Interview: Ensemble of Elan, Sabrina Runge & Hannah Lewter

Antonella Kinder
– Feature Photo: Hannah Hall, The Gray People

Inside the Mad Girl Crush Interviews, we take a moment to explore the minds of creative, kick-ass women exploring their passions.

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From the outside looking in, dynamic duo Sabrina Runge and Hannah Lewter of Ensemble of Elan look like the kind of twosome team that have been rocking the fashion industry together for years. Sabrina and Hannah are distinct from one another, and yet, seem smoothly in-sync.

In reality, our powerhouse pair have actually only known each other for about two years. In this, I’m reminded of the power of healthy relationships, both in our personal and professional lives, and that our best relationships with others shouldn’t be measured by length, but of quality – alas, a topic to tackle at another time.

I first ran into Ensemble of Elan at their fashion week debut in the Spring 2018 NWA Fashion Week showcase where their pairing of bold colors and patterns on the runway had me straight swooning.

If you haven’t had a chance to develop a creative crush on fashion gems Sabrina and Hannah, arm your heart and get ready to fall as you read through our Ensemble of Elan Mad Girl Crush interview.

MGM: Tell us a little bit about yourselves! How did Ensemble of Elan come to be?

Hannah and I were introduced by our boyfriends (who were already good friends), and we immediately bonded over our mutual love for fashion and all things creative. We did a couple of photoshoots together simply because we found it fun to get dressed up and take photos of each other, and then one day we thought, why don’t we actually do something productive with this and use our passion to inspire those around us? Thus, Ensemble of Elan was born.

It started off as a fashion and lifestyle blog where we talked about everything fashion-related–from our personal style philosophies to our tips on budget-friendly shopping to our point of view that the majority of school dress codes are sexist and harmful towards young girls’ self-esteem.

Our goal was never to be just another fashion blog. We really wanted to use fashion and personal style as a vessel to express every aspect of who we were.

Another component of our vision was starting our own clothing line. I​nitially, we looked into the traditional path of creating designs and sending them off to a manufacturer, but we soon realized that was going to be an impossibility for us. Not only because it was going to be extremely expensive to start a line that way, but also because we learned about the negative environmental impacts that come with manufacturing new clothes, even when they are produced in “green” factories. Hannah had been shopping at Goodwill and using her creativity & sewing skills to breathe new life into vintage clothes for years, so I thought, why not turn that into a business? It’s doable for us, affordable for our customers, and it’s inherently environmentally friendly because we are repurposing clothes that already exist. We took that idea and ran with it, and I think we are really starting to change people’s minds about secondhand clothing. There were so many models and hair & makeup artists backstage at NWA Fashion Week who expressed their shock that we created an entire line out of clothes from Goodwill, and that is truly the biggest compliment to us. There is so much potential to be found in secondhand clothing, and we are so excited to demonstrate that to the community around us!

MGM: What are your thoughts on personal style and “personal style vs. fashion”? I’ve heard personal style is dead and that anyone can be a fashion blogger – that having personal style is a rarity. 

I agree that there is a distinct difference between personal style and fashion. Fashion is working to be more inclusive to different perspectives, but keeping up with popular trends is still a huge component of the fashion industry. I think anyone can be fashionable, really. Simply Google “2018 fashion trends” or “fashion bloggers to watch in 2018” and you can replicate those looks pretty easily. Yet in doing so, you are only succeeding in being part of the crowd.

Personal style is about creating a look that is unique to you, and only you.

My goal is for people to look at an outfit and immediately know that look was styled by me, even if my face isn’t in the photo. And I honestly don’t even care if they love it or if they hate it! If they have an emotional reaction to it, I feel as though I have succeeded with that look. I think you can only get so far in fashion by trying to be like everybody else. To get ahead, you have to be willing to take some risks and indulge in every weird idea that comes to your mind if you truly want to create something memorable.

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MGM: What are your current style obsessions and favorite places to shop?

Currently, we are both obsessed with metallics, sheer fabrics, and bold reds and pinks (as you could probably tell from our spring collection haha!). If you go back through some of our older blog posts, you can tell that both of our styles used to be very neutral with the occasional pop of color. We’ve been working really hard to branch out and experiment with more colors and patterns, and honestly, there may never be any turning back. Being bold is so much fun! Our favorite places to shop are Goodwill (obviously), Zara, and Revolve. Goodwill and Zara are great for finding those really unique and stylish pieces that you probably won’t find many other people wearing, and Revolve is one of the best places to buy investment pieces, like high quality jeans and swimwear. Unfortunately, we can only shop there every once in a while because their prices just a tad higher than Goodwill 😉

MGM: Do you have any advice for others who may be looking to get into the fashion industry or the business of creating?

The best advice we can offer is: do not ever let anything come in the way of following your dreams. We have both always had a deep love for fashion and personal style, but for a long time, chose to not pursue it because we did not see a realistic way to make a career in fashion work in Arkansas. Then one day, it just kind of ‘clicked’ that if there were not any opportunities for us here, nothing was holding us back from creating our own! This journey has taken us to some amazing and unexpected places (like opening NWA Fashion Week!!), and we are still completely in awe.

Another tip (that we can’t really claim because it comes from Leslie Knope): find your team. In this industry (and most we presume), you will encounter and work with all kinds of people. At first, you go into many interactions and collaborations under the impression that the other party is equally as passionate as you are and wants to succeed together. Sometimes that’s true, but unfortunately, many times it isn’t.

Find those people who have your back, and never let them go. Developing relationships is crucial to succeeding in this industry, but make sure those relationships are positive and mutually beneficial. As someone once told me, life is too short to work with shitty people.

MGM: Where do you draw inspiration from?

We like to draw inspiration from everywhere! An amazing idea for an outfit–or even for an entire collection–can be found on Chiara Ferragni’s Instagram page or in a painting in a gallery or even just by watching people walk down the street.

One of our personal secrets is to look at the street style from foreign Fashion Weeks, like the ones in South Korea and New Zealand. Their sense of style is so intriguing and different from ours in the U.S., so we really try to learn from their creative vision and put our own spin on it.

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