Designer Emma Tennant in "Athena with the Sashes"

Emma the Lion is ready to make her mark on the Bayou City. Emma Tennant, the self-taught designer behind the new, Houston-born brand, is also a lawyer—and Harvard Law School grad, no less—who's dedicated to building a label that's both transparent and socially and environmentally conscious. (All her garments and fabrics are produced in the U.S.)

Tennant's desire to involve the wearer in the creative process led her to coin the term "experiential fashion," and her latest collection is full of just that: adaptable garments with sashes and snaps allowing the wearer to customize a piece to their liking. We caught up with the Heights resident over coffee to talk about her brand, design inspiration, and the best burger in Houston.


On the name "Emma the Lion":

“For me, the lion is a symbol of being brave. It’s kind of a symbol that I’m continually returning to throughout my life without meaning to. Whenever I feel like I’m in a tough spot or there’s seemingly insurmountable challenges, I go back to thinking about being lion-hearted. I aspire to be the lion.”

On the new Lion King

“I think I spent a good two hours crying and listening to the soundtrack.”

Emma the Lion's "Maureen with the Drapes"

On learning how to design:

“I never had any formal design training, so I’ve been slowly teaching myself about fashion, design, pattern-making and sewing. I voraciously read about all of it anyway, so it wasn’t adding a whole lot in terms of teaching myself the skills. I hired professors here in Houston to help teach me.”

On inspiration: 

“The beginning of the design process depends on the place I happen to be at the time. For example, if I’m inside a room and things are really cool and dark, or maybe I’m on a beach, that environment gives me a starting point; from there, I just start drawing things. Sometimes I’ll bring in outside elements: Right now I’m really into furniture that has been made in a particular time period.”

On brand transparency: 

“My focus is on being able to identify the circumstances under which things are made. I get really frustrated when I’m buying something and it’s not clear to me who made it. That question is not just about the garment, it’s also about the textiles. I decided that I wanted to be very transparent about where the fabric is coming from and where the fabrics are being made, and that if I couldn’t identify the circumstances under which people were treated for either of those, I just wouldn’t do it.”

On her blog:

“I think the blog itself is supposed to be about the clothes, but a window into what I’m thinking in relation to my clothes. Like, I can talk about my sustainability goals instead of just announcing that I’m sustainable. It feels more real to me.”

On getting to know her customers: 

“I don’t have a brick-and-mortar location, but I do have a program on my website where I will take my clothes to the house or apartment of anybody who wants to try my collection on. I have learned about what people want on their bodies, and you can get a sense of what they’re interested in and what they’re not interested in.”

Emma the Lion's "Morgana Skirt"

On "experiential fashion":

“I’m making clothing, yes, but I’m making it where you can have that creative experience. I definitely want to have clothes where the consumer can change and alter the look. You remain much happier with a piece of clothing when you can interact with it. When you just throw something on your back, it’s not necessarily going to be as emotionally involved for you as making something that really looks like your own and is completely unique and is largely a product of your own imagination.”

On her next collection: 

“The fall collection is based more on me being in an indoor environment at my parents' house, which is a little more equestrian feeling because we have horses. It’s a little more form-fitting because I like to have things be more form-fitting when it’s colder.”

On favorite spots in Houston: 

“I love Half Price Books on Westheimer and Kaboom Books. I love bookstores in general. My partner and I have a burger from Brasserie 19 every week on Fridays. I think they have the best hamburgers in Houston. We also really like Uchi. I go to Buffalo Exchange on Shepherd a lot. I love getting inspiration from used clothing stores. You can find me in the sales rack of Buffalo Exchange just getting all the stuff that was so weird that no one wanted it, and I bring it home and have it for all eternity.”

On work-life balance: 

“I think a key element of success for me is being able to control my time so that I am able to do the things that I want to do. I might not have much of a life, but for me, it is fashion.”

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Editor’s Pick

Uchi

$$$$ Japanese 904 Westheimer Rd.

The original Uchi in Austin earned chef Tyson Cole a James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. The Houston location of this Japanese gem resides in the stil...

Editor’s Pick

Brasserie 19

$$$$ American/New American, French 1962 W. Gray St.

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