they wear cool sneakers with dresses. They like bandanas and know a few really good jokes. I was in Amsterdam a few years ago and loved seeing how people dressed while getting around the city. Not one person had on a “biking” outfit—everyone looked so cute with a very easy style.
How do you want people to feel in a Field Study Clothing piece?
I want people to feel like frolicking in a field of sunflowers. Not too serious. Confident. Fun. Cool without trying too hard. Like you could walk up and talk to anyone while sober.
What does sustainable clothing mean to you?
Sustainable is such a nebulous term. It can mean so many things to different people, and it can also be used as a trendy marketing ploy. For me, this term applies to both the fabric choices I make and my labor practices. I strive to use fabrics that are not derived from plastic, that are natural fibers, or use fabrics that are vintage, found, repurposed, or dead stock. For labor, I do have a few others help me sew and I pay them fairly for their work. My ultimate goal is to have a studio where I have a small team producing clothing, they are paid fair wages, have great working conditions, great benefits, good lighting, and everything smells like cedarwood and lavender.
Sustainability is kind of a buzz word right now, but I take it to heart and I really see a shift happening in the way people are buying clothes—the customer is demanding more transparency in how their clothing is produced. The thing is—people are going to keep wearing clothes (!) and they want to wear things that make them feel good—this is not going to go away. The truth right now, is the fashion industry is destructive to the environment and has poor labor practices. From the amount of water that is used to make denim, to the toxic chemicals used to dye textiles, to the low wages and terrible working conditions in the industry, there is a lot to improve. With Field Study Clothing, I wanted to create a more conscious clothing brand that cares about fashion and style, and also cares about the impact we have on our environment and community. You can have both and actually, we have to have both.
Tell me something interesting about yourself that some of your customers may not know.
I really, hate those floppy-air waving inflatable people out in front of car dealerships.
I was once hit by a car (I’m okay!)
I just learned how to surf, and I love it!
Seeing the Northern Lights and wearing an astronaut space suit (not necessarily at the same time) are on my bucket list.
You can shop Field Study Clothing pieces at https://fieldstudyclothing.com/r, on Instagram @fieldstudyclothing, or visit the Midtown Walkabout in OKC on April 17.