It’s another unbearably warm summer day when I meet designer Tyler Lambert at a cafe tucked away in the heart of Logan Square. He arrives precisely on time, not a minute before and not a minute after. We sit down at a large table that affords us the luxury of spreading out before he orders an iced coffee and avocado toast, requesting maple syrup on the side. “I just really like maple syrup with avocado,” he said, a meal choice that I can’t help thinking is just as unique as the garments he creates. For the next hour, we talked about everything from Kylie Jenner recently photographed wearing his pieces to his love for greasy food and old-school diners.
Off-Kilter: Where are you from?
Tyler Lambert: De Pere, Wisconsin. I lived there for 18 years.
OK: What were you like as a kid?
TL: I was always that weird kid. My dad used to have a garden and I would pick his tomatoes and sell them on the corner while he was at work. So I was always a business enthusiast.
I was always very creative, even as a child, building forts and wrapping my body with blankets trying to make dresses.
OK: Where did your interest in fashion originate?
TL: I started making clothes when I was 14 years old. My mom taught me how to sew with her grandmother’s sewing machine. She used to make blankets for the house, and quilts, and her thing back then was to make soda coasters out of scrap fabric. I started doing that [as well] and giving them to people as Christmas presents.
My grandma would never live in one place for more than one year at a time, so every time she’d move she’d do a huge purge. I’d always get old fabrics from my grandma and I still have them.
It was all so innocent. Everything I did was self-initiated and self-taught.
OK: What brought you to Chicago?
TL: I moved to Chicago last August [to attend] SAIC. I’m taking time off of school now and hoping to use this time to expand as a designer and focus more on design as a general. I’m interested in incorporating more artists and designers in collaborations. But I definitely felt a little lost when he first moved to Chicago.
OK: Do you feel that the clothes you create are meant for any one specific person or genre of people? Or do you think it’s more adaptable to the general public?
TL: I love motorcycle culture. My sister bought a diner chain when I was 10 so I grew up in diners around greasy cheeseburgers and french fries and ice cream. [That being said], my clothing represents Americana. It’s a uniform and it inspires me because people wear it with the dignity of a style that was present 20 years ago, and I’m just trying to make it current again.
We have two lines – our Core program which are items available every season and our Collection which comes out four seasons a year.
OK: And you’re doing this by yourself?
TL: Yes. My mom does a lot of the hang tags and she does that when she gets home from work and is watching E! But to have touched the final product and to ensure it’s flawless and follows the vision, I need that connection to my brand.
OK: What has the feedback been like about your brand?
TL: A lot of the comments I’ve been getting lately are… You’re not a designer, you’re a distresser. And that’s a yes and a no. The distressed pieces are getting the most attention through media but most of our collection is cut and sewn.
OK: Speaking of media attention, Kylie Jenner recently wore a number of your pieces. What was that like for you?
TL: I met Monica [Rose], the Kardashian’s stylist, when I was in LA, but it didn’t dawn on me that she was gonna pull anything from me. It was more of an honor that someone [of her magnitude] would wear one of my pieces. She doesn’t even know she was wearing one of my pieces. But do I care? Goddamn fucking no.
OK: So what’s next? What are you hoping to accomplish in the near future?
TL: By the end of this year, I hope to accomplish even a small showroom in Chicago, a space for buyers. I love that space of living and wearing. I think that the space you live in and the things you wear reflect one another.
OK: With all of your successes and future plans, can you tell me a bit about what it’s like navigating the fashion industry at such a young age?
TL: I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I’m messing up as much as I’m doing well. And that’s kind of the beauty of it and the pain of it. I don’t have a manager or management team or a boss besides myself. There’s a quality in knowing you’re buying something different.
If I’m in the mode to create a collection, it’s first months of me thinking. It’s a lot of mental notes and a few sketches before I start patterning and start collecting fabrics and materials. I let the collection evolve as it’s being created.
OK: If there’s anything you want other aspiring designers to know, what would that be?
TL: I think the assumption about designers is that we have a really luxurious life… and we don’t. It’s like any other over-houred, under-paid full-time job. And when you’re doing it for yourself, by yourself… you have to have the drive to keep going.