What makes Elven Forest Creations different from other Renaissance inspired fashions out there is that you can wear many of the pieces out in the world as everyday wear. We talked at length with Elven Forest Creations’ Ashli Hara about the designs, the passion, and the future – as much as we could – in this wonderful back and forth.
Kendra: When did your fascination for fantasy and the likes of the Renaissance era begin? Also, have you always had a passion for fashion, and when did the two interests come together as Elven Forest Creations?
Ashli Hara: I have always loved clothing from bygone eras. From the courtly garments of the Renaissance to the earthy rags of the Paleolithic era. I’ve always been fascinated by the meeting of style with utility. I look for ways to blend styles into one piece that not only looks coherent and naturally, has a flow to it, but also that is comfortable all day long like a second skin.
Design has always been a strong suit of mine. My mind works in a 3D way and I love thinking about how things fit together. I think I found the niche when making clothes for myself to wear to festivals and underground parties. The clothes naturally incorporated historical elements from both of these time periods as well as my very active imagination. It was about ten years ago when I was making these clothes for myself and people started asking me to make clothes for them as well.
I actually got asked to be a part of a fashion show and I sewed up-a-fury in my bedroom for two weeks straight to make my first real collection. They took professional photos of my work which was really exciting. I took those photos and made the Etsy shop and it just took off.
Kendra: Etsy has changed everything for independent creators. Where do you feel you’d be without a place like Etsy to showcase your work?
Ashli Hara: Etsy was a hope and a prayer the first day that I launched it. I had $20 to my name and I spent that $20 on the materials to sew my first order. I was basically homeless the first year. Staying with friends and subletting a room once every few months and trading handmade clothes for rent. Every year Elven Forest kept growing, I didn’t do any advertising, but it just grew by word of mouth since people were happy with their orders.
By the beginning of the third year, I was working 80 hour weeks. Only seeing friends for four hours every other weekend. So I opened up and started adding people to the Elven Forest team. Now we have some of the most amazing and lovely ladies at Elven Forest ever. We make a great team and I could not be happier with how everything has turned out. It allows us to live a dream, create a sustainable local company made up of ladies who work from home, make their own hours, and create beautiful things for people who love them.
Kendra: Now, what I truly love about your pieces are that they celebrate those fantasy, fairy elements without being costumes. People who buy your pieces can rock them at work and not have to worry about being reprimanded. Was that the initial goal? Create pieces that are fairy functional?
Ashli Hara: Yes! You got it! The first goal was exactly that. To create pieces that bring a little bit of fairytale magic into everyday life. So they could be versatile and worn to both to festivals and costume parties but also transition seamlessly into going to work or to a family event. My next goal was to make them as absolutely comfortable as possible because, at the time, most clothing was stiff and hard to wear for a whole day (that was when everyone wore jeans instead of leggings for example). Elven Forest clothes are comfortable enough to wear all day and then sleep in them
Kendra: Usually, designers in this realm stick with the elegance, the royalty, but again you’re fairy functional. With that, I also feel like your pieces represent not only that magical fairy element but also people during that time that would’ve been on the outskirts of royalty. The rebels, the artists, the troubadours. Was that ever something that came to mind when designing – who would’ve worn these back then?
Ashli Hara: Haha, well yes. I was deeply immersed in an underground culture based both in Chicago and San Francisco when I started. Which focused its efforts in reinventing modern day life, traveling and going to festivals as a lifestyle, creating free energy, rediscovering wisdom from our ancestors and native roots and bringing that to our modern day life, in turn revolutionizing the way we see ourselves and our existence here on this planet.
Being creative with one’s way of dress was the norm and is the first thing that drew me to the culture. It was very fun for me to have a supportive community where I could create and experiment with everything.
At first, a lot of people who wore Elven Forest clothes were fire spinners, belly dancers, and festival goers who loved the fairytale style. Now it’s becoming a thing and people from all walks of life are getting into it. The last few years I’ve seen clothing shops pop up all over the place with a similar style. It feels good to have been a part of starting a trend so positive and comfortable. It also makes me so happy to see our customer photos, people wearing our clothes in all walks of life.
Kendra: We also have to mention that every piece is handmade. Kudos because that is quite phenomenal when looking at the details in most of the garments. Having done these by hand for several years now, could you possibly make one in your sleep?
Ashli Hara: That’s so kind of you to say! Yes, a lot of the early designs that we sell I could make possibly still with my eyes closed. And you know what, when I’m thinking up new designs I usually do it first while I’m sleeping. In my mind’s eye, I shape every detail in 3D, every curve of the pattern and stitch of the fabric, in my sleep, before waking up, drawing them, and cutting out the patterns for all the pieces. So in a way, I guess I do already make a lot of the designs in my sleep.
Also, at this time with Elven Forest, my duties have shifted. I mostly come up with the new designs, make the patterns for them, take the photos of them, and help organize the shop. It’s a testament to the wonderful women on our team that those details are made with so much care and love, and to our amazing store manager who keeps everything running so smoothly. We could not do this without all of us working together to create this magic.
Kendra: What’s next for Elven Forest Creations as 2019 gets underway?
Ashli Hara: We’ve been growing fast and for 2019. I can’t release the all the details yet. We’re going to be opening our own website and are beginning to experiment with new fabrics and materials as well as design elements. Which open up new possibilities for creating. I’m very very very excited about these!