Bluestem Highway is currently based out of Brooklyn, New York. Designers Rory Layton and Christina Dougherty were raised in Overland Park, Kansas. Christina studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a focus in Fashion Design. Rory studied at Loyola University of Chicago, receiving a degree in Chemistry. In 2013 both realized they wanted to put forth a different philosophy of consumerism. The designers have described their brand as “a collective of Eastern and Midwestern influence.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Christina: I was born in Tokyo and spent the first few years of my life there, before moving and growing up in Kansas City.
Rory: I was born in Manhattan, Kansas. I grew up in Coffeyville a little but mostly Kansas City. We are currently working on developing a unisex brand. Eventually we want to be a self-sustaining collective of artists and designers. We also freelance and bartend on the side!
What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? Christina: We were recently invited to The West 18th Street Fashion Show in Kansas City. It’s the second time showing there for us, we love it, it’s our home, our family. Recently, it’s been really special to participate in the growing art community there. We are also contributing to a project conducted by Arena titled “The Workroom” at HAW Contemporary in Kansas City June 26 – July 18.
Rory: We are working on the identity of our company. When we started we wanted to put forth good design coupled with responsibility, but we are still figuring out how exactly to pursue this. We want to couple efficiency and design while saying no to the senseless pulse of the fashion industry.
How did your interest in art or fashion begin? Rory: I’m obsessed with dinosaurs and space, so I wanted to figure out how everything worked. I went to college, I studied chemistry, and now I’m just more confused in general. But I love the idea of not knowing. I think making things takes it back for me, it makes things simple, and together again.
Christina: I’ve always been interested in both. Particularly with fashion I realized in college that it can be a larger conversation, not just about “who you are wearing,” not just a seasonal idea. It can be a reflection on the current state of affairs.
#1 fashion don’t? Christina: Don’t dress for others, just yourself.
Rory: Yes! Do your thing. Don’t dress to be accepted.
If you had to explain your work or brand to a stranger, what would you say? Christina: We want to be sincere, which may sound cheesy to some people. Living in a city of 9 million you have to identify with a valuable and rare trait to set yourself apart, for us, it’s pride in sincerity. When people ask about our work we just tell them to check it out, there’s no pitch, no claim, just look. It’s a work in progress, just like everything else.
What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? Christina: We use materials that inform the concept or theme we are working on. We use materials that support what we are trying to say. Our process differs from each collection that we come up with. Sometimes it starts with the material first, then the concept comes naturally. Other times it starts with a feeling or an idea in which we want to spark a conversation with our wearers.
What artists or designers are you interested in right now? Rory: Christophe Lemaire and Bianca Chandôn.
Christina: Always Yayoi Kusama. Currently Margaret Howell. We like individuals based around simplicity and sincerity.
What’s your favorite thing about your city? Rory: I love New York, at least, I think I do, shit, do I? You can’t deny its greatness, or its wrath. It’s incredibly stimulating and motivating. But, it’s difficult to see your linear path and progression. Above all, it is motivating. We live in South Brooklyn in a neighborhood called Bay Ridge, close to Coney Island. It’s far, it’s cheap, we love it! What was the question!? Ah yes! My favorite thing, it teaches you who you really are. You get lost, overwhelmed, you find yourself, over and over again. I love this. Some days you surf into the mob and it beats you down, these are the days you learn who you really are.
Christina: Er, my favorite thing… I am still figuring out whether I actually like this city, haha. I will have to say that I really enjoy the vast variety of people and what they wear. I cease to be surprised by the creativity you see here in their clothes. So people watching in short.
What are your thoughts about the fashion scene in New York? Rory: New York is a huge epicenter, so naturally it is overshadowed by fast fashion and superficiality. There are those interested in the conversation, interested in how to make it better, but overall, this city is ruled by wealth.
Christina: There’s more important things going on than looking good for your blog. I do this for people who dress for themselves and no one else, the ones with a voice. You can look at a crowd and tell the difference between someone who loves to dress, and someone who loves having their photo taken.
What was the last collection you saw that stuck out to you? Christina: Comme Comme Spring 2015, it’s minimal with a comme quirk.
Rory: Definitely Mac Demarco. I’m really into overalls right now.
What are you really excited about right now? Christina: I’ll be doing some traveling overseas for the month of July. Traveling always allows to me hit the refresh button. Also, I am super excited about cat hammocks right now.
Rory: Hot days and cold beer, and getting some projects together. Summer’s always good for losing your shit and getting it together again.
What are you listening to right now? Rory: Lots of Lower Dens, Chastity Belt, Tei Shi, Tame Impala, Future Islands, Handsome Furs; I should stop.
Christina: A lot of Emotional Rescue by the Rolling Stones, and T-Rex.
Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? A site called our stuff “Fucking Normcore,” which we love you Jerry Seinfeld and take as a total compliment.