“Walk the talk.”
This is the motto Leslie Shockley lives by. It’s what inspired her to enter the field of biology as a college student.
It’s what compelled her to serve in the Peace Corps as a young adult.
And, most recently, it motivated the creative entrepreneur to start her own clothing and accessories company — founded on principles of style and conservation.
“My love of nature comes from visiting my grandparents in Placentia growing up; going to their house and playing in their gardens and orchards — where I was free to explore — was like heaven to me,” Shockley recalls. “They also grew their own food, made their own meals from scratch, and my grandmother sewed everything.”
This conservative way of living made a lasting impression on Shockley, who developed a passion for sewing in her late teens. When her grandmother passed away in 2006, Shockley, then 34, was gifted her 1958 Singer Slant–O–Matic sewing machine, which she still uses to make everything in her Palm Desert studio.
“My grandmother taught me to sew on this machine,” Shockley says. “Making dresses and skirts were my first projects with her.”
Tea With Iris
The skill is one she carried with her and ultimately led her to create Tea With Iris, a chic collection of comfortable, eco-friendly garments for women and children. Established in 2010, the company is named after a 60-year-old tortoise called Iris, who lives in Shockley’s garden at the home she shares with her husband, Tim, and 6-year-old daughter, Elle.
(“I was sitting in the garden one day, trying to think of a name for my company — which is ultimately about slowing down — and Iris came w-a-l-k-i-n-g by. I thought, ‘Got it! What’s slower than tea time with a tortoise?’”)
The line began with a simple children’s dress that Shockley made for Elle, then 2 years old, out of a vintage Vera pillowcase and a napkin she used for a large pocket. (See example at right)
“My husband is an artist, so I’d need something to keep Elle occupied during his shows,” she says. “I’d stuff the pocket with snacks so her hands would be on the food and not the art!”
It evolved into a more extensive collection for babies, tots, little girls, and natural women with style.
Sourcing such sustainable materials as recycled vintage linens as well as machine-washable organic hemp, cotton, and flax linen, Shockley stitches them into loose-fitting silhouettes that can be dressed up or down. In place of zippers, buckles, or other notions (“These only create more waste!”), the designer devises such creative closures as adjustable loop-ties that are both functional and fashionable.
When Shockley became pregnant, the self-proclaimed “garden geek” says her environmental applications expanded even further.
“When I realized I was responsible for the health of another human being, everything shifted,” she says. “Growing my own food and experimenting in my garden then became a part of what I really wanted to do with my business.”
In addition to an array of flowers, fruits, and vegetables she and Elle grow in the yard adjacent to her studio, Shockley also began cultivating her own teas. The native plants and herbs she acquired became part of her design aesthetic as well.
“The prints on my clothes are pressed from many of the plants in my yard — the smoke tree, Texas ranger, Mormon tea, lemongrass,” Shockley explains.
Using nontoxic fabric paints in hues that mimic those found in nature, she adds fun accents to the hems of her frocks, overalls pockets, and other pieces.
A proponent of upcycling (“Making something new from something old,” Shockley explains), she has also created a line of necklaces and earrings from the pages of old books. “I love illustrations from the ’60s and earlier, from craft guides to gardening books,” she says. Binding these colorful illustrations to mesquite wood from the yard or splices of cork (“We’re wine drinkers, so this is a great way to upcycle!”), she then strings the pieces together to make jewelry.
Another benefit to handcrafted fashions, aside from near-zero-waste production and supporting local artisans, is originality, Shockley says. “I admire a unique sense of style more than trends.”
She draws inspiration from personalities like 90-something fashion icon Iris Apfel.
“I love her confidence — she just doesn’t care what people think and has her own sense of style," Shockley says. "When the New York Times asked her why she thinks she’s so successful, she replied, ‘I don’t care if I make mistakes.’ I admire that so much.”
Harboring an innate affinity for all things earthy, Shockley’s time in the Peace Corps — she spent more than two years in the Philippines in the ’90s — opened her eyes even wider to the detrimental effects of consumption on the environment, she says.
“I would travel by boat for days between the islands, during which time I saw all of the trash that gets poured into these pristine waters," she says. "Here [in the United States], we don’t see where our trash goes; we don’t have to deal with it.
“It’s not like their culture is worse than ours; they just don’t have a place to put their waste," she adds. "Many countries are dealing with the direct effects of what they consume. Here, it’s hidden. We don’t have to deal with the trash that we make.”
This experience abroad deeply inspired Shockley’s goal of creating a waste-free environment through gardening, composting, and making beautiful products from repurposed materials.
“I think about the life cycle each product has on our environment,” she says. “And I feel that as consumers, we can really change the impact we have on our local and global environment by the way we choose to spend our money.”
Tea With Iris will have a booth at the Indian Wells Arts Festival, April 4–6 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden followed by the Unique LA Spring Show on May 3-4 (http://stateofunique.com/unique-la).
Shop the collection at www.teawithiris.com or at Crimson Boutique at the Riviera Palm Springs hotel. Jewelry is available at Déjà Vu Vintage Finery, Palm Springs.