Lisa Says Gah's Recipe for Success: Slow Fashion, Sustainability & Snacky Prints
This West Coast brand has us saying gah in all the right ways.
This article is part of an interview series called Ladies Who (Wear) Lunch, an exploration of the intersection of food and fashion.
I remember the first time I really saw myself in a brand—it was the late 90s, I was in 3rd grade (maybe 4th), and I absolutely needed the Lisa Frank trapper keeper that was so hot in the halls of my elementary school that year. Naturally, my mom refused to buy it for me and I was devastated. Clearly she didn’t understand that those neon animal prints and psychedelic rainbow swirls spoke to me on a cellular level. I was them, they were me.
Fast-forward a few decades to me finding that same feeling while scrolling through the fanciful-patterned pages of the Lisa Says Gah site, only this time I didn’t need my mom’s approval to make a purchase. Founded in 2014 by Lisa Bühler, what was once a small e-commerce destination for decidedly anti-fast fashion, independent designers, and community has evolved into a brick-and-mortar boasting, in-house design-making, and overall joy-inducing operation. With a name like theirs, defined on the brand’s website as an “unbridled outbursting of surprise and delight,” I couldn’t wait to sit down with Lisa to get the scoop on snack-filled designs, sustainability in fashion (and food), and the things that make her say, “GAH!”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
MADISON TRAPKIN: Can you describe your ideal lunch date? Where are you going? What are you eating and what are you wearing?
LISA BÜHLER: It's definitely warm outside, but comfortable. We're probably going to have to be in Italy, maybe Tuscany. I think I'm wearing some sort of fruit food print, probably in a breezy linen fabric. I would probably be wanting to meet with someone new, not really knowing anything about the person, but having similar experiences. For food, I would say juicy tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and unsalted bread are on the table—lots of small dishes coming and going.
MT: The unsalted bread is so classic Tuscany.
LB: I know! I got used to it when I lived there and now it's so special to me.
MT: Where did you live in Tuscany?
LB: I studied abroad in Florence, and then kind of lived there on and off for a few years. I was in my early 20s and it was my first real time out of the country. I think the food and the culture there really influenced a lot of the things I do now, looking back.
MT: Last year's Italian Summer collection makes so much sense now, and I bet it felt very personal to you!
LB: Yes, for sure.
MT: Can you tell me the Lisa Says Gah origin story?
LB: We actually just turned eight! Back in 2014, I moved to San Francisco with my then-boyfriend (he's now my husband) after leaving a job that I really loved. I thought I’d consult for a while and I did, but coming out of fast fashion, I really wanted to focus on small, independent designers. At that time, sustainability wasn’t even a word that was thrown around [in fashion], and it seemed like all the sustainable options were really expensive and kind of for an older audience. I wanted something fun, punchy, and relatable in a way that felt very peer-to-peer, like you were shopping with a friend online.
We've launched a lot of amazing brands and we started our own in-house line a few years after that, starting with deadstock fabrics and just kind of testing things. We used to use a factory in San Francisco, but then a few years later the pandemic happened and we weren't really sure what direction it was going to take. We were only online, which we learned was beneficial for us, but we did have some [COVID-related] problems with manufacturing. We started moving our production down to L.A. and then we moved our warehouse down there last summer. We opened our brick-and-mortar this past fall, and we still have lots of amazing brands. Our in-house collection has really expanded and we've really kind of found our niche in point of view through print and a lot of fun collaborations.
MT: Did you always know that food would somehow come into your work?
LB: We always used to photograph outside my first apartment-slash-office, and there was a fruit stand called Courtney's Produce around the corner. It felt like what our customers might be doing on the weekends or what we imagined ourselves doing, on vacation or out at the farmer's market, so that's where we shot. I also think food can be nostalgic and trigger memories or make new ones—it's all about that community and experience, and fashion shares a similar feeling.
MT: There's a lot of overlap between the food and the fashion industries, which I want to talk about in a question or two, but first I’m dying to know more about these incredible food-themed collections at LSG.
LB: Well, Cin Cin comes to mind first because I remember driving home from work and thinking about how we're so strong with our spring and summer prints, but winter prints can be a little bit more of a challenge for me personally. The spring and summer prints come so easily, fruit and florals just make sense. On that drive, the idea of cocktails (still a kind of decorative consumable) popped into my head. It felt like it would be especially fun because this was the first big holiday season [since COVID] when people were really going out and having a good time.
MT: Exciting takes on winter food can be very challenging, like I guess you could do a dress with potatoes and onions on it, but summer produce is much more fun. Who designs your prints?
LB: We work with a print designer, Leanne Kissinger. She’s basically on retainer for us. She does all of our prints now and she's so creative and great to work with. We start with the concept and then work together from there on the design.
MT: I think that you met that very unique challenge of winter designs in such a beautiful way this year. At LSG, you're all about ethically made apparel, plus you’re anti-fast fashion and pro-community, which all has some serious parallels with the food world. How do your choices in business and fashion align with your choices in food and ingredients?
LB: Living in Italy was a big exposure to me for homemade, local goods because that's just how they do it there. I grew up in a suburb of L.A., so it was like, all chain restaurants, TGI Friday’s, spots like that. Once I found that food could be really special, taste really good, and that it doesn't necessarily have to be fancy and expensive, I started supporting local vendors more, which I also do through fashion. We support new designers [at LSG] and it's so fulfilling to work with new brands that don't have a platform because we can give that to them. With food, I support a lot of small restaurants here in San Francisco and L.A., which is easy to do because there are plenty to choose from. And I go to farmer's markets daily.
MT: Do you like to cook?
LB: I really love cooking. For me, it's kind of like reading—when I do it, it feeds my soul. I can't get distracted and it requires hands-on focus, so I just get in the zone. I think I love the process of it, but I don't do it as much as I'd like because I have two little humans running around my home. They're 1½ and 3, so when I get home it's like quick, quick feed.
My mom makes this great elbow macaroni spaghetti with beef, and it’s homemade but so simple. Recently I was like, "What is that delicious thing you make that I never thought to ask about before?" So I'm starting to find recipes like that, ones that are simple but still taste really good and are fun for the whole fam.
MT: Even if it's simple, you're still doing the act. You're still cooking, which is a little meditative, a little therapeutic. And feeding your family, which is really special.
LB: Mm-hmm. Actually, my husband and I have a cabin up in Mendocino and it's off-grid, so we have to cook up there. It's been fun to have time to cook when we visit and hopefully when the kids are a bit older and they can help me.
MT: What's your favorite off-the-grid thing you've created lately when you've been there?
LB: Chili. It's hearty and great when it’s cold and the fire's going. Plus it makes many, many servings.
MT: Definitely a great cold-weather, off-grid food. Are there any dishes or drinks that have made you say, “Gah” lately?
LB: Lately I'm all about egg white beverages. Like, I love a Whiskey Sour. They're just so unexpected. Food-wise, I recently went to a friend’s launch and they had a table full of candelabras, beautiful cheese plates, pears dipped in chocolate with little ribbons on top, and this beautiful cake. Everything was so thoughtful and delicious. The food was so beautiful and a part of the experience visually. I'm excited to see that more.
MT: I love that, too! They’re like edible food installations that aren’t so precious that you don't want to touch them.
LB: I think that's feeling really cool right now and so creative. It's like art.
MT: Food is art, art is food, which brings us to the final question. What does the future look like for LSG?
LB: Well, we have a tapas print coming out.
LB: It's so cute. It's a lot of seafood [and] more Spanish-inspired tapas. It's definitely kind of a segue from Italian Summer, but a little bit of a different direction.
MT: Spanish summer, I love it. You could keep going with that and feature a different culture’s warm-weather food traditions every summer.
LB: I know. I'm like, "Where are we going next year?" And also, I would actually like to start going to said places!
On Black & Highly Flavored, co-hosts Derek Kirk and Tamara Celeste shine a light on the need-to-know movers and shakers of our food & beverage industry.Listen Now
See what other Food52 readers are saying.