Category: Behind the Design

journey to brazil

When I thought about the inspiration destination for our Spring 2009 collection, I was still stimulated by the beauty of the Norwegian fjords (our Fall 2008 inspiration) … scenes of the dramatic mountain & beach landscape in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil elated me as a warm interpretation of similar voluminous silhouettes. With its innate colorful, celebratory culture I was thrilled to seek out treasures for translation.

My only previous exposure to Brazil were tales from my mother. She had spent 6 weeks traveling all over South America when I was 10 years old … and for the next few years I heard plenty of stories about her experiences and the sounds of native flute players from a 12’ vinyl.

Laura’s husband – “Matt the architect” – joined us to see Oscar Niemeyer’s famous buildings.

We visited Sao Paulo first – a metropolis, similar to New York. All 3 of us once lived and loved New York (and still do), so we were excited to get a glimpse of this urban jungle.

We visited modern art museums, walked the streets of the Jardin district, and discovered the Liberdade neighborhood during a Sunday flea market. There is a huge traditional Shinto tori gate and Japanese lanterns lining the main street.

Ginko Floral Dress and Waves Hooded Pullover

Brazil is a beautiful chaos of cultures.. with influences from Europe, Africa and the indigenous people of South America. Together they create the vibrant lifestyle that Brazil is famous for.

It was interesting to learn that the first Japanese immigrants arrived by ship in 1908 to work on Brazil’s coffee plantations. We combined the Japanese aesthetic with nautical notes, reflecting on the long voyage the immigrants traveled for a chance at a new way of life.

For girls: Kasato Stripe Top, and for boys: Heitai Sweater.

One evening we found the Shimo Sushi restaurant – the sushi quality fish is fantastic in Brazil. The walls are covered with incredible graphics using motifs often found in Japanese art. We were in awe – it inspired our printed French Terry pieces: Izumi Dress, Taiyou Hoodie for girls, and the Waves Hooded Pullover, Waves Long Shorts for boys.

In Rio, you can easily understand how essential it is for Brazilians to express themselves through music, dance and art – as much as eating and sleeping!!

This photo of the lawn and Sugarloaf Mountain is taken from the top of the Contemporary Art museum in Rio, one of the first buildings designed by Oscar Neimeyer in Rio, looking over Flamingo Bay. The Rio Dress was inspired by this beautiful place.

We stayed in a bed & breakfast run by an artsy Brazilian couple. Situated in the Santa Teresa neighborhood, the house overlooked a valley populated with aging colonial homes. We spent a few afternoons wandering along the cobblestone streets and took the trolley into the city.

The charming wrought iron work on these homes inspired girly flair for our Brasilia Crinkle Dress and Santa Teresa Dress:

You cannot miss the extraordinary sidewalks in Rio – they are famous. We used the tile design to create the Goncalo Sweater Polo.

Laura and Matt were captivated by the street art. We loved this one for color – inspiring our palette for the Spring Collection.

Other street art-inspired styling for our graphics – the Cavaco Polo for boys and the butterfly embroidery on our Zaba Stripe Halter Dress for girls.

Together, we spent a late afternoon on the Ipanema beach and watched the sun set … it was gorgeous.

To really take in the Niemeyer phenomenon, we flew to Brasilia, the capital city located in the driest region of this enormous country. What’s incredible is that this carefully planned city was built in 5 years under the direction of President Kubitcheck in the 1950’s … it was meant to symbolize the “city of the future.”

The most stunning structure of all is the Cathedral Metropolitana – a glorious thing made of concrete and glass, draped with abstract shapes of color. We interpreted the glass into a graphic print, and the shaped of the dress came from the structure. Our Catedral Dress is a perfect style for summer.

