We have had the pleasure of working with artist Hillery Sproatt in the last couple of years on collaborations with Unison. Last fall we hosted a launch party at our Chicago store featuring the Harvest pattern (as table linens, knit blankets and pillows and hand printed cotton pillows) and were pleasantly surprised that Hillery’s mom, Debra Weiss, was there too. We knew that Debra is not only Hillery’s mom, but that the two have worked closely together since Hillery was a teen on her women’s apparel brand, Rebe. Currently Hillery helps with marketing for Rebe and curating their online shop, but it is evident their relationship is exceptional so we thought it nice to give a little tribute to their success and find out: what’s their secret?
Hillery, we love that you have had such an amazing relationship with your mom and textile artist, Debra. Weiss. Can you tell us about your professional and personal life together?
H: My mom and I are very close, she is one of my dearest friends. For as long as I can remember we have shared a love of art, textiles, hand work, laughing and exploring new cities.
Starting Rebe 15 years ago seemed like a natural progression. My mom valued my creative sensibilities and Rebe was a platform for us to put our skills to work. Although I was only 15 years old when we launched our first collection of handbags and women’s apparel, my mom treated me like a partner. We worked closely designing the collections and learning how to market and sell our wares. Within a few years Rebe handbags and women’s apparel were in hundreds of stores all over the country.
Since then, much has changed. I went off to school where I earned my BFA in fine art and I began my own art practice. I no longer have a hand in any of the designing for Rebe, but I do help market and sell her beautiful wearables. Together we run a curated online shop that specializes in fine handmade goods called, Specks & Keepings and we travel to craft markets throughout the country selling our goods.
What is the one thing that you love most when it comes to working together on Rebe?
D: I love the excitement Hillery and I bring to our work individually and together. We inspire each other. It brings us great joy to work together in part because we love each other, but also because we have been doing it for so long that we make a great team. We both enjoy wearing my designs daily and we love working closely with our customers so they feel beautiful and comfortable in their everyday wear. There is great joy and ease for me in being able to present my designs to the world with Hillery by my side.
H: I love the freedom our work affords us, the freedom to be creative, travel and to affect the lives of our many wonderful customers. It is amazing to watch people light up when they feel beautiful in their clothing or stumble upon an artwork that resonates with them.
Do you have a favorite story or sentiment to share about a product or product line that you were involved with at Rebe or Specks and Keepings?
H: I look forward to the new Rebe collection every season. I feel most beautiful in my mom’s clothing and I wear it nearly everyday. Perhaps this is why I enjoy selling her work. It is wonderful to share with others that which you love yourself. I especially love living with my patchwork quilt she made me. Every season she completes a few of these blankets using her cutting room scraps. Some are simple and others more complex, but each is so beautiful with her sampling of past season fabrics side by side.
D: There isn’t one particular story that comes to mind. I think one of the things I love most about our work is all our wonderful customers. Many visit us each year at our craft shows. Through them I hear the stories of my clothing. I design with beauty, functionality and durability in mind and I am always overjoyed to know that customers get stopped when wearing my designs and they have pieces they love and wear that are now many years old.
What do you love about working with your mom? What might be certain knowledge that you feel she has given to you and really helped.
H: My mom is very hard working. She raised myself and my two sisters on her own. She inspires me to follow my heart, even when things appear tough and she is a wonderful example of the joy that comes with being a kind person.
Tell us about your recent works, whether it’s on paper or fiber, and what you love about both media.
H: I have been enjoying painting very much. It is a quiet practice and the immediacy of mark making excites me- in this way it is very different from embroidery.
D: I got my degree in textile design in 1977, but for many years I have struggled to find the time to cultivate a fine art practice while running Rebe. Just recently I have begun to carve out time to sit and work on my textiles. It is slow work, so I have to be patient with myself and the medium, which is challenging and wonderful.
I began a series of Fabric Works last year, which are fabric collages that I treat almost like painted compositions. I use my fabric scraps, careful not to cut them in order to keep the integrity of their found shape. Like much of my other work, this is an exercise in responding to material. Most recently, I have been enjoying working on larger latch hook pieces as well as my small macrame wall hangings.
You are also a master at nail art and have developed a loyal following. What brought you into this area? Do you have a favorite style, color or fun story to share?
My dear friend and wonderful artist, Annika Blomberg inspired me to paint nails. At the time, she was inspired by friends who painted nails long before I. For years we just painted each others nails for fun, but it has increasingly become a part of my art practice. I find painting nails gratifying in large part because I consider them to be small artworks that are the result of an intimate exchange and intuitive process that is sensitive to material, surface and scale.
So far we have collaborated on several projects with you – My Lady and Gentelmen dolls, Dolls of the World, and the Harvest pattern which came out as several products. What collaboration so far has been your favorite and why?
I loved our textile collaboration, the Harvest Print. It was fantastic to see my work large, graphic and functional. I have wanted to translate my paintings to textiles for many years and this was my first experience seeing the impact they have as cloth- I was very pleased.
What are you working on now that you really love?
H: I continue to paint daily and I just started taking my very first hand-building ceramics class, which I love.
Do you have wise words for anyone else who might have a great mother-daughter relationship – be it just personal or also professional?
H: To remember to be grateful and good to each other. It is a very special gift to be able to work closely with a parent.
D: I have been given the amazing gift of Hillery as a daughter. It is such a pleasure to be able to work together. I think we both learned early on the importance of allowing for space and time to cultivate our own work, as this is one of the most fulfilling things you can do for yourself as an artist or designer. From there, we were able to come together to showcase both of our work beautifully side by side. I have always tried to encourage all my daughters to go after their passion in life and to nourish each of their talents.
To see more of Hillery Sproatt and Debra Weiss’ work visit: