Oh Hello Jo – You Should Know Her: Emma Zack

Photography:
David Thompson
Styling:
Andy Polanco
Words:
Jo Rosenthal

You’ve never met anyone like Emma Zack, we promise. By day, she’s a writer for the Innocence Project, a non-profit that helps get innocent people out of prison and by night, she’s a fashion icon running one of the first size inclusive brands on Instagram. The 28 year old rising fashion star has dabbled in every career from singing to modelling to criminology. Originally from Massachusetts, she’s lived in New York for four years and has been a part of the underground fashion scene for two. Her brand Berriez (formerly Fruity Looms) is the spawn of what happens when an NYC cool gal needs something creative to do while working such a politically charged job. To sum it up in her own words: I’ve always loved fashion, thrifting, styling, and hoarding clothes, of course. If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. Puss Puss got the honour of sitting down with Emma to pick her brain from everything fashion and art related and the changes she hopes to see in the world after the quarantine ends.

JR: So, who are you?
EZ: My name is Emma Zack, and I am an anxious Jew with a passion for fashion. I am also the founder of Berriez, one of the few size-inclusive online vintage shops.
JR: How does where you come from affect what you do? Does your family and family history play a role in your career?
EZ: My mom founded an eldercare company – that she still runs to this day – so I grew up with her as my role model, learning about work ethic and the challenges of running a business, especially as a woman. She’s taught me so much, not only about starting a company and building a brand, but also about forming lasting relationships and treating people with the utmost kindness and respect. I must also shoutout my grandmother, Edna, who was truly a fashion icon. Growing up, not a day went by without my mom mentioning her. “Everyone turned their heads when Edna entered a room,” my mom would say. Even though I never met my grandmother, my mom swears I am her reincarnated. I used to love rummaging through boxes of her clothing as a kid and putting outfits together, and it was because of her that I developed an affinity for vintage clothing and learned to view clothing as a means of self-expression.
JR: How did you get started in fashion, especially size inclusive fashion?
EZ: Apart from being a mental escape from my day job, I founded Berriez after noticing a gap in the vintage fashion world, especially on Instagram. I was so excited when I first discovered I could shop for vintage clothing directly from Instagram; that is, until I realised I was rarely able to find anything in my size (an always fluctuating 14). Occasionally, I’d find a shop selling something ‘oversized’ on its page (but shown on a thin model), and I’d buy it immediately. Even if I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the piece, I was just excited there was something in my size. I soon realised that sizes are arbitrary, clothing doesn’t look the same on me as it does on someone who’s a size 4, and I had amassed a huge pile of ill-fitting vintage clothing that I couldn’t return. I figured I wasn’t the only person who wanted to shop for vintage on Instagram but wasn’t able to find their size; so, I hung a few pieces from my pile of vintage on a rack, took photos of myself wearing them in my backyard, and posted them on Instagram. And here I am today.

Top by For Good Luck, pants by House of Tame

Dress by Marche Rue Dix , bag & shoes by Berriez

JR: What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to cope with what’s going on in the world?
EZ: Someone please give me that advice! Ha. Just kidding (but not really). I would tell them – just as I tell myself on a daily basis – to be gentle with themselves. It’s okay to not be productive or to not feel creative during this time. And, it’s okay to feel frustrated by that lack of productivity or creativity. A few tangible things I do to cope during this time are: checking-in with my loved ones; taking walks; reconnecting with old friends; turning off my phone for a few hours; painting watercolors; making music; watching bad reality T.V. on Netflix; smoking weed; and, of course, cuddling with my cat. Do whatever makes you feel at peace, and try to do it without judgement.
JR: What changes do you hope to see in the world after this chaos is over? What changes do you hope to see in your industry?
EZ: The downfall of capitalism. Healthcare for all – including mental health care. The end of the prison industrial complex. A new president. Etc, etc. More broadly, though, I want to see people have more compassion towards one another, especially after having collectively experienced so much pain, uncertainty, and change. As for my industry, I want to see more small businesses working together and supporting one another. I want to see sustainability, diversity, accessibility, and representation at the forefront. I want secondhand and vintage fashion to gain popularity and be regarded more highly. How does what is going on in the world change how you go about your daily life? It has made me shift my entire mindset. Life is now filled with so much certainty that I don’t feel I can really plan for the future. To cope with this rapid change in mentality, I take each day at a time (or at least try to).
JR: What is a normal day like for you and how has it changed within the last two months?
EZ: On a normal day – quarantined or not – I am working at the Innocence Project between 9 AM – 5 PM. At least now I am able to work from the comfort of my living room or kitchen table. Though it’s often tempting to stay in my pajamas all day, every morning I get dressed (in comfy clothes, of course), brush my hair, and do my usual skincare routine to strive for some semblance of normalcy. I’ve also realized doing this morning routine helps my productivity throughout the day. It’s funny to think about how, just a few months ago, I would take a crowded train every morning and spend all day in an office, running around and frazzled by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I would spend my weekends working on Berriez, either in a photo studio, at a thrift store, or both. While I still spend my early mornings, nights, and weekends working on Berriez, it’s all at home–which is more convenient, but I now have to be the stylist, model, MUA, and photographer all at once. Or, I send pieces over to my friend / Berriez photographer, Jess, so she can photograph them. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I feel like I am finally adapting to this new reality.
JR: What does the future hold for you and your brand?
EZ: I am hopeful that, once this is all over – if it’s ever over – I can continue to grow Berriez. I want sustainable and secondhand style to be available to, and accessible for, more plus size people. I’d love to see the merging of the vintage/secondhand world with more independent designers and artists. And on that note, I want to continue collaborating with other vintage shops, artists, and designers, such as Shop Journal and The Series. Lastly, my biggest goal for Berriez is to rent a studio space where people can comfortably try on clothing IRL and hang. But, who knows what the future of IRL shopping will look like after all of this!
JR: What are some things you’d like people to know about you that they might not know?
EZ: I used to be a professional jazz singer. I retired at the ripe young age of 27.
JR: What’s your favorite piece in your closet?
EZ: A vintage Nicole Miller silk blouse with a psychoanalysis-themed print.

Dress by Eckhaus Latta , bag by Berriez