And no one can escape flora and fauna in Brazil … from the Botanical Jardin of Rio to the immense rainforest, tropical plants and flowers flavor the landscape of Brazil. The beautiful landscape inspired our summer Jardin Halter Dress and Jardin Crop Pant.

brazilian inspired izumi dress

My 2 year old daughter, Lizzie, is just starting to become interested in what she wears every day. It was so much fun to put her into the Izumi Dress, from the new Tea East Meets Brazil collection, and watch her animated reaction to the beautiful graphic on the front. I spent a few minutes with her telling her the story of the Japanese Fan Festival, and told her about the “pretty girl” on her dress. She loves to point to the girl on her dress! I love that the dress is soft, comfortable and easy to wash!

holidays in tea

My 13-month-old daughter Zoe practically lives in Daily Tea and gets a lot of complements on her Daily Tea outfits. They are the perfect comfortable, resilient, and stylish play clothes and we love them. Even her Dad (who rarely notices baby clothes) gets excited for Daily Tea. But until recently we had yet to venture into Tea Collection.
With several events coming up –Thanksgiving, a new years party, a few birthday parties and a trip to see family and friends in Los Angeles, I was looking for some outfits that will really stand out. I fell in love with the Bryggen Stripe Sweater Dress, but decided that none of Zoe’s events were formal enough to warrant “twirl factor at a maximum” as promised in the description on the tea website.

When choosing clothes for Zoe I gravitate towards comfortable knits (thus my obsession with Daily Tea), and so I decided on the Rasmussen Floral Knit dress. I also purchased the matching Pointelle Leggings. I figured we can pair the dress with tights and Mary-Janes for parties, and then she can wear the dress with the more casual leggings this winter as a comfy yet gorgeous every day outfit. When the weather gets cooler we can pull out the coordinating bloomers that come with the dress. For activities such as dinners and brunches out with friends I chose the adorable Sno Flugen Hoodie and the Vindella Velvet Trousers in lavender. The velvet of these pants when paired with the otherwise casual hoodie makes the outfit just dressy enough. I also picked up the Daily Tea Chrysanthemum dress and another pair of bootcut leggings from the early Fall collection to mix and match with the Daily Tea Bird Dress which has been a favorite of ours this season. I can’t wait to put Zoe in all of her fabulous new Tea clothes!

adorable, affordable holiday outfits

Tea’s Elevester Blouse made a list of Adorable, Affordable Children’s Holiday Outfits for the coming holiday season. Earlier this fall, one of Tea’s designers, Laura Boes, explained the inspiration behind the Elevester Dress in her article about Norway. Hop on over to her post to learn more about the story behind Tea’s clothes this season. Her images of Norway are beautiful and may inspire you to take a trip there sometime soon!

Tea’s Norway Inspiration: part II

Norway is renowned as the “cradle of skiing” and it is possible to ski there, even in the summer time.

Emily and I wanted to see these snow capped mountains first, so we headed toward Jotenheimen National Park, home to Norway’s highest peaks.

We needed to rest up before we embarked on our journey through the mountains, and found ourselves in the perfect spot. The quaint and eclectic Elevester Hotel sits in the shadows of Norway’s tallest mountain.

Inside, the hotel is decorated with motifs and crafts from Norwegian history.

The upholstery fabric and hand painted designs on the antique furniture inspired some of our winter textiles, as used in our Elevester Floral Dress (shown above).

We were ready to make our way up to the peaks. As we climbed higher, the snow walls began to tower at least 3 feet above our car. I was starting to regret not bringing along some cozy mittens and warmer layers…

…but along our decent, snow gave way to waterfalls and lush green pastures.

We decided to stop in Skjolden, a small town on the other side of the mountains. We were delighted to find that the town was having a local craft fair. Here we met Olga, a sweet woman selling her hand knitted mittens and slippers.

The history of hand knitting in Norway dates back to Viking times and most snowflake motifs and lice patterning that we see on ski sweaters today, originated there. A Norwegian collection would not be complete without a nod to these designs.

Our Skjolden Ski Cardigan and Viking Intarsia Vest (shown above).

At a rest stop we noticed an unusual steeple silhouetted against the setting sun. These dragon head gables are distinct to Norway’s Stav churches.

We went to Borgund to find the only Stav church that has been unaltered since the middle ages.

The intricate framework and gabled roof inspired the architecture of our twirling Stav Dress (shown above).

