The Designer Behind Collina Strada Wants You to Know Even Sustainable Brands Fall Short
"I’m not saying [no one] can do that — but at my level of clothing manufacturing, I cannot do that.”
The scene at Collina Strada’s Fall Winter 2020 presentation, entitled “Garden Ho,” was a far cry from the traditional catwalk parade of stone-faced models that predominates at New York Fashion Week. Upon entering the show space, I found a mishmash of editors, influencers, and friends of the brand (some with children in tow!) crammed into a hot, spotlit room, necks craned upward as models of all ages sauntered down a grass-covered, picket-fenced runway. Some wielded bedazzled gardening tools. Others carried babies. More, still, performed freestyle dance moves to Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Each sported brightly colored frocks from the brand’s latest sustainably manufactured collection. At the end of the production, the ragtag crew was joined by singer Hayley Williams, who performed her new single “Simmer” amid the finale festivities. The result was less a fashion show, more a celebration of humankind, our varying talents, and our valuable connection with nature.
The show appeared flawless from the outside looking in, but creative director Hillary Taymour wants consumers to know that running a sustainable clothing label isn’t all tie-dye shirts and rainbows. She says she faces a host of obstacles in keeping Collina Strada’s garments sustainable. “You have to start from your fabric and see what’s available,” she tells InStyle. “There’s not as much available to you as you’d like to make, so your designs are limited.” That doesn’t just mean in terms of the styles at your fingertips, she explains. “It’s more limiting in terms of [product] categories. I really wanted to get into shoes, but that’s been a bit harder and more difficult because I don’t want to do it and have it not be sustainable. Not many brands want to do that or can do that or can do it correctly. It’s more so making the brand bigger, more accessible to other types of humans, that’s been a bit harder for us.”
Taymour launched Collina Strada in 2009 after earning a Bachelor’s degree in business management from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. In the 11 years since, she’s dressed the likes of Halsey, Rosalía and even Kim Kardashian's daughter North West in her eccentric, environmentally conscious garments. All the while, she’s devoted her career to challenging the fashion industry’s standards of sustainability, which range from elusive at best to nonexistent at worst. When I ask Taymour about the importance of transparency to her brand, she responds with a question of her own: “Are you real if you’re not transparent about it?”
She’s not just pointing fingers. Taymour is the first to admit where Collina Strada falls short in the sustainability department. “I’m not going to say I’m 100 percent sustainable,” she says. “I don’t know how my zippers are made or how my buttons are made. All of that stuff, nobody can [know]. Unless you’re making your buttons out of recycled fabric, you’re not sustainable. You know, is every single piece of your garment completely sustainable? No. Unless you have a crazy factory that can make everything from waste — that’s great, I’m not saying [no one] can do that — but at my level of clothing manufacturing, I cannot do that.”
This season’s offerings from Collina Strada maintain the brand’s gloriously quirky look while incorporating innovative new materials and philanthropic dimensions. “We’re using a lot of rose sylk fibers throughout the collection. We’re printing prints on rose sylk — it’s made out of rose petals. It’s made like normal silk, but with rose petals,” Taymour says. “Also, we’re doing a little capsule collection with bales of t-shirts that are white man’s trash that get sent to Ghana every week.” According to Taymour, the United States has sent so much discarded clothing to Ghana that its residents have run out of ways to contain it, leading to mounds of textiles winding up in the ocean. As the brand’s FW20 show notes so eloquently state, the use of clothing waste in the collection is a gesture of “picking up our shit.” Plus, Collina Strada will donate proceeds from the capsule to the OR Foundation, an organization that plans to build a factory for converting Ghana’s textile waste into coat and home insulation.
How does Taymour feel the industry at large could stand to improve? “So many ways,” she says with a laugh. “You can’t just write a sustainable thing on that label. It doesn’t make sense. Consumers, I think, are getting tired of it because yes, [brands] are doing better, but they’re not doing the most. The biggest companies should be doing the most and they should be fully transparent about how their fabric is being made for the garment, where the fabric is being woven, how you’re getting the fabric woven.”
She hopes fellow designers at NYFW have prioritized sustainable practices at their shows, particularly with regards to set design. “Whatever you use, either rent it or give it back. You don’t have to buy new things every season to make a fashion show. You don’t need to do that.” In lieu of creating a one-time show space from scratch, Taymour advocates for arrangements comprised of rented or reusable set pieces. “ You can rent chairs, you can rent all these things that can make it way more eco-friendly,” she said. For its part, Collina Strada has already donated its entire FW20 show set to the Elizabeth Street Community Garden in New York City.
According to a study released at the 2017 Copenhagen Fashion Summit, clothing manufacturing produces 92 million tons of waste a year. One can imagine how such jarring statistics could leave designers like Taymour discouraged about the future of fashion. Yet realistic as she is, she feels her efforts will have been worthwhile if they inspire at least one person. “I understand that my impact on the world is not big, but if I use my voice in the industry, maybe it will spark someone else to be better,” she says. “That’s all I can hope for.”