Meet Ross Erin Martineau, stylist, yoga enthusiast, and one half of the duo behind new athleisure line Pepper Jane. We visited Ross at the women-only social club/multi-purpose space The Wing to discuss feminism, career trajectory and what needs to change in the fashion industry.
Tell us about yourself?
I am 34 years old, and have been living in NYC for almost 13 years. I live with my husband in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I moved to NYC at the age of 22, and let’s just say it has not been a linear trajectory for me here in the big apple. I went from waiting tables in Greenwich Village, to a failed attempt at a Masters in Social Work, to working in the fashion industry as a stylist a little over 7 years ago. Most significantly, I got sober eight and a half years ago, which dramatically changed my life. My world got so much bigger and brighter, but not without a lot of hard work and heartache. For me, this city was as easy to get sober in as it was to get drunk in…thank god. Some of my favorite things are music, comedy (I’ve been told my laugh can shake a room), yoga, and most importantly RuPaul.
How did you get started in the fashion industry?
I have always had a love of fashion and design. As a kid, I religiously watched House of Style and Fashion Television. I remember on an episode of House of Style one of the members of Luscious Jackson met up with Cindy Crawford to explore Angel Street Thrift Shop in Chelsea. It was like so many cool things wrapped into one! My tween brain couldn’t handle it. On the next trip to NYC with my parents, I made it my mission to go to Angel Street Thrift Shop. My parents brought me to the city regularly to go to musicals, take in the sites, and do a bit of shopping. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, but we could afford short little trips into the city from time to time. My family and I felt transported to a magical place when we came to NYC.
With all of that said, I never thought that I would end up working in this field. I studied Psychology and Women’s Studies in college and had planned on pursuing a career as a therapist. As I attempted to earn a Master’s in Social Work, my drug and alcohol abuse took off and I was unable to complete the program. I stopped drinking and doing drugs on March 1st 2009. I was 26, newly sober, a grad school dropout and feeling completely lost. I admitted to my hairstylist at the time that I was interested in working in fashion but I didn’t want to go back to school and I didn’t know where to start. He exclaimed, “Be a stylist! You don’t have to go to school for that.” So he gave me a few stylists phone numbers. I cold called them and asked them if they had time to talk to me. From there it was a slow snowball effect of asking questions, working for free, and trying to make contacts wherever I went. I honestly think because I was a little older, I had tried a couple things, I was humbled by my previous experiences, and I was desperate and willing to work hard, things started to happen pretty quickly, but it was definitely not glamorous.
When you’re getting ready to style a shoot, what is your process like?
When it comes to an editorial, which is where I typically experience the most creative freedom, I collaborate with the photographer/director. Usually they will give me a mood board for the shoot as a jumping off point. Then I start looking on Vogue Runway and Instagram for designers I want to use. At this point, I have a network of showrooms and designers I like to use, but I’m always exploring on Instagram to find more designers that are local and/or emerging. Scrolling through Instagram can serve not only as inspiration for a shoot but also as a direct resource.
Then I create a fairly large list of designers/showrooms that fit the mood-board and sort of break it down into groups; designers/showrooms who I know I have access to vs. designers/showrooms who I know won’t even respond to my requests. However, if you don’t ask, then you’ll never know. I’ve had some surprises with designers or showrooms that I thought would never agree to a loan, and then suddenly they’re saying yes! As a stylist, you often have to be politely aggressive and not be afraid to ask. Often I’ll go to a website of a large showroom where the only email is firstname.lastname@example.org. So I’ll call the front desk of the showroom and ask for the direct email to the person who handles the account. That person may not respond but at least now I have their email!
Once the requests have been sent out, I wait for the responses. Then when I have my yeses and nos, I make another list for all the pick-ups from various studios and showrooms around the city. Typically, I’ll have anywhere from 10 to 20 places I need to go to to pick up clothing and accessories for a shoot. Sometimes I hire an assistant to help, other times I just do it myself. It’s usually not until the night before or the morning of the shoot that I take everything out and start putting looks together. That’s when I feel like all the administrative work and manual labor was worth it. However, the hunt for designers and getting confirmation emails does give me a bit of a thrill. When a shoot wraps, I usually feel an immense sense of shock and pride that I pulled it off. Then I come to and realize I have to return everything!
You recently launched your own clothing line Pepper Jane (with Eleanor Kibbe) what has that been like?
It has been exciting, challenging, scary, and a thousand other adjectives. We’re still in a soft launch period. We released some tee-shirts, tank tops, and tote bags in fall/winter ’16, but we’re continuing to work on our athleisure jumpsuit for an official Pepper Jane New York launch. We’re in between prototype and sample right now, and continuing to develop the prints that we want to release.
Ellie and I are basically taking a crash course in business and clothing manufacturing. The more we learn, the more we realize we need to learn. And for that reason, we’re readjusting the scale of Pepper Jane. For now, it’s going to be our side project and we will make jumpsuits for people who want them. Ellie and I are both multi hyphenates, so Pepper Jane will be something that continues to grow and change as we do.
