SEPT Studios Opens in Dallas! Meet Lela Orr, the Sustainable Fashion Designer Creating a Space for the Global Sustainable Fashion Movement

SEPT Studios Opens in Dallas! Meet Lela Orr, the Sustainable Fashion Designer Creating a Space for the Global Sustainable Fashion Movement

As we near the end of Earth Month, we have continued to share more stories on sustainable, eco-friendly and ethical Texas-based creatives, including designers, retailers, and curators. The sustainable fashion movement is relatively new but has been on the rise for some time now and it’s an awakening for fashion designers looking for ways to reduce their impact as fashion is still the second-highest pollutant on the planet. Dallas fashion designer and Project Runway alum, Lela Orr, had that “aha” moment as she decided the direction of her brand fresh out of Grad School, and with that moment she created Ferrah, an eco-luxury brand bringing form and sustainability to the forefront while housing space for fellow designers and creators wanting to create beautiful fashions that empower, uplift and help the planet.


Lela Orr. Photography by Rachel Eiland courtesy of Lela Orr


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SLTV: Lela, it is such a pleasure talking to you today! I’ve been searching for sustainable designers in Texas and was delighted to have found Ferrah, but I feel like I’ve been seeing you around on the scene long before that and I realized that you were on Project Runway and I’m pretty sure I went to a fashion show were you presented in Austin! So, I want to know everything about you.
LO: Yes! First, I’m so happy that the SEO shows Ferrah for Sustainable Fashion in Texas. That’s great! So, a little bit about me and my background. I attended Tulane University to study Business with a focus on Entrepreneurship, at a time when I wasn’t very sure of my future career. I always knew that I wanted to do something creative, but I didn’t really know what that was going to be. I even worked with the New Orleans Public Defender thinking I might go into Law. I really wanted to discover all kinds of things, but I kept taking internships with artists and New Orleans is just such an inspiring creative place to be! My next move was to New York, where I landed a job working for a fashion brand. I was so inspired by the craft of design, so I decided to apply to Parsons School of Design and was accepted to their Graduate program with almost a full scholarship. I guess they liked my portfolio presentation! After Parsons, I had wonderful opportunities to work for designers like The Row, and Harbison as a design apprentice. Though Harbison is a smaller brand, he designed pieces for Beyoncé and that was all happening while I was there, so I was really hands-on with custom Beyoncé pieces that she wore for major events. Of course, they started blowing up and it was a sign that I was on the right track.


Ferrah, Veiller Collection. Photography by Ty Dowda courtesy of Lela Orr

SLTV: Well, that is incredible! When did you start thinking about sustainability in design? Was it early on or after you created your brand?
LO: I was actually working on my senior thesis at Parsons and I was designing my collection to present when I realized how much waste was being generated in the fashion industry. This extremely glamorous, beautiful and innovative industry, so why were people not coming up with innovative solutions to make this less wasteful? This was back in 2013-14 and it was heartbreaking for me, especially growing up with a Hippie mom mending our own jeans and repurposing everything, using things until they were absolutely worn, etc. I was working with these $100+ per yard fabrics and these giant scraps were being tossed on the floor as if it were garbage. It made me feel terrible! While I was in school, the Rana Plaza collapse happened and no one was really talking about it outside of the fashion industry. A lot of my friends had no idea what had happened and how many lives had been lost as these major companies we know had their manufacturing there. I was really appalled to learn that over 2,000 people were injured and over 1,000 died that day, while working for our fashion industry, yet no one is talking about it. I really felt the disconnect between fashion and consumers, and we’re not fully aware of the true cost it takes to make a garment. People just think that it’s these giant machines making our clothes, but almost everything we wear is handmade by a person. These are human lives that are very undervalued, especially in foreign countries, and especially women, and especially Black and Brown lives. I just thought it was senseless and that was my turning point and once I made that connection that’s when I decided that I would create a sustainable brand. I was set to create a brand that would lift women up, empower and support other women in communities at the local and international levels, as well.

SLTV: Yes, that really was such a tragedy that was barely publicized because it wasn’t a good look for the industry. I learned about it years later as I personally started researching how I can reduce my impact and support sustainable and ethical fashion. So, tell us about your experience launching the brand.
LO: I started a brand based on my thesis and I wanted to launch somewhere that would be more cost-effective for me as a new Grad student. So, I tested Dallas because my parents lived there at the time. Side note, I grew up between Texas and Louisiana, by the way! I launched at Fashion X in 2015 and they actually thought that I had my brand for a while, but it was actually my debut! It was huge for me because I had orders for my very first collection and I thought, well Dallas has something here and they’re vibing with me! My goal was to create luxury fashion that was sustainable and a lot of the time when you think of Texas, sustainability isn’t the first thing to come to mind. But for me, that was an opportunity and maybe I could be one of the first to do it. It was funny because I had to explain that I was about Zero Waste and not “size zero waist” (laughs). It was interesting introducing the concept, but the industry started to rapidly grow, even in Texas. It’s been amazing to see!


