Clothes With Soul: Festival-Inspired Fashion Line ‘Mamie Ruth’

Cheryl Nuzum

Downtown Savannah boasts home to a picturesque storefront right off Liberty Street. The window displays have beautifully yet funky-dressed mannequins paired with delicate, intricately placed decor. The chalkboard outside reads “Hippies Use Front Door”, flagged by two polka dot balloons. Hanging above is the official sign, a personalized yin yang symbol bearing the name “Mamie Ruth.”

The store provides home for a clothing line with an aesthetic that can only best be described as bohemian hippie at a garden party in the southwest. Carrying a wide selection of clothing, jewelry, accessories, plus more, it’s “a little bit of everything,” as owner and designer Emily Bargeron likes to put it.

A creative mind from the beginning, Bargeron began making her own jewelry as a teenager. She went to school to study fashion, majoring in fashion merchandising and apparel design at Georgia Southern University, while selling jewelry on the side. A couple years after graduating, she entered in an emerging designer competition at Charleston Fashion Week, which inspired her to create line for the first time.

She continued designing, manufacturing and wearing the clothes herself and noticed a lot of the attention they were getting, particularly at music festivals.

“If I wore a dress, they wanted it so I just started making more. I was sewing everything myself and started selling to just a couple stores in town and it just went from there,” Bargeron said, on the beginnings of the brand.

Named after Bargeron’s nickname for her grandmother, from whom she gets much of her influence as an entrepreneur and creative spirit, Mamie Ruth took off among the boutiques and music festival circuits. Eventually, Bargeron opened up a storefront studio in Savannah, but she hasn’t forgotten her roots. Bonnaroo was the first music festival where she took the opportunity to sell the collection and since then, she continues to travel to different festivals all over the country, setting up pop-up shops with her team of staff and interns.

“It’s really good marketing for us because it’s everyone we want wearing our clothes all in one place.” Bargeron said.

The clothes themselves are beautifully eclectic and despite maintaining the same “festival style” look, there’s a wide range of selection in them; rock ‘n roll T-shirts, sassy graphic tees, printed maxi skirts, mix and match sets. Everything is unique and varied. Many of the items are one-of-a-kind, like the coveted vintage boots Bargeron finds in thrift shops and decorates however inspiration strikes. There is only one pair in one size, sold only in the Savannah studio. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. These types of exclusive finds give the shop an air of hidden treasure.

The studio itself is only an extension of the clothes, trimmed with feathered dream catchers, colorful rugs and geometrically shaped wall art. There is a fireplace on one side, manned by two painted bull skulls. Outfits are constructed and hung near the dressing rooms for those looking for inspiration. It’s overwhelming and inviting all at the same time.

The studio creates a sense of allure around the clothing but it is only one part of Mamie Ruth. “Our main business is wholesale,” said Bargeron, “We ship to about 60 boutiques around the country and then we’ll also be selling in Belk in the spring of 2017.” Mamie Ruth’s largest sale to date, the clothes will be available in fourteen Belk locations and online, allowing shoppers from all over the country to shop.

One the main things Mamie Ruth as a collection prides itself on is being made 100% in the USA. “Everything is made and designed here in Savannah, and then our manufacturing is right outside of Atlanta. We are really proud of the fact that we manufacture here and try to keep everything local,” Bargeron said, “It’s really about knowing who made your clothes and knowing that the clothes didn’t have to take a trip across the ocean to get to you.” The local manufacturing adds a personal touch to the clothes.

Bargeron also chooses to hire locally. She hires between two and five interns a semester, usually from Savannah College of Art and Design or her own alma mater, Georgia Southern. She currently has two interns both from Georgia Southern.

Like the fashion industry itself, the internship experience is constantly moving.

“I try to have a very good round of all the departments, so like marketing, the retail store, the merchandising and window displays and stuff like that,” says Bargeron. All of these departments work together to become one whole, creating the business and the brand.

Bargeron takes a hands-on approach to all aspects of the business, from coaching interns to traveling to marketing. Her favorite part though is the design. She added, “I really think it’s just creating the lifestyle, with the music festivals and all of the different events and traveling; Incorporating those fabrics into the collections and really having the collections tell a story about what it inspired it.”

Bargeron’s down-to-earth spirit allows her to expand Mamie Ruth to different corners of the country while still keeping her focus on the heart of the brand. Music festivals provided a big influence in the inspiration of her designs, which is why she continues to travel every year and get back to that core. Bonnaroo was just the first; others such as Shaky Knees, Voodoo and Tomorroworld, soon followed.

Getting to travel the country, create a name and a brand for herself, and continuously be surrounded by art and inspiration are goals for anybody working in the fashion industry. She warns though that her job isn’t perfect. “Somedays it can be really stressful. It’s like any other job. I think a lot of times people think that it’s a such a dream job, because it is, but it’s a lot of work too.”

The hard work has paid off though so far. Bargeron has managed to create an entire lifestyle within a clothing line. The website boasts that it designs clothing “for the creative thinkers, the peacemakers, and the girls that just want to have fun.”

When asked to summarize Mamie Ruth in one word or phrase, Bargeron simply says, “Clothes with soul.”

“Our customer isn’t an age,” says Bargeron, “It’s a feeling. It’s someone who likes to stand out, likes to wear different things, someone that doesn’t mind people taking a second glance at them.”