Steve Guthrie had a successful career in information technology and product development when he decided to get a master's degree. Once he was back taking classes, he added a fashion course "for fun"—and it totally changed his life. Suddenly his passion for clothes—which started when he was a teenager, creating his own new wave/punk outfits—roared back to life. With a background in education, it wasn't long before he went from taking fashion design classes at Houston Community College to teaching them.
Guthrie has also been designing custom outfits—mostly cocktail dresses and formalwear—for Houston women under the label 4thWard, becoming known for his ability to create stylish, classic designs out of alternative and renewable fabrics—one woman, the wife of a honcho at Waste Management even contracted him to design a dress out of a Bagster, a durable bag used for trash collection.
"It ended up being really light," says Guthrie. "She wore it all night."
After working as an assistant designer for Mansoor Scott in San Francisco in 2014, Guthrie has been "fired up" to quit the custom game and create a line of contemporary womenswear that is both designed and manufactured in Houston. In November, he launched the Steve Guthrie collection, a line of stylish womenswear that combines classic silhouettes from the 1950s and '60s with luxe textiles and a modern sensibility.
"I grew up listening to Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline. I love that whole era, the rawness of the girl who dressed up but also smoked cigarettes. That's my whole aesthetic, it's a good girl with a touch of bad in her, a classic look in a modern setting," says Guthrie.
Guthrie set up a full slate of fashion shows and events to debut his line, but he's been waylaid a bit since he broke his right leg in four places earlier this year. Now he's hoping to recapture some of the buzz from the launch with a slate of trunk shows set for later this spring, timed to the launch of his summer collection, which will exchange fall's lush metallic brocades with Chinoiserie-inspired prints.
He acknowledges that the average Houston consumer is more inclined to shop local when thinking about a special occasion dress, but Guthrie says the city has a lot of qualities that could make manufacturing all types of garments here work—especially if more of the talented students he teaches are committed to staying, and the systems of production can grow more in line with the needs of local designers.
"The thing I love about teaching is you see so much creativity. We're such a melting pot in Houston there are great perspectives—my students will think of things that no one is doing. That encourages me to look at myself and see what I'm missing and explore," says Guthrie. "We have the skill, and I really do think we should be trying to [manufacture] locally because it's a unique perspective on fashion in a tropical climate. There's a whole market out there of clothes made for Southerners, but they're made everywhere else."