Liz Hostetter loves to travel—so much so that her worldly adventures inspire her womenswear label Ellie Kai. Her apparel is comfortable, chic and fit for wearing on the go, and it considers body type and style preference by allowing customers to build upon original pieces, personally selecting hemline, sleeve length, pattern choice and other options. We sat down for a chat with the Hong Kong-based, Massachusetts-born entrepreneur to talk about fashion, travel and her love for home.
We hear you're a native New Englander?
I am. I’ve been abroad for about 20 years. I’ve lived in London, Paris and, now, Hong Kong. Actually, I started off in Fiji—that was my first stint living abroad—but I am very much a Cape Cod girl.
Clearly you have the travel bug. What brought you to so many places?
I applied to grad schools, and I decided to take a year off and volunteer. I headed to Fiji to work with the Red Cross. In the interim, I met a man—now my husband—who is also from the Cape. He was between Paris and London moving to work for an investment bank, and we were long distance. We ended up moving together to Paris a year later, and I never came home. We were in Europe for about 14 more years, and now we’ve been in Hong Kong for five, which is where I started Ellie Kai.
How has travel influenced your work as a designer?
It’s such a huge influence to be honest. It’s a little bit about the silhouettes and the styles that are easy to pack, from going to the beach or going out to get a cocktail at night. I think our styles are pretty resort-focused in our season of spring and summer, but the biggest influence has been the prints and textile design. I’ve spent a lot of time in India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam. What I find is the inspiration from all of these regions is unbelievable in terms of color, beautiful patterns that are very cool and different and things that you don’t typically see in the West.
What’s your idea of the perfect travel outfit?
First and foremost, things that don’t wrinkle. I know that sounds sort of silly, but if you’ve ever been in a hotel in the middle of Southeast Asia, you do not want to pull out an iron. So, things that are packable and that look great when you pull them out of the bag is paramount. The beauty of traveling somewhere warm and beautiful is the ability to really go for it in color and pattern, something that is bright and easy to wear.
What do you always have with you on a flight?
One of our super-light cashmere wraps, which doubles as a throw when I’m on the plane. I find that’s the most important thing I carry with me on a plane. And a big bottle of water. My travel time coming from Hong Kong to Cape Cod is 28 hours.
If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would that be?
Where I am now. I know it sounds corny, but home with my kids. I come home for eight weeks in the summer, and I pinch myself because we wake up to this beautiful Cape Cod. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve been to practically every country. I’ve loved traveling. It’s a big part of my work and what I’ve been doing for the last 20-plus years. Home is just so incredibly special to me that I would never choose anything over waking up here in Osterville.
When is your fall collection going to be out?
We are launching an Indian summer capsule collection in mid-August. Indian summer is very much the time of year that I miss the most about living in the U.S. Cool nights, but you’re not ready for fall, but you are ready to warm things up a bit. Then, our proper launch for our autumn-winter season happens Aug. 30.
What are a few of your favorite pieces?
There is one dress I did this year that I really love. I call it the faux wrap—it’s not a very genius name—it’s actually a T-shirt dress with a wrap around it. I find it’s one of those day dresses that reads the entire day. I wore it to New York on the train, and it was one of those all-day work days straight into a kids’ barbecue at a club. And I thought, ‘I’ve had this dress on for 16 hours and I feel as comfortable at 9 pm as I did at 9 am.’ It’s one of those silhouettes that works for so many bodies, and we make it in our classic EK stretch, which is what doesn’t wrinkle. I wore it in a stripe, which I think always reads ‘Cape’ in the summer, but even was okay for New York. I’m also launching a new blouse that is the perfect tunic, just long enough for skinny jeans. That’s one of our newer blouses that I’ve been wearing.
What is your most versatile piece?
I would say, our boat neck dress. It is a dress that has a very classic neckline, which works for a lot of women. What I love about this dress is that you can order it in three different lengths, so depending on your height, but also depending on how you want to wear it. Do you want to wear it at night, or do you want to wear it to work? The next step is that you can choose your sleeve, so you can choose a long sleeve with three buttons, you can choose a cuff three-quarter sleeve or you can choose a elbow-length cap sleeve. It’s also versatile in that you can choose your pattern, whether it’s stripe or solid or funky print, but then you can take it to the next level with changing out your sleeve and your length. A buyer can really customize it on so many levels.
What is the first thing that you do?
If it’s summertime, it’s straight to Four Seas Ice Cream. Growing up on Cape Cod, ice cream is a big part of your summer. I know it’s sounds funny, but I would say that’s our go-to. The morning of being jet-lagged, right after getting up and getting coffee, we take the kids to get ice cream. If it’s the winter, it is typically taking the kids sledding. This winter we were very lucky to come home before Christmas and find golf courses covered with snow.
Where are you headed next?
I’m going to Nepal in late September with my two older children. I’m not taking my youngest one because of the altitude. We are going trekking, and we are also supporting a school. Ellie Kai has a major focus on supporting initiatives to educate girls all over the world. The best trips I’ve done with the kids have actually been to see the schools. Cambodia was a really life-changing experience for my older children, so I am taking them to Nepal to trek and go see the work that Ellie Kai is going there. Nepal is a big bucket list one that we’ve been waiting for the right time.
Check out the slideshow below for a few pieces from Ellie Kai's Fall 2014 collection.