What are your hopes for the future – what is the ideal trajectory of your career in the next five years?
Honestly, I’m at an interesting place in my career right now. I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on what I want my career to look like as I approach the ripe old age of 35. I may pull a 180 degree turn at some point, pack it in and become a yoga teacher. However, for now I want to continue working with colleagues I respect, and artists who inspire me. I want to make money while also being conscious and bringing more consciousness to the fashion industry. I’m not sure where I want to be in 5 years, but I know as long as I continue to explore more interests, trust my gut and show up, the rest of it will play out the way it’s supposed to. Sounds hippy dippy I know, but showing up for life a day at a time is what has worked best for me over the years.
You work a lot with musicians, how do you translate a musician’s sound into their on-stage/on-camera style?
Finding a new designer and introducing them to a musician is such a thrill. I love being that liaison. Working with musicians means working with real people, and I love that. I work with newly signed artists or artists who haven’t thought much about clothes fairly often. I try to find ways to make them comfortable by talking to them and being myself, but also by listening to their questions and concerns. I never come in with a hidden agenda of how I think they should look. I want to enhance what they already have going on, not completely change it. It doesn’t mean I don’t give artists a gentle shove from time to time. I want them to feel the fantasy and be excited about how good a great look can make them feel. Showing a musician how a great look can help them exude confidence and feel great in their skin brings me a lot of joy.
You recently styled Pussy Riot’s new music video “Bad Girls.” What was it like to work with Nadya, who has become such a feminist icon? Tell us about the process!
Styling Pussy Riot’s “Bad Girls” video was the job I had always dreamed of but didn’t know was possible. I couldn’t believe it when I landed the gig. Meeting Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (aka Nadya) for the first time over FaceTime was totally surreal. We talked about feminism, political activism, and fashion. Turns out she loves fashion and playing dress up which made my life much easier. She told me how much she respects stylists and how important she thinks they are when it comes to creative projects like this. I felt so respected right out of the gate and knew I was going to have an amazing time with this woman. I am a feminist first, stylist second so to have feminism and fashion intersect in this way was beyond my wildest dreams.
Fortunately, everyone knows Pussy Riot, so getting designers to loan clothes was fairly easy. Nadya gave me a mood board and a framework, but then she handed over the reins. Once we had the fitting, she couldn’t have been happier with the vision I had put together. I would say more but I don’t want to ruin the premiere. Bottom line, I’ve never felt more respected and encourage while also making something incredibly cool that I believe in. Not bad, right? “Bad Girls” premiers in November so keep an eye out!
Feminism has never been cooler in the industry than it is now, which begs the question: can fashion be feminist?
Oh god, this could be a whole dissertation! I think it absolutely can be, and is in some ways. However, just as society as a whole has a long way to go, so does the fashion industry. The brand Chromat is doing a lot with the power and visibility that they have. Becca McCharen-Tran is at the forefront of feminist fashion by using models of all different races, sizes and genders, while bringing her queer feminist perspective to the forefront. She has radical high fashion runway shows during fashion week, but she’s doing it in a way that is actually subverting the age-old idea of a runway show. She’s doing everything right as far as I can tell.
I think people who identify as women and who work in the fashion industry have to continue to push against the male gaze, unrealistic body standards, and the white washing of the industry, and work to create an inclusive and safe place for ALL women. Fashion should be fun and silly and outlandish and more about personal style than about trends. We need to support the young women who are coming up in this industry and to respect the women who came before us. The fashion industry can be cut throat, so why not have each other backs and do all that we can to make it a fun creative world as apposed to an industry where we’re shaming and one upping each other? I hope that one day this doesn’t feel like a completely idealistic vision of the industry (and the world), but a realistic one.
What positive changes have you seen in the fashion industry in your lifetime and what are some areas in the industry that still need major work?
The body positive movement has really pushed the fashion industry to look at itself. Designers like Christian Siriano are showing that “plus size” bodies have a place in high fashion and deserve that place, but he can’t be the only one. I think design houses and retails stores are having to look at who they market to because women aren’t standing for this narrow point of view anymore. Also, “fast fashion” is being revealed as the environmental cancer that it is and we, as consumers and industry professionals have to continue to speak up and speak out.
I think it’s amazing that these issues within the fashion industry have been pushed out of the closet, but again we as industry professionals have to push harder and speak out more. I don’t think we have the luxury of keeping our heads down and pretending that the global fashion market doesn’t have a responsibility to the planet and to the consumers to operate ethically and inclusively.
I think the issues are out in the open in a way that they never have been before, but the work remains in what we do now to change and grow. Obviously, I do not have the answers to this, but I know that I can make a small difference by where I shop and by supporting small businesses, especially women-run businesses. And trust me, I do all of that imperfectly. I’m not on any soapbox here. I am still a cog in the wheel in many ways, but I try to ask myself the hard questions and hope that others do too. Hopefully then we can all come up with some answers in how to change some of these things together.
Check out Ross' Playlist
Interview: Emily Saunders - @thesaunder
Photography: Allie Sarachene - @alliesarachene