Like most early parts of the work week, we’re ready to just curl up in bed and fall asleep. So, you can imagine that finding out that OUTRA Textiles was heading to our Chicago Pop-Up was a little more than we can handle! Needless to say, who’s ready for a nap?
Laura Evans founded OUTRA in the summer of 2013. She previously practiced as a landscape designer at Prospect Park in Brooklyn for six years, a job she loved for the connection to the community in which she lived and the design challenges it presented. OUTRA not only enables Laura to continue to nurture this love for design but also, for the first time, gives her the satisfying experience of constructing the items she designs. Laura views each textile product she lovingly creates as a representation of her passions for interesting design, craftsmanship, and the environment.
My grandmother raised ten children on a farm and did most of the work involving the house, food, and her children. One small part of this work was sewing for her family, a skill my mother picked up and one she still uses almost daily. When my older brother and sister were very little, my mother made extra money by constructing a custom wardrobe by hand for a friend of hers. My own childhood memories include her hemming my dad’s suit pants and sewing a prom dress for my sister, but I didn’t actually grow interested in her sewing skills until I was 12 or 13. I watched way too much TV as a kid. At this point, my television interests mostly focused on ‘Designing Women’ and ‘Trading Spaces’ and I became fixated on re-designing my bedroom as often as I could. My first project with my mom was a country-style quilted bedspread. We later made curtains, dresses, and weird-o Halloween costumes like a mound of pizza and a giant cockroach. Looking back, this was my first real creative pursuit and a focus I felt excited by. I was at a loss going into college, wanting to study something creative while feeling the pressure to be practical. I first chose fashion merchandising but once I realized that was much more a business than design degree, I switched to landscape architecture. While in college, I had passionate moments and appreciated how that work marries art with nature but I often felt misplaced. After graduating, I moved to Brooklyn to work at Prospect Park, a job that I loved for so many reasons. It was a small, familial environment; we were closely connected to the community in which we designed; the work was diverse and inspiring. Despite all of this, I still kind of felt like a fraud. It was difficult to articulate at the time, but I think my feeling of disconnection came partly from the large scale of the projects but mostly I felt disconnected because I was not physically creating anything. In reaction, my work with OUTRA could not feel more personal and connected. I am the sole designer; I construct and hand-paint each piece. I can experiment and make anything I like without compromising on the design and materials and, if it doesn’t work, I can toss it out and move on to something else. Even though OUTRA is still very young, I love to think back on the first shower curtain I made and I feel proud of how far I’ve come creatively and with the quality of the items I am providing. I am energized looking forward to where this work may take me. I feel fortunate to have found work that I have a genuine connection with, where I am both comforted by familiar tasks and challenged to learn and teach myself the skills and techniques necessary to keep growing.
All OUTRA pieces are made from U.S. sourced organic cotton fabric. Although it can be a challenge to source these types of materials without higher costs, Laura prioritizes the importance of organic textiles – from the health of the farmers and field workers growing the material, the land in which it is grown, to her customers, and herself; the foundation of her work must equal the quality of her art.