When Anslee Connell was growing up, her TV was always tuned to Nick at Nite. She was enamored with the fashion of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Love Lucy, and Bewitched and spent hours digging through secondhand shops and her grandmother’s closet. But the vintage finds just didn’t fit. “I’ve always been a big girl,” she says. “I remember saying, ‘One day, I’m either going to be able to wear this or I’m going to make something like this.’”
Luckily for full-figured vintage lovers in Austin, Connell not only picked the latter, she decided to make a career out of it. For the past three and a half years, she’s been designing clothing under the moniker Savannah Red. And the 27-year-old is committed to sustainability, with a sizable percentage of her materials coming from upcycled, vintage, or organic sources.
One of the few plus-sized designers working with a sustainability bent, Connell makes dresses out of old tablecloths and bedsheets and has a soft spot for reworking vintage polyester, as its colors hold much brighter than newer blends. She sums up her philosophy with a phrase she spotted on the side of an apartment building in Switzerland: “Whoever destroys the old does not deserve the new.” Making good use of existing materials and time-tested styles, rather than just chasing trends, gives her designs a timeless edge.
And the old can look damn good. “The ‘50s silhouette really comes in at the waistline and accentuates the natural curves of the female body,” she says. “Today’s styles don’t accentuate curves at all, especially for the plus-sized woman.”
On the business side, things aren’t always easy. Taxes and profit margins and reality can hit hard. And selling $200 dresses in a world brimming with $5 ware from H&M and Forever 21 will always be an uphill battle. “I’ve been running into so many ‘no’s lately,” she says. Connell works out of her garage and still babysits occasionally to make ends meet.
She hopes to eventually open a shared store as well as reopen her Etsy account for custom orders. While she already makes custom orders for size fours, she plans on continuing to expand her line to other sizes. For now, she gets about two to three custom orders a week and sells her other dresses out of Fabricker, a rare and vintage fabric shop with a pattern library.
But Connell’s true passion — and the area where her work could have a greater, indirect effect on sustainability — is empowerment. “Whenever we are the happiest with ourselves, that’s when we are able to help other people,” she says. “Whenever you have ingrained hatred for some part of you, it can really take over and get in the way of you doing something awesome with your talent. I have an agenda to help women really feel amazing in their own skin.”
“I’ve had people cry at my fittings and say, ‘I’ve never felt so beautiful in my life,’” she says. Connell’s response? “Now that you feel awesome, what are you going to go do?”