3 queer x sustainable designers

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3 queer x sustainable designers

that you will adore

Like everything else New York City does, it celebrates PRIDE in a really big way. This year is even bigger because NYC hosts World Pride and it's the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. A lot of progress has taken place between Stonewall, when being gay was considered an illness and today when most states recognize the right of gay people to marry - and with that progress comes support from companies and corporations who want to be recognized as allies to the gay community.

 While some have legitimately critiqued this as the corporatization of PRIDE I think that in this time where there is political pushback against our rights it's important to take genuine support from wherever it's offered. Other than rainbow washing (is that what one calls it?), the problem I have is when PRIDE merchandise is being produced in ways that are far from ethical -i.e. in sweatshops where workers work under poor or even toxic conditions. In this case the message is only as good as the medium - the actual object that has been created. 

Instead of buying a PRIDE t-shirt, that will be relegated to gym wear, from a dubious source made from polyester (really, NYC pride!?!) why not support a LGBTQ designer who rocks sustainability & inclusivity in fabulous style? And just like there is no “one way” to be queer there is no “one way” to be a sustainable designer. In honor of PRIDE we’ve selected three designers -Kevin Germanier, Becca McCharen-Tran and Willie Norris - who are manifesting their visions in their own unique and compelling ways.

 Germanier by Kevin Germanier

Remember the Cinderella story? The best part, by far was not the shoe or the Prince (yawn) but the fairy godmother and the little birds who took bits of this and that and transformed it into a gown fit for the MET Gala. In this story Swiss born Kevin Germanier does not play the role of Cinderella but that of the fairy godmother. He takes slightly imperfect fabric, beads and even threads and creates magic that turns them into looks that are pure glamour with a dash of insouciance.  Upcycled couture, if you will.

A graduate of Central St Martens, he has already received some serious recognition including winning the Redress Design Award (formerly known as the EcoChic Design Award) and being a finalist for awards from ANDAM and LVMH. His maximalist aesthetic can be found on sites like matchesfashion.com and if crystals, glitter and tulle make your heart beat a bit faster he is definitely one to consider.


CHROMAT by Becca McCharen-Tran

 It makes sense that it's a female designer rocking the world of fashion simply by having truly inclusive models - in swimsuits, no less! I say simply because this really should be no big deal. But it is a big deal as women can attest to - being able to see someone who looks like you on the runway is affirming and empowering in ways that those who scoff at it can't begin to comprehend.  This extends of course to LGBTQ representation: her last show saw transgender model Maya Mones, and queer sex educator Ericka Hart work the runway.

And Becca is equally passionate about sustainability. Chromat is produced in safe, ethical, fair-wage factories in New York City and Sofia, Bulgaria.  Their swimwear is made with sustainable, regenerated nylon spun from fishing nets and post-consumer plastic bottles that have been recovered from the world’s oceans. Their nylon mill has worked with an international diving team to remove over 160 tons of fishing nets from the world’s oceans and turned them into yarn together with other nylon waste.

 Of course none of that would matter if we didn't love CHROMAT's style - but we can't get enough of the neon bright colors and the range of styles that can take you straight from the beach to the club. And speaking of clubs CHROMAT is hosting a party at MoMA PS 1 this PRIDE so add it to your calendar!


Willie Norris Workshops

 

Willie Norris only recently showed his first collection - in part funded by a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. Unlike other designers who have the pedigree of a school like Parsons or Central St Martens, Willie has followed more of an apprentice tradition having worked for designers Susan Cianciolo, Maria Cornejo and Isaac Mizrahi before getting a full-time job as a menswear designer for Outlier. In short: he's got mad skillz and now he's using them to push his own vision.

 And his vision is one of strong visibility and accessibility for all but especially for the gay community. Living in New York it can be easy to forget the struggle that even now exists for queers in less accepting areas of the country. (And if you need a reminder check out this poignant piece Willie wrote on his own struggles coming of age in rural New Hampshire.)

As far as the clothes are concerned he is interested in his idea of queer American sportswear which looks like everyday, wearable clothing with lots of pockets and thought provoking messages. In fact it was his simple yet clever "What exactly is heterosexuality and what causes it?" t-shirt that first caught my eye. Currently sold out, I am super hoping that he makes more of them - and with complete transparency it states on the website that the base tee "is produced in LA where experienced sewers earn up to an average of $20 an hour and no less than $12, plus benefits and overtime." And selling for only $35 belies the argument that ethical === over priced. NOT!

 For the show he had 19 sustainable looks made from repurposed clothing and deadstock fabric - like a pair of jeans from another brand carefully reconstructed and redesigned instead of thrown away. The models were chosen from his friends and community and in an interesting twist the looks were created for the models instead of the usual finding the model to wear the look. And I suspect that is what's at the heart of the way Willie Norris approaches design: he is looking to design for the community from within instead of imposing an aesthetic from above. Definitely one to continue watching…and Willie, let me know when those tees are back in stock ;)

photos courtesy Willie Norris Workshop, runway photos by Hunter Abrams, photo of Willie Norris backstage by Eli Schmidt