We ended our trip in the harbor city of Bergen, where even the radiating colors of the 11pm sunset left it’s impression on us.

Our interpretation of a midnight sunset is conveyed through our Ombre Tunic Sweater (shown below).

fall 2008’s inspiration: norway

flying into NorwayIn May 2007, Emily and I headed north to explore the vast country of Norway in search of inspiration for Tea’s Fall 2008 collection.

This was my first visit to a Scandinavian country and I was expecting clean and modern aesthetic. Upon landing in this rich country, I was instantly taken by the enveloping evergreens and the woodwork, immaculate even in the airport.

I knew that this was a country that respected its natural resources and proudly celebrated them through craft. I could not wait to see what we would find…


We began our trip in Oslo, visiting museums and taking in Norwegian metropolitan culture.

One notable stop was the Norsk Folkemuseum, which featured 150 reconstructed townhouses, farm buildings, and churches from Norway’s past.

Here, we discovered a style of folk painting called Rosemaling (see below). This style of painting emerged in Norway around the late 18th century. Artists from the more rural areas in Norway would travel from home to home, painting interior walls and furniture. The homeowners would provide warm shelter and food for these artists in return for their services.

The color and detail of these scroll-like floral designs were captivating in beauty and impressive in coverage.

Later, we found that this painting style influenced embroidery in Norwegian folk costume. This discovery inspired us to come up with our own modern interpretation.

(Norwegian Folk Embroidery and Tea’s Inspired Print)

(Below from left to right: Tea’s Rasmussen Floral Dress and Elina Embroidery French Terry pants)

We also found that hand and loom weaving have been a native tradition in Norway, often done by families in times of celebration. There are many different types of traditional weaving, but 2 examples stood out, Billedvev (pictured here), a pictorial tapestry…

…and Rutevev, a geometric style (below).

These flat woven textiles were typically done in village homes found amongst the fjords. We were fascinated by the textures and colors in these textiles, so we headed north in search of some to make our own.

By chance and through a little help from friends that we met along the way, we ended up at the Stalheim Hotel.

A beautiful hotel set atop a 300 meter high cliff, not only does this hotel boast amazing views, it also has a spectacular collection of Norwegian crafts and a reconstructed folk village.

The varied patterns and color we found in Stalheim’s collection of textiles inspired us to interpret them in rich sweaters and bright plaids.

(above: Norwegian woven textiles)

(Above from left to right: Tea’s Stalheim Fairisle sweater, Aurland plaid shirt, and Ingrid Jacquard sweater)

(Emily and me at the lookout from the Stalheim Hotel)

It is hard to be in fjord country without going on a fjord tour. We were in luck as we were close to one of Norway’s most famous, the Sognefjord. It is of the longest and deepest in Norway, an inlet jutting over 100 miles into the country and over 4000 feet deep.

You can’t deny the beauty and massive landscape surrounding you in Norway. We tried to capture this feeling through voluminous silhouettes in this Fall’s collection like the Aurland Plaid Dress and Fjord Coat (both pictured here).




Exploring West Africa

Why West Africa? Our design team was enormously inspired by the extraordinary architecture,  hand-dyed textiles, and bold colors and motifs of this beautiful region of the world. Visiting Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana, we were surrounded by vivid color.  Against the minimalist backdrop of earth buildings such as the great mosque at Djenne, women went about their daily duties wearing brightly patterned swaths of cloth that kept them cool against the hot sun.  Marketplaces were a visually stimulating cacophony of scarves, head wraps, fruit, piles of fabric, and food cooking in the sun.

While there we learned a huge amount about the unique textiles that are so prevalent in this region. One printing method is to use all natural dyes made from leaves, the hand-wove cotton is colored first, followed by mud painting which is used to illustrate patterns and symbols. The cloths are laid out to dry in the sun and the dry mud is removed, exposing beautiful symbols that can represent such core West African themes as family, journeys, or fathers and mothers.

The vibrancy of these cultures traveled with us all the way back to San Francisco, where we created our West Africa collection. Enjoy!