Meet the Fort Wayne-based fashion designer knitting her own path in the bridal industry

Speaking with a tone of true Midwestern humility, Esther Andrews doesn’t see herself as a disrupter in the bridal industry. But her work is certainly bucking trends by today's fast-fashion standards.

The Millennial fashion entrepreneur and boomerang resident of Fort Wayne is the visionary artisan behind Esther Andrews Bridal, a forthcoming line of sustainable knitwear for brides.

Esther Andrews Bridal features a line of sustainable winter knitwear for brides.

Knitwear refers to the process of hand-knitting clothing articles, like sweaters, jumpers, dresses, and jackets. It’s an intricate craft because you’re creating each stitch, one at a time, Andrews says. That’s exactly why she enjoys this type of work: Because each garment is unique and special. The high level of attention to detail stands in stark contrast to the cheaply made and mass-produced fast-fashion popular in mainstream culture, which exploits designers, production workers, and the planet alike.

In addition to the practicality and durability of Andrews's knitwear, timelessness and inclusivity are two hallmarks of her brand. Each piece is designed to be passed down in families through generations. The styles are classic and defined by a soft femininity.

Looking to the future, Andrews says her work will always be about craftsmanship over moving a lot of inventory.

Andrews notes that she is able to accommodate a wide gamut of sizes in each garment, too, ranging from extra small to 6X.

Another important element of her bridal collection is its seasonal intent as outerwear, which bodes well for brides embracing the chilling temperatures of a Midwestern winter.

“I think there’s something magical about snow, but I didn't really see a lot of opportunities for pieces that keep brides warm and they could wear with pieces they already own,” Andrews says.

In addition to the practicality and durability of Andrews's knitwear, timelessness and inclusivity are two of her brand’s hallmarks.

Before she was an official designer with her own label, she was a little girl, growing up in Northeast Indiana and dreaming up designs in her rural home.

“I grew up here in Fort Wayne, closer to Roanoke, in the country,” she says. “Then I learned to sew when I was in middle school, and all through middle school and high school, I was sewing a lot. I received a scholarship to go to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, and that's where I received my degree in fashion design. There, I really focused on knitwear designs and later worked for a few designers in New York."

Andrews's emerging fashion business is proof that you don’t have to be on the East Coast to be a world-class designer.

While Andrews says she’s grateful for the practical experience she gained in the nation's fashion capital, she ultimately decided to leave New York because she missed the slower pace of life and her family in Northeast Indiana. She and her husband moved back to Fort Wayne in May 2020, as residents across the U.S. left big cities en masse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, Andrews has been busy designing her fall/winter e-commerce collection, slated to be released later this month. Her emerging fashion business is proof that you don’t have to be on the East Coast to be a world-class designer.

“I really realized in New York that you could really start it anywhere,” she says. “You don't necessarily have to be in New York to find vendors or know your manufacturers. So that was something where being in Indiana has been so beautiful because my husband and I have been able to form our life here, which was harder in New York. Here, there's just a lot of resources that are more easily accessible.”

A fringe knit cardigan lends a bohemian feel to weddings.

For instance, Andrews has enlisted the help of the entrepreneur support organization SCORE to grow her business. Right now, it’s just her working out of her de facto living room studio. But eventually, she’d like to have a manufacturing plant in the Fort Wayne area, which would allow her to employ people and increase her production volume.

Even so, looking to the future, Andrews says her work will continue to be about craftsmanship over moving a lot of inventory. Sustainability is—and will continue to be—a central part of her brand’s DNA. She already uses sustainably-certified cashmeres and organic cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative in her work, and she believes that true sustainability in fashion goes beyond the label.

Andrews is marketing her line of knitwear to brides who value eco-conscious, timeless pieces.

“Working in the industry, I noticed brands would sometimes say they're sustainable, but when you actually asked why they were sustainable, they would cite their use of natural materials," she says. "That doesn't necessarily mean that they're using non-harmful ways of processing textiles.”

Andrews believes there's a better way, and she's determined to pursue it.

Watch for her new collection launch on her website.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.