Over two decades, Tracy Reese’s namesake label moved from strength to strength with its playful marriage of bold colors and eye-catching prints with smart, meticulously-cut silhouettes, finding fans in everyone from Michelle Obama to Meghan Markle to Taylor Swift. But after disappearing from the New York Fashion Week schedule for a season, Reese reemerged last summer with a very different proposition. Her new brand, Hope for Flowers, marked a conscious attempt on Reese’s part to press reset on the overproduction and relentless pace of running a brand today, with an emphasis on sustainable textiles, ethical production, and a firm commitment that it would start small and remain small.
All of which—even if she could never have predicted it—left her in stronger stead than most to navigate the challenges imposed by the pandemic. Still, it speaks to her finely-tuned instincts as both a designer and businessperson that she keenly felt an urgent change was needed. “I am hoping that the pandemic has given everyone pause to kind of reexamine why we’re in this industry, and to get back to the parts of it that we love, because I think it’s easy to get taken up with the routine of it and the demands for more and more product, and pretty soon it’s more of a business than a creative enterprise,” says Reese from her studio. “It’s been challenging, but I think ultimately that’s a good thing.”
One of the most notable ways in which Reese aimed to break away from the conventional model for launching a fashion brand was by establishing Hope for Flowers in her hometown of Detroit, as opposed to the city she had spent the entirety of her career up to then, New York. Again, the pandemic made clear that the future of fashion lies in broadening its lens to cities outside of the four major industry capitals. But so too has the experience of working under lockdown affirmed Reese’s gut feeling that building a brand in a city like Detroit is not just a genuinely viable possibility, but an advantage—in large part thanks to the city’s rich and often overlooked design community. “I’m not giving up on New York, I still have my apartment there, and my friends are there, and I still need New York to facilitate parts of my business,” Reese adds. “But I’ve learned that I can do pretty much everything from here, and that’s been a really positive experience.”
Given the brand only celebrated its first birthday in June, some of the ways in which Reese hoped to put down more significant roots in Detroit have had to be put on hold for now, but the intent still remains. “The long term plan, which I’m starting to unfurl, is to work with local artisans here in Detroit, and to make one-of-a-kind upcycled pieces too,” Reese explains. “It’s been good to push myself to integrate into the community here, and discover more creative people here to collaborate with, and just really delve more into the town and become a part of its workings.” While it may have delayed some of the aspects of the brand closest to Reese’s heart, it’s also allowed her the time to figure how to realize them to their fullest effect. “I’ve been contemplating my business structure, and planning and focusing on what I want the next five or ten years to look like, and I might not have been able to take the time out to do that otherwise,” she adds. “I’ve picked up some skills that I was reluctant to pick up, and that can only be a good thing.”