Pretty Birdie: Sustainable fashion, not freaky about it

by Brian Clarey

It all started because of a bad check. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that — Stephanie Teague had been part of the fashion scene since she was a teenager, a model of the lean and leggy vari ety doing shoots and shows in Charlotte, when she got the offer to come to Greensboro and be the face of an online guitar shop. Her fee: a cool $75,000. “I probably wouldn’t have moved to Greensboro but for that amount of money,” she says from a perch in her new downtown digs. But the check the company sent to her agency bounced, leaving her more or less stranded and jobless in a city not always known for its fashion sense. Things didn’t look good. “But then,” she says wistfully, “things happened. I fell in love with the man who is now my husband.” She also started making clothes. The seeds of her company — Pretty Birdie, with the tagline, “sustainable women’s cloth- ing and accessories” — were there from the beginning. She was repurposing vintage clothing, tear- ing out stitches and tweaking designs to suit her taste. She got her hands on some old feed and flour sacks made from cotton and hemp, and she was struck by the quality and textures of the fabric Then something happened to change her worldview. “My desire to go green started when I was 22,” she says. “My mom died of ovarian cancer. She fought it for five years. Towards the end she started seeing a naturopath; it was really encouraging and inspiring. I started a journey of… I guess self-discovery? Just tak- ing care of myself. And when you start taking care of yourself, you want to take care of your environment.” She started looking into hemp fabric — sustainable, low impact and environmentally friendly, but also adaptable, fashionable and easy to work with, and she yearned to bring it beyond the stigma associating it with drug culture and festival wear.

“That’s definitely my goal in fashion,” she says. “Everything hemp or organic was ‘hippie.’ That is changing — I’m not the only one making upscale clothing from hemp.”

And the fabric itself has evolved. In her shop she has swatches of coarse hemp linen, a dress made from raw hemp silk, another made of fine hemp suede, a short jacket she fash- ioned from hemp twill. “It’s come a long way,” she says. And so has she. From her site on Etsy, Teague has made a name for herself in the sustainable fashion world, selling pieces as fast as she turned them out. She hit the big time this year when she won a national design competition, Fur-Free Fashion put on by Born Free, “a national ani- mal advocacy organization,” according top its website, with a piece she submitted online, a short, strapless, asymmetrical number of yel- low gauze and hemp linen that brought her to California and up to the next level for a fash- ion designer.

She’s been in the Elm Street space for about a week now, sharing the first floor of the store- front with a piano shop, and today the room is bracketed by workstations and formed torso mannequins, with a curved rack laden with completed couture and unfinished projects strewn about. Her display window is empty — for now the place is more factory than showroom, and she’s got plenty to keep her busy.

She’s sent a few pieces up to New York City for Fashion Week, where her designs shared the limelight in the epicenter of the fashion world, and this week she’ll be back in her hometown, Charlotte, for Fashion Week there.

The sustainability angle, she says, can be difficult to maintain, but it’s good for business.

“It’s more expensive to be green,” she says. “I have to do my research on companies I buy fabric from, make sure it’s fair trade. I repur- pose my boxes [for shipping]. It’s definitely extremely popular now, and I think it’s the way of the future.” But more importantly, it suits her personal style. “It’s not necessarily political,” she says, “more who I am as a person, just the way I live. I eat local food. I see a naturopath [Disclosure: Her naturopathic physician is my wife]. I’m an extremely down-to-earth individual. I’m not a freak about it; I just do my best.”

612 S. Elm St., Greensboro; 336.587.0544; stephanieteague.