Ferrah, Veiller Collection. Photography by Ty Dowda courtesy of Lela Orr

SLTV: That’s probably where I remember seeing your name as I was researching fashion designers in Texas when I started as a contributor for Style Lush TV! So, let’s fast forward to your time in Project Runway. What was that experience like for you?
LO: Yes, I was on the show in 2018 for Season 17. I made it on 9 out of 12 or 13 episodes! That was a really great experience and so good for my brand. I was the “Zero-Waste Sustainability Girl”, who was all about not throwing anything out and talked constantly about recycling. I was scared that they would edit it out, but they were so supportive and wanted to show me as the “Sustainable Girl”. I was later told that I had inspired other designers to be more sustainable themselves so that was very fulfilling. The experience really was wonderful because I got to build my network in the media industry and even worked with the CFDA, as well. Beyond Project Runway I continued to build my network and in the Dallas community and fashion community at large.

SLTV: That sounds amazing and a truly wonderful experience! Being known as the  Sustainable Designer in the media is not a bad thing. I see you’re also the owner of a concept store, Sept Studios. Tell us about that.
LO: Sept is a sustainable concept store that I launched in April 2020, right during the Pandemic. It’s a store and showroom that represents sustainable designers from all over the world, and two of which happen to be on Project Runway, Rakan and Tessa! It’s luxury fashion that’s sustainable which I believe is a market that has so much potential for growth. So, we work B2B and B2C and it’s going well and I’ve been able to grow my Ferrah brand through it, as well!


Ferrah, Ready to Wear Collection. Photography by Helen Jade courtesy of Lela Orr


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SLTV: That’s wonderful! I see you very active on social media and your content is especially beautiful. How has social media played a part in your brand?
LO: TikTok has been surprising! I’ve gotten a lot of clients and custom orders from there and from Instagram as well, especially after posting more fun videos and content. I’ve been able to dress really cool people and celebrities, even. It’s been wild and so much fun! I feel like I had to be more active on social media, too, especially during the Pandemic. It’s been a crazy year for all of us so making it fun was important, especially being so isolated during this time.

SLTV: How has the Pandemic affected your business?
LO: It’s been crazy! I was looking at the numbers the other day and realized that I had essentially become a Mask Factory. We had a program which was “buy a mask, donate a mask” so I was very busy and was getting burnt out, even my hands were starting to cramp up. I made over 1,000 masks and it was really great for business at the beginning of the pandemic, but at a certain point in time, I had to sell out and move on to the opening of the showroom. My plan was to open in April for Earth Day, but decided to wait so we actually opened our doors in August 2020. It definitely did impact the business, but my partners had been wonderful and really patient. They were hanging in there waiting to show because they couldn’t really move their product either. It was great to hear from the designers like Johnathan Hayden that we were a glimmer of hope during the pandemic, while he was in Brooklyn when New York was really bad.


Ferrah, Veiller Collection. Photography by Ty Dowda courtesy of Lela Orr

SLTV: That’s wonderful that you hold that space that offers opportunities to showcase fellow sustainable and ethical designers from all over the world. What are your hopes for the future of sustainable fashion?
LO: It has to start with us, the professionals in the industry and brands leading the example, especially the major houses because people look to them for trends and inspiration. Also, the consumer has a lot of power, mainly with your wallet. I hope more people tune in and realize that you don’t have to be in the fashion industry to see just how bad it can get with fast fashion and not spend your dollars in those places. If you’re on a budget, consider thrifting and vintage shopping. You know, there are really awesome pieces that are 10 times nicer than anything you can get out of fast fashion shops for about the same price while giving a garment a second life. I hope for more widespread conscious decisions when shopping. I also hope to see an advancement in more tech in fashion because there are so many amazing materials that I want to work with, but they’re not very accessible due to the lack of availability on the technology to create them and still under Beta testing, like Pinatex as a substitute for leather, for example. I know that by making the technology more widely available the accessibility of more sustainable materials with be better. The things that technology will be able to bring are limitless and I can’t wait to see the future in sustainability in fashion!


Lela Orr. Photography by Todd White courtesy of Lela Orr


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Find Lela Orr’s Eco-Luxury brand Ferrah at her concept store SEPT Studios in Dallas. Visit Sept Studios Online to shop, custom orders, and applications for sustainable designers to be showcased. Be sure to follow Ferrah and SEPT Studios on social media for updates, upcoming collections, and featured sustainable designers.


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Jeanelly Concepcion
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Originally from New York City, Jeanelly is of Dominican roots. Having lived in Puerto Rico for over 22 years, she now enjoys a highly successful fashion blogging career at TheFashionLotus.com. She is a Texas influencer and has been a freelance fashion contributor for Style Lush TV for several years. She believes in empowering women through fashion and helping them feel beautiful no matter what their financial situation, body shape, age or where they live or work.