The Rise of the Small Artisanal Designer: Spotlight on Rory Worby

Image courtesy of WAG magazine

It’s early 2021, and a whole new world is emerging in the fashion space. The once mighty Forever 21 has fallen, department store giants are flailing, and the search for what is unique and special is the order of the day. 

 Small, independent fashion designers, like Rory Worby, are offering the kind of fashion consumers are currently craving. The message to invest in special pieces is striking a chord, and customers are lining-up for her hand-painted scarves, kaftans, kimonos, and small home accessories. Rory’s items have a two-week waiting period, and clients are willing to wait. Rory’s success may well signal a shift away from the fast fashion mentality America has been captivated with for the past twenty years.

Image courtesy of Fashion Group International

Fashion Reverie interviewed the artist-turned-fashion designer to find out more about her bespoke creations and the process behind her amazing manipulation of fabrics. At the time of the interview, Rory had just won The Fashion Group International’s (FGI) prestigious “Rising Star Award” in the scarves and fashion jewelry category.

The Rory Worby creative journey starts in Rory’s magical creative space, an all-glass home studio in Pound Ridge, New York, which she considers to be an extension of her home. Rory’s journey was an organic one that began in the late 1970s. Her mom was a self-taught artist turned interior designer. Her dad had floor plans all over the place in their Long Island home, and their teenage daughter soaked it all in. Even then, Rory knew she wanted to be an artist.  She laughs, “I painted on everything and got in trouble for painting on the closet door.” Some of her parents’ friends noticed the tee shirts she painted and bought a few. Soon she was walking the beaches of Fire Island wearing a bikini and one of her tees selling her creations to beach goers.


Image courtesy of Louis Vaccaro

Next came art school in Boston where she studied to be an artist and a course in Fashion Illustration at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York that piqued her interest. Post college, Rory did portraits and worked for Atelier Baron in the Mary McFadden building, hand-painting fabrics with other artists she hired for Sassoon Jeans and Mary McFadden.  After more years working in textile design sales, and fabric research and development, she felt the pull to go back to being an artist. Rory explains, “I never really set out to be a fashion designer, I was and will always be an artist. Yes, [what I do] is fashion but it’s wearable art.”

As for her recent Rising Star Award, Rory views the recognition as “phenomenal” and says the exposure serves as a springboard going forward. “It’s also proof of concept. It reinforces that what I’m doing is right, and gives me that push to keep on the path I’m on. With anything, you question yourself. When I painted the first pieces of fabric, I asked my husband ‘Do you think this could be something?’ His firm ‘yes’ helped give me the push to go forward with it.”

Image courtesy of Rory Worby

Part of her vision for her brand is to expand into home accessories. One side would be the fashion accessories and the other, the home side. “Because of the pandemic, we’re trying to create more home spaces. I don’t things will ever go back to the way it was. People will want to continue to make their home environment more desirable because they’ll continue to spend more time working and living at home.” She also feels that consumers are ready to embrace pieces that are both eco-friendly and special. Being eco-friendly is important to Rory and other small high-end brands such as Frederick Anderson and Thale’ Blanc who are trying to do their part to effect change. Rory uses silk, which is natural, and natural dyes whenever possible. Certain colors require low impact dyes and she assiduously re-cycles the water she uses in her custom design process.

Specialness, she’s noticed, is a reoccurring theme at the pop-ups and boutique trunk shows she’s had during the COVID-19 pandemic. “People are wanting to buy things that can be passed down, that can be heirlooms. Even popular TV shows such as Netflix’s Edwardian period hit, “Bridgerton” have contributed to this mind shift. Rory exclaims, “I binge-watched it! The show excites and inspires me. Maybe I’ll put a little embroidery and embellishment on my pieces.”

Image courtesy of Rory Worby

When asked what her favorite pieces are, she quickly responds, “Some of my collaborations with my customers. They love that they can help choose the fabric and the pattern.  It makes them feel a part of the creative process.” One of her favorite examples is a kimono a man wanted to give his girlfriend that incorporated her favorite flowers and colors. “You want them to love it, that’s the end point of it all.”

—Vivian Kelly

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