I am in New York, on the last day of a week-long selling trip. I came to the city to show my fall 2009 collection at the designers and agents show- which is a trade show for whole sale designers to show their collections to buyers and store owners. This is the third season I have shown my collection with the d&a... and it was not as successful as I hoped it would be. I know that there are a plethora of reasons that it didn't go as well as I hoped it would- but I cannot help but wonder sometimes, how did I get to this point?
By the way, have you heard about this economic crisis that's going on? I keep hearing something about a financial meltdown.... ? I digress.
a little history:
I am a clothing designer- based out of Chicago of all places. I attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago- where I received a BFA. Although my concentration was in fashion design and garment construction, I was often found moonlighting in the fiber and material studies department- dying textiles, weaving, or creating altars out of found objects (yes, I was that girl).
After interning under the talented and amazing clothing designer Gary Graham in New York, and learning about the fashion biz through assisting the gracious Pamela Mayer- designer of the clothing line Enochian, and working under the highly curated eye of Robin Richman back in Chicago- I set out to create my own line of clothing.
To be honest, I was some-what tormented by the idea of fashion.
On the one hand I loved beautiful clothing, creating the costumes for worlds we might inhabit at any given moment. I live to tell stories through dress, I love the medium of fabrics and movement, I am enamored by the feminine, and fascinated by the history of dress. But, the reality of the fashion "industry" is much less poetic than the world in my dreams. Often these gorgeous confections have less than lovely beginnings- made within the shady spaces of human rights violations, and born from the agro-chemical laden earth. Couldn't I have it all? My love of fashion and my love of the earth and its' inhabitants blended seamlessly together? I started to research more sustainable raw materials- finding mills that produce organic cottons, and fast renewing blends such as hemp and bamboo, other companies that felt the same way I did about the environment, blazing their own trails much longer than I had. I also began to look for ethical manufacturing options locally, in Chicago.
The other part of the story involves my fashion background. You see, I didn't want to sacrifice my point of view artistically, from a design standpoint. I did not want to make hippie sacks, or skirts with woodblock prints on them. I did not want anything in the collection to resemble the patchwork clothes that I made as a teenager (again- I was that girl.)
I wanted the clothing I produced ethically to be stylish, modern, beautiful- and wearable.
After extensive research and a whole lot of thought, frei designs was born in the chilly early months of 2006. I suppose the rest is history. I find myself 3 years and 5 seasons later- and yet, at just the very beginning of a long road ahead.
This past season, I met a lovely woman named Smita, who is kindred in many ways. She is the founder of Indigo Handloom. Smita imports gorgeous, artisanal, hand- woven textiles from India. The people in the rural villages of India who weave these fabrics receive living wages to create each brilliant textile. The techniques of spinning, weaving, and hand dying are handed down through each generation from father to son. I purchased the intricate cotton and silk paisley jacquard in deep indigo and cream, as well as the hand woven silk batik to use in my current fall 2009 collection.
These fabrics are the pillars of the collection- and their beauty reaches far beyond the fact that they were created ethically on a wooden loom- leaving zero footprint.
And really, Smita is the reason that I began this blog, today- right now. We had a long conversation today- we shared our thoughts, concerns, complaints, and victories as two young environmentally-conscious entreprenuers trying to make it in uncertain times. Times when the world is on the brink of something new, yet still with one foot in the past. I really feel these times signal an awakening, a call to change, and the idea that hope is far from lost. I am one person- one designer, in a sea of so many, trying desperately to do what I think is right. I promise not to use this blog to get preachy, but I feel maybe this funny little blog can be just one way to educate consumers, artists, and curious parties- about what it is I am trying to do, and why I feel it is important. Smita is the one who suggested that I use my voice, my freedom of speech out in cyber-space to tell the story of how frei happens. So that is what I will do, or try to do, in the midst of all the other things I do- let it all hang out. In a time where we are all so very interested in the idea of transparency- here it is: welcome to adventures in sustainable design!