As one of Lotuff's most versatile bench-workers who is always ready to take on anything, from monogramming to order entries, Anna is an indispensable member of our workshop. Liz speaks with her here about biking and how she's grown to love the fashion industry.
You’re currently working here during the day and taking classes in the evening. Can you tell me more about what kinds of courses you’re enrolled in and what your goals are?
I take classes at CCRI and through the RISD continuing education program, as well as at the Steel Yard. This past semester at RISD I took a hand-weaving looming class, an introductory jewelry course at the Steel Yard, and worked towards pursuing my fine arts Associate degree at CCRI. I was doing fashion design at RISD but they canceled that certificate course, so I signed up for product development and manufacturing instead, and that’ll be my new pursuit there. I had previously been taking sewing classes and fashion history but this past semester I took a watercolor class.
A lot of what fashion design involves is having a visual in order to reference your design, so that course helped me learn a new way of creating those visuals. If you don’t have them, it’s hard to create an original draft. It’s really important. I took that class so I could help myself manage all of my ideas, because as you can see I’m very spread out, taking jewelry and all of these different things. I’m doing a lot of varied studies because I’m genuinely interested in all of it, and I don’t want to have to wait to do everything that interests me. A lot of it is for fun and experience, too.
For example, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to take classes at the Steel Yard, since it’s a Providence institution, and I just wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t kick myself later on down the line for not taking that opportunity. It’s a special institution; there aren't a lot of places that teach welding, ceramics, jewelry, and more. Providence just has that history behind it and I think it’s appropriate to honor it and take advantage of what the city has to offer. So I applied for a financial scholarship and I got it, and here we are.
I overall think I’m just very interested in making things and how all of the arts can work together. Sort of like how we use a grinder here in the Lotuff studio for bags, but it’s also something you can use in jewelry-making and the industrial arts. Because I'm around these artisans in the studio and I’m taking my classes at the Steel Yard, I can really see how everybody’s doing kind of the same things, only with different materials. I just think it’s all integrated and they help one another out. I don’t think anything can be lost from learning something else, and I believe that when I am developing one discipline, I’m also helping myself develop another.
My goal is to have my own business one day. I have an interest in bikes and scooters, and so I want to make a functional line that’s designed for being on or riding scooters—jackets and things that consider the weather but also consider style. There’s usually just something rugged about riding bikes, or something super-athletic, and I just kind of want to create a different kind of culture around biking. I want to speak to a different kind of person who wants to ride bikes but isn’t necessarily trying to be super technical about it. One of my designs that I made, for instance, is kind of a cropped kimono jacket for bike-riding that’s inspired by actual kimonos but is made out of waterproof material.
How did you first become interested in sewing and the fashion industry?
As far as making things, I’ve always wanted to make things (laughs). I was a sushi chef for eight years, so working with my hands is something I’ve done professionally for a long time. For sewing, I think it’s just kind of been a gnawing thought in my head, like, “I wish _____ looked like this!” and “I wish _____ was like that!” I realized that I didn’t have to keep on thinking that; I can actually learn to make things to fit my visions. I also think, historically speaking, that making one’s own attire is something a lot of women have always done, but that’s being lost on us in this generation because we’re so used to buying our things.
I used to work at a consignment store where I had to look up all these designers and find their price points. In researching that information, I found out a lot about high-end brands and designers. The history of it all was very interesting to me, what these different lines like Fendi and Escada were and how they came to be. I used to think fashion was a little too shallow, but the truth is that there’s also a strong intellectual side.
There’s also the fact that in fashion, you can live out your convictions. Different lines do different things according to what their designers believe in, like how Stella McCartney uses all vegan materials because that aligns with her personal ethics. I think it’s really great that something that truly can and does influence fashion is a belief system, and that’s why I’m really happy to be working at Lotuff. They believe in having a really nice working environment to be in while making something that’s very high-quality. In manufacturing you can affect what goes out into the world, and this is the kind of place I want to be a part of. And just growing up, you want to do something that you’re proud of without compromising your belief and morals. I never thought pursuing something in fashion could do that until I learned more about the industry.
You’re the girl known for biking to work every day, and you just got a scooter. How did you decide the two-wheel life was for you as opposed to driving a car every day?
Because I’ve had a car before, believe it or not! Really, though, I just didn’t like the financial responsibility that came along with owning a car. I often think that cars stop us from moving, physically, and I’ve just always had bikes. I like road bikes a lot right now, and I never thought I would be into them, but I eventually worked my way up to getting one. I used to ride a cruiser, this really cute 50’s style bike that was thick and bright yellow with a big seat, but I couldn't get up hills like I wanted to. So then I got a really great commuter bike, but I wanted to go faster, and that’s how I ended up with a road bike.
I’ve kind of designed my life so I don’t really have to use a car, and I like the creative challenges that come with that. There’s always the question of weather, like thinking about the fact that it might not be windy right now, but on the bike, you make your own wind and it might get cooler, so there are two different temperatures you could have to deal with. That’s kind of why I want to design stuff for bike riding, because I think it’s nice to have the experience of doing something and then designing for that experience.
Your position at Lotuff is unique in that you bridge the gap between the workshop floor and the administrative side of the studio, carrying out tasks from both areas. Have you ever done something like this before, and what do you enjoy about it?
I’ve been working in small companies in Rhode Island for most of my life, like the sushi restaurant, some different shops, and a metal restoration company in Newport where I helped restore the Jewish synagogue there. Right before I came to Lotuff, I worked at that consignment store, which I think was the most similar to working here of all my jobs.
Here, I kind of like the non-pressure to have to be so focused on yourself because all the focus goes towards the work you’re doing. When I first started out here, I noticed everyone’s shoes right away—everyone was wearing comfortable, scuffed-up shoes, and I was like, “I think I found my place!” I love the natural light in the studio, too, and the beautiful people—inside and out—that are working here.
I would say I like working in the studio because I feel like I’m doing something with everyone, together. You get into a rhythm of carrying out your actions, and when I can get that motion down, it’s a really good feeling. On the administrative side, since there is a part of me that likes having an order to things. I like having the opportunity to spot obstacles and fix them right away. I do a lot of monogramming, and that gave way to me being a part of doing logo placement, and I finally standardized that process myself to make things easier for everyone. I just enjoy finding solutions. Similarly to how I like to understand all those different realms in art, I also like to understand the artisanal point of view versus the managerial point of view, and when I can parlay between the two, helping one side out while also helping the other side, it’s great.
What are some things you love about Providence, from the arts to the food and culture?
For restaurants, I like to get my salmon roe fix at Sakura on Wickenden Street, and Los Andes is also an amazing place. It’s really hard to get a reservation there, but that’s what’s amazing about it, the feeling once you finally get in. I love comedy in general, too, so I love going to comedy clubs around the city. I feel like you can get a little bit of everything in Providence. I like the size of it, and I like the way that it has many different cultures within it. There’s the art culture, there’s a business culture, there’s medical, research, education—it’s a very interesting dynamic. Providence has an ability to have a lot of minds come together and create something really unique and useful for the world.