How Designer Elizabeth Kiester Ditched Big City Fashion To Launch A Boutique In Cambodia

Meredith
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Photo courtesy of Wanderlust

Elizabeth Kiester has had one of those careers that most of us can only dream of. In the midst of launching her new collaboration with Madewell, hitting stores today, she paused to talk to Jen Smith, a writer for eBays The Inside Source to share a little more about how a one-time magazine editor, stylist, fashion exec, and New Yorker ditches it all, moves across the globe, and ends up with a successful second act as a Siem Reap-based clothing designer with a conscience.

Looking back, Kiester, who first traveled to Cambodia on a short-term volunteer program to teach kids at the orphanages and to install water pumps in small rural villages, says she was instantly charmed by the local population, describing the feeling as if some kind of magical fairy dust was sprinkled all over me.

Capitalizing on her fashion pedigree, which included stints as the creative director of LeSportsac, concept designer for Abercrombie & Fitch, fashion director for Jane and YM, and stylist for Gap and BCBG Kiester ditched the big city fashion world and opened a boutique and fair-trade apparel line called Wanderlust, which employs Cambodian craftsmen who sew each piece in the collection by hand.

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Wanderlust store in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo courtesy of Wanderlust

I am doing things that make you feel good, that are affordable, and are democratic in their design sensibility, Kiester says. I want to create clothes and accessories that bring an ease and a sense of well being with them. Stuff that you can wear to dinner in New York as comfortably and beautifully as you could on a walk through the markets in Delhi.

As for where she gets her aesthetic inspiration, Kiester cites the work of Vietnam peace activist Sister Mary Corita Kent and declares, Fabien Baron and David Carson would not be who they are without Sister Corita paving the road towards this kind of graphic artwork I really believe that!

Shes also a fan of happy and bright Marimekko motifs, as well as those by Vera Newmann: My mom collected Vera in the Seventies our dishtowels and bed/table linens when I was growing up were always from Vera and I’ve been obsessed and inspired by the work ever since. Veras color palette was amazing and truly directional, and the prints are to die for! Wanderlust is very inspired by my memories of childhood. Vera was very much a big, visual part of it!

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Marimekko Socks: “I would so rock these with high-heeled sandals!” says Kiester.

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Vintage Vera Newmann Butterfly Print: “I am flipping out over this! I really get full-on heart palpitations when I find a good Vera!”

The Madewell-Wanderlust capsule collection, consisting of gauzy shirts, dresses, scarves and jewelry, is available at Madewell stores starting today. For more from Kiester, check out The Inside Source.

Meredith Barnett is the Editorial Director for The Inside Source, a digital style magazine presented by eBay.

The Inside Source writer Jen Smith also contributed to this article.

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