Tribe Alive founder Carly Burson (right) and senior designer Katie Sansom are looking to effect social change through fashion. Photo by Edward Brown.

Social media has made the world of fashion a lot smaller.

That’s at least according to Alyson Johnson, cofounder of Esther Penn, a boutique fashion retail store located just north of the Cultural District. Poppy reds, pastel pinks, and mint-green will be popular colors this summer, she added as she traipsed through her boutique. Fort Worth is influenced more by clothing trends from the West Coast than the east, she said. Johnson and business partner Kacey Cargile follow retailers in California on Instagram, giving the local co-owners some good ledes. Before social media, it took a year or two for West Coast attire to hit trendy Fort Worth shelves, Johnson said. Now, it takes mere months.

The goal for Johnson and Cargile is to provide new items like rompers and jumpsuits — both of which are one-piece garments, with the skimpier rompers being preferred by the under-30 crowd, Johnson said — while offering unique pieces and outerwear that can satisfy a wide swath of tastes. 


A lot of contemporary designs are “easy and cute,” Johnson said. One-piece outfits are particularly popular for their ease of use.

“You get the whole outfit without having to match the top and bottom,” she said. “You can wear that to a casual wedding with the right accessories and shoes.” 

As a general rule, Johnson said, cotton, cotton blends, and linen provide the most breathability during the triple-digit summers here, while silky materials can show sweat spots and should be avoided during the day until fall returns. 

Another soon-to-be-popular material to look out for is scrunchy, elastic “smock,” which appears to be making a comeback among young adults as the base material for dresses and one-piece outfits. 

Smock “used to be popular in the ’90s, and now it’s back,” Johnson said. “People are asking if they can wear this because they used to wear it as kids. It’s a cool, cute, different thing.” 

Johnson said the Esther Penn ethos is to be trendy without jumping on every trend that pops up. Johnson encourages customers to try on pieces they normally wouldn’t grab off the racks. West Coast fads continue to shape fashion tastes in North Texas, Johnson said, but with an open mind and advice from professionals, anyone can master the Golden Rule of fashion — make it your own.

Follow Esther Penn on Instagram @esther_penn.

Terms like “slow fashion” or “sustainable fashion” aren’t commonly used in Fort Worth’s clothing retail industry, a local adherent to the movement said, but that’s slowly changing, thanks to Tribe Alive, which recently opened its first brick-and-mortar store on West Magnolia Avenue. Sustainable fashion, popular in Austin and other progressive cities, is based on the idea that profits don’t have to be made off the backs of underpaid subsistence workers overseas. 

Tribe Alive founder Carly Burson said that every weaver, sewer, and seamstress who manufactures her store’s clothing and accessories works in safe conditions and is paid a fair wage. 

“These jobs are helping to change the face of poverty,” Burson said. “The way we describe our business is that there is an important story and human behind our products.”

Less is more, said Tribe Alive senior designer Katie Sansom.

Indeed, the floorspace holds only a few racks of women’s clothing and a few tables of jewelry and accessories.

“We integrate our [products] into things customers already have, so they are not constantly having to buy new things,” Sansom said. “Everything is made to last while having a timeless design.”

Tribe Alive’s color theme this summer season is marigold, an inspiration, Sansom said, from the popular swimsuit hue of the 1960s. Like Esther Penn, Sansom forecasts color. (Pantone, a consulting company that many in the fashion industry look to for forecasts, predicted ultraviolet as the leading clothing color of 2018. So far, that hasn’t panned out.) 

Incorporating timeless design aspects into Tribe Alive’s designs while acknowledging trends is a balancing act, Sansom said. Minimal prints, stripes, and neutral color palettes add longevity, she said, while boxy crop tops, miniskirts, and long jumpsuit designs satisfy demands from trend followers.

“We want people to value the purchases they make while thinking about who made it,” Burson said. “We strive to lift people up and empower everyone, from maker to consumer.”