by Sarah Lee Shan Yun
Designers and collaborators, John Barlett, Karina Kallio, Joshua Katcher, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart and Stephanie Nicora Johns visited the New School on Monday the 28th of April to conduct a panel discussion on what it means to be a real rebel in fashion. The talk focused mainly on the development of eco-fashion, raising awareness on pressing issues such as animal rights and welfare as well as sustainable design practices.
John Barlett curated the show that morning. A graduate of Harvard University and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Barlett has been deeply involved in the country’s animal rights community. His fashion collections, “The Tiny Tim Collection”, “John Barlett Consensus” and “John Barlett statements” feature cruelty-free, eco-friendly menswear staples.
Originally from Sydney, Karino Kallio was discovered by Abercrombie & Fitch, becoming the director of concept design for them before moving on to start her own self-titled children’s wear collection. Her line features the innovative idea of recycling men’s pre-loved shirts into ethical, sustainable and fashionable children’s clothing. She focuses on applying zero-waste measures to create a standard for the sustainable fashion model, encouraging production in local factories to promote thoughtful consumerism as an ‘antidote’ for fast fashion and globalization. In a world where outsourcing is becoming increasingly prominent, Kallio aims to bring awareness to the instability and abuse caused by unsafe and unethical production processes. She describes her brand to be a process of “up- cycling” a term used to describe the increase in value of a material as it is re-used to create new products. These materials include the use of military jacket liners, which Kallio recycles and turns into new usable garments, meant to be multi-purpose and multi-generational (the sharing of garments within the family, between both children and parents). Her optimism of the future inspires young designers to look at problems of sustainability as an opportunity to propose unconventional and impactful solutions.
An established menswear designer, Joshua Katcher is also writes for asuccessful lifestyle blog entitled, The Discerning Brute. His collection, The Brave Gentleman, makes eco-fashion accessible and desirable for the modern men of today. His suits and trademark accessories are environmentally friendly, featuring self-innovated textiles like future suede, future leather and future wool. A deep believer in traditional production methodologies, Katcher aims to move the fashion industry away from the exploiting animal textile practices, encouraging the use of sustainable linen, recycled polyester, closed-loop microfiber and other materials instead. His materials feature fabrics made from recycled soda and water bottles, providing convincing alternatives to the shockingly unsustainable textile practices of today. Katcher also shines much needed light on the truly horrific animal abuse issues surrounding the industry – mentioning tragic exercises of livestock confinement, mulesing and animal electrocution. The presentation left the audience shocked, giving future designers motivation to change the current climate causing these severities.
Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart helmed the start of her label ‘Vaute Couture’, which launched in 2009, later becoming the first full-vegan collection to be showed at New York fashion week. CNN termed her as the “rebel of fashion week”, which created much awareness of the demand for sustainable practices in the fashion industry. Leanne’s passion for animal welfare activism started at a young age as she recounted anecdotes of acting against the mistreatment of animals in science dissection classes in high school. She later went on to being featured in the Chicago Tribune for her efforts, inspiring others to be upfront and strong in their beliefs and convictions. Her goal is to turn the tide on the balance between ‘alternative’ fashion and ‘mainstream’ fashion, making cruelty-free and innovate materials the center of clothing manufacturing, as opposed to being regarded simply as a niche segment of the market. She recommends many enlightening books such as The Tipping Point, and Rules For Revolutionaries.
Stephanie Nicora Johns distinguishes herself from others from the fashion industry by being heavily involved and rooted in the manufacturing sector of the business. Her self-titled line, Nicora Johns, features proudly made-in-the-USA, cruelty-free and environmentally friendly shoes. The classic shoe design from the label was a result of John’s own trial-and-error efforts, hand-making them as a hobby before turning it into a successful business and career. She later incorporated many of the lost American beliefs of craftsmanship into the business, hiring artisans from the community to support local jobs. She makes a case for all the employees who prefer working with their hands to create beautiful quality products that require both patience and skill. She took it upon herself to learn the true complexities of the processes behind shoe making including shoe molding, pattern making, sewing and finishing, which require expert attention to detail. Johns has created a new business model that rewards workers with fair pay, as opposed to exploitatively high mark-ups for profit. Her collection features variations of the classic deck shoe and lace-up designs, with a focus on comfort and aesthetic detail.
As a whole the panel encouraged emerging designers to constantly challenge the status quo, to add value to their original ideas. The vision of a sustainable future requires extra work and patience to fulfill, thus students were encouraged to do research on fabric sources, form collaborations and partnerships and incorporate these ideas into value-based pricing strategies as opposed to low-cost price competition. The following are recommended resources for sustainable material sourcing and supplies: http://www.ecotextile.com; http://www.makersrow.com.