the eco-chic urban nomad
For Carol Young, sustainable fashion isn”™t about a movement or a soapbox; it”™s simply a byproduct of good design. It was a part of her thought process years before she even began her line. In fact her label, Undesigned, comes from the title of her graduate school thesis on using post-consumer recycled clothes in the design process.
A staple on the eco-fashion scene, Carol is creative yet practical””probably due, in part, to her training as an architect. Most people coming into her Los Feliz store don”™t even know that the clothes are eco-friendly, and that”™s exactly how she wants it.
Yogi Times talks to her about her line, her philosophy, and her advice for other designers thinking about going green.
Yogi Times: Undesigned has received a lot of press in the last couple of years, and you”™re clearly one of the pioneers of eco-fashion in LA, if not the country. Do you think green fashion is here for good?
Carol Young: It”™s something you worry about, because in the ”™90s, there was a trend/fad””especially the anti-fur stuff. Within two years, however, people were showing fur down the runway. All the same people that were anti-fur were suddenly wearing fur on the runway.
Now it”™s a different time, especially because of the global warming issue and Al Gore”™s An Inconvenient Truth. I think it”™s more in the forefront of what people are thinking.
When I started, that was my intention. If I were going to do this kind of design, especially if it was fashion, which is so consumer-based and wasteful, I would have to do it in a way that made me feel better.
In the ”™90s, when I was in grad school and researching this, I was looking at the different eco companies, and there weren”™t very many. Esprit was doing some really interesting stuff back then, and I was wondering what happened to it. Apparently, it just wasn”™t selling. I think people weren”™t ready for it.
I finished grad school around 2000, and I was looking for fabrics and all I could find was this hemp and cotton knit. It was kind of cool-looking, but it had holes in it. So I stitched on top of the holes. I wanted to make it look more interesting and I thought, why is it like this? What was available around 2000 is so different from what”™s available now. I think that really helps.
YT: Your studio is in the back of the store, and that”™s where you do all the cutting. Everything is made here in LA too, right?
CY: Yes, I have one contractor who does all the sewing. She”™s in San Bernardino.
YT: So you knew you wanted to go in this direction while you were in grad school?
CY: I did a whole thesis on it. I was working with different advisors about what”™s an eco-fabric. My main thesis advisor didn”™t want me to use hemp, because it was associated with pot. She didn”™t care about the pot, she just didn”™t want some hippy-dippy thing. Even if it didn”™t look that way, her whole argument was, how different is hemp from flax or linen? So I decided to use recycled clothing. I took a socio-anthropology class and I came across this article about used clothing in Zambia, and how it devastates their textile industry because there”™s such a flood of clothing made overseas.
There”™s also this whole idea of bricolage. A bricoleur is a French term for a kind of handyman who takes whatever scraps he can find and makes use of it. So from that and seeing that there”™s so much excess clothing out there, I thought, why not have that be the fabric to use? So that was kind of the idea, the big picture.
YT: So given that research, how did you approach designing the line?
CY: Starting the line, I decided I wanted the same customer””the “Urban Nomad”””but I didn”™t necessarily want to do used clothing because I didn”™t have the means to do all the washing and all that. So I decided to start with activewear fabrics. It”™s not that I prefer activewear fabric, but there”™s a reason for choosing it. Like the meryl nylon, it”™s really durable, and it”™s drapey, comfortable and whisks moisture. And I wanted to do travel wear.
So I started choosing fabrics that I could get a hold of and that could do what I wanted.
Each season I try to find at least one or two more eco-friendly fabrics.
YT: So you start with the fabric and then you design from there?
CY: Usually you look at the fabric and the fabric tells you what it wants to be versus trying to have some set design and then looking for the fabric. I need to see what I”™m working with””have a conversation with the fabric. I think it”™s also an architect thing.
YT: What do you have lined up for fall and beyond?
CY: For spring ”™08 we”™re using this hand-dyed shibori-ish fabric from Africa (shibori is a method of dying cloth by binding, folding and twisting it, similar to tie-dye). Some of it”™s organic cotton, and some of it is just regular cotton. It”™s all this beautiful, handmade stuff. It”™s all Fair Trade and it”™s really expensive, so I”™m not really sure how it”™s going to fit in with the line.
For fall we found a really nice wool/hemp fabric, and we have more of the soybean/cotton knit jersey. Also for fall we have more of the recycled, soda-pop-bottle fleece and organic cotton with Lycra from Canada.
YT: I didn”™t know soy could be used as a fiber.
CY: It”™s from the shell of the bean. After they make the tofu, it”™s the leftover stuff. It”™s blended with cotton.
I have a lot of people who call up and ask if everything is eco-friendly. I”™m not sure how to respond to that, because some fabrics are considered eco, and other fabrics are the activewear fabrics and other fabrics are surplus fabrics from jobbers downtown.
If I have a choice between getting a regular cotton jersey or an organic cotton jersey, I”™m going to choose the organic cotton jersey. It”™s just what you can get. If I know these things are available, I”™m going to choose them over the other stuff. But if I want the microfiber for the pleating, but I can”™t find it in recycled microfiber, then I”™ll just use the one that I found that works. But I know it