When Sarah Bray thinks about eco-friendly fashion, brown paper-bag dresses come to mind. And that just won’t do.
“I love a big look,” says Bray, sounding like the native Texan that she is. “I love more is more, I love fashion and I love shopping. But I’m also passionate about the environment, so it’s very conflicting.”
Her personal, layered style is what Generation Z might describe as “levels.” Some 36,000 Instagram followers (@sarahamandrabray) subscribe to her studied mix of high-end designers and archival vintage, with the occasional tablescape sprinkled in.
During the five years she served as Town & Country magazine’s style writer, she popularized the hashtag #veryTandC and favored voluminous black-tie looks in bubble-gum pink or floral prints. Last March, she wore white Victorian lace and two-tone Chanel slingbacks to say “I do” at City Hall in downtown Manhattan. And for photo ops on Bermuda, her new home, it’s wicker clutches by day and full-length tunics, flat sandals and a saturated lip by night.
Lately, her social-media feed has been peppered with beach-friendly sun hats, caftans and matching headbands sporting her new eponymous label, Sarah Bray Bermuda. Her coveted aesthetic is available for purchase — and what’s more, the line is eco-conscious, too.
Her penchant for thrifting and consignment inspired the collection. “It’s guilt-free retail without adding more waste to the environment. These are things that I truly love but didn’t necessarily exist the way I wanted them to.”
It all started with the sun hat. Bray says the classic accessory has been around for centuries but needed an update.
“I have a lot of them, but what’s frustrating is when you buy the hat and only get a navy or red ribbon,” she says. “For someone like me, who wants to wear different outfits every single day, I had this idea: Why don’t I make interchangeable ribbons?”
Her first product idea was born.
Sarah Bray Bermuda sun hats are handwoven from seagrass or palm leaves. Most are produced in Texas. Each brass grommet is applied by hand in Houston, Bray’s hometown. And unlike other millinery, the opening on her hardware is large enough to pull an Hermès scarf through.
That quality and attention to detail led to high demand. Not that Bray’s complaining.
“They do sell out quickly,” she says. “There’s limited quality, that’s the beauty of the brand. It’s never going to be mass production, and that’s what makes them special.”
Growing up in the Clear Lake area and later East Texas, Bray idolized designers such as Diane von Furstenberg and Ralph Lauren. “I always thought it would be such a dream to be like them but didn’t know how. I didn’t go to fashion school or even design school, so it all felt very out of reach.”
Instead, while studying at Southern Methodist University, she wrote for the school newspaper and Papercity magazine. Bray built an impressive portfolio, which helped her land internships with Vogue and the New York Times.
The recession hit around the time she graduated from college, and full-time work in fashion or media was hard to come by. When a position with Neiman Marcus’ corporate office in Dallas opened up, Bray pounced on the fortuitous opportunity.
“I took a job doing content for them, but they didn’t call it that back then,” she recalls. “I was a writer for their big catalog, and they were one of the first retailers to have a blog. I also did their social media when they started to realize they should be posting on Facebook with clever captions.”
She returned to New York when Veranda magazine brought her on as a web editor. Bray also had stints with Elle Decor, House Beautiful and, eventually, Town & Country, which is where she was working when a story assignment led to a serendipitous meet-cute.
“I met my husband on Bumble, the dating app, when we were both in London for work and coincidentally swiped right,” she says. “I saw that he was from Bermuda, where, ironically, I’d just gone for a Town & Country story. I couldn’t convince him to become a full-time New Yorker, so I moved to Bermuda to start our life together in August 2019.”
The timing was right for a professional adventure, too. Bray knew from her experience working at fashion magazines that the way consumers shop was changing rapidly.
“People are shopping straight off of Instagram and various apps,” she says. “Now there are amazing tools on the internet like LegalZoom, where you can register a company or small business. Shopify is an amazing e-commerce platform. Less challenges exist than 10 years ago.”
In addition to sun hats, her website sells caftans. Bray sources the vintage fabric from estate sales, Facebook marketplace and wherever retro floral textiles are discarded. The clothing itself is produced by Renovation Manufacturing in Bellaire. Cutting-room scraps from Bray’s caftans are repurposed to make matching headbands or masks.
“For me, this is exciting to bring a maximalist, feminine look to eco-fashion,” she says. “It’s crazy the amount of water and dye wasted on making clothes.”
Bray partnered with craft coin jeweler Jane Winchester to create a special Bermuda pendant necklace inspired by the coral reef surrounding the mid-Atlantic islands. Her next project is to design a bamboo handbag. “It’s the most renewable material for good, because it’s truly biodegradable — they’re just leaves!”
When travel and tourism reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic, she plans to open a small brick-and-mortar shop on the island. Bray has several Texas pop-ups coming up, including a presence at the Round Top Antiques Fair, if all goes according to plan.
Bray knows that much of her customer base will be staying at home for the foreseeable future. And she’s got just the outfit for that.
“The sun hats have an Old World, escapism quality to them,” she says. “Today, more than ever, you can put one on with a caftan, sit in your backyard and dream that you’re in the Maldives.”
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