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A conversation with Lilly Lampe and Alex Robins, the art critic and academic behind Blluemade

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 As the brainchild of married couple Lilly Lampe and Alex Robins, Blluemade is a locally produced clothing line of linen staples that recently debuted in Atlanta. Created in collaboration with Factory Girls — a fashion hub that provides local designers with resources like patternmaking, brand development and production services — their first collection, dubbed Staples No. 1, features pieces with clean lines and simple, yet flattering shapes that would fit right into any woman’s Southern summer wardrobe. Since fashion is a new venture of Lampe, an arts writer, and Robins, a college professor, ArtsATL talked with them about what inspired their career transition, the idea behind the line and their ultimate fashion dreams.

ArtsATL: How do you think your backgrounds have influenced where you are now? 

Lilly Lampe: I’ve kind of let my feelings and interests drive me to whatever phase of life I’m in. I went to UNC-Chapel Hill for my undergrad and had a pretty liberal arts education studying English, arts history and economics. I got a graduate degree later in art history and ended up doing a lot of arts writing, which was something I’d started doing before graduate school and that I continue to do. As far as fashion, I’m a self-taught [seamstress]. I’m never happy with making something based off someone else’s idea. I’ve always made my own stuff, and this leads into where the business started.

Alex Robins: I’m kind of the opposite — I always wanted to study philosophy. I went straight to studying philosophy after high school, got my Ph.D at Emory and I’m still teaching philosophy there.

ArtsATL: How did the idea for the line come about?

Lampe: Over the last couple of years in our spending habits, we became very interested in where our clothes were coming from, as well as the quality. That got us thinking not just as consumers, but looking with a more developed eye towards design. Then the idea for Blluemade came out of a trip we did last summer. […] My mom’s family is from Taiwan, so a lot of our travel takes us to East and Southeast Asia in the summer, which is hotter and more humid than Atlanta, if that can be believed. This past summer, I made a bunch of linen smocks for myself. I’d hold up dresses I was making and ask Alex for design ideas, then I would try [them] out and find them to be the perfect element to finish the design.

ArtsATL: How did your travels influence the designs?

Lampe: As we traveled throughout Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan last summer, I loved wearing the clothes [we’d designed]. I felt comfortable and covered as well — Malaysia is a Muslim country, so I wanted to be respectful while wearing stuff that felt true to my style. I couldn’t be happier with what we made.

Then we went to New York and our friends kept asking what I was wearing, and were surprised to know that we had designed them. Throughout the summer it was a continuing conversation for the both of us about how excited we were by the pieces we’d made and the feedback we were getting. When we landed back in Atlanta in August, one of our first priorities was to see if we could do something with this. We started looking at what manufacturing was available and were delighted to find Factory Girls, who’ve been working with us from the beginning to take us on this deep fashion industry learning curve. They’ve been integral in helping us launch.

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Image courtesy Blluemade.

ArtsATL: Why is linen so crucial to the line?

Robins: We stumbled upon it when we were making the dresses for traveling.[…]It’s an ancient fabric that’s temperature regulating and easy to travel with. Our penchant for research made us start looking around for what makes good linen and where to find it, and we eventually landed in Belgium, which has some of the highest quality linen possible.

ArtsATL: What’s been the most exciting aspect of starting the line?

Lampe: Getting to hold it to our standards —  it’s great to bring people on board and pay them for their services. Using the Factory Girls manufacturing, we know everyone there was fairly paid, and we get to see the process as it happens. Those things are so thrilling. There would be no fun in doing it overseas.

Robins: For me, I love that we’re using Belgian linen. I have this little dream where, in the long term, we can plant our own flax and actually make American linen. Maybe in my next lifetime I can be a flax farmer.

ArtsATL: How did your previous careers help you with launching this line?

Lampe: There’s a lot of communication, from being on top of vendors and conveying an idea to people to writing copy. It’s no trial to spend hours on the Internet to get to the bottom of a question because that’s natural to us. When you’re in business you’re so invested that you’re happy to learn all of the aspects that will bring it together and make it work. It made us realize that the things we were doing before could feel kind of unidimensional. Teaching at the university level is an intellectual task, but it’s fun to try to make a product and figure out how to run a business. We’re still writing and he’s still teaching, but we’ve found the time and energy to do this too.

ArtsATL: What’s been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in this career transition?

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Image courtesy Blluemade.

Lampe: The hardest thing was learning that, after 10 p.m., I had to stop thinking about the business. I’m a night owl and I’ll stay up all night because I have a hard time shutting off my mind. I was starting to lose a lot of sleep because I would start thinking about the business. I would work until late into the night, and I realized that if you start thinking about something after 10 p.m. related to a worry or your occupation, your mind can quickly go into a negative spiral. I was doing myself a disservice, and I realized that if I could shut out thinking about the business then, by morning, they were all so much easier to handle.

ArtsATL: What’s the ultimate goal for Blluemade?

Robins: We want to be the go-to brand when people think about linen garments.

Lampe: We’re launching a collection of men’s shirts, two long sleeve and one short sleeve. We’re starting to think about the possibilities of Blluemade being a whole family brand — to grow the menswear to incorporate pants and shorts and add kidswear and babywear.

ArtsATL: What do you see as the future trajectory of your careers?

Robins: So far we’ve been good at following our gut and seeing where the wind is blowing, so we’ll just keep doing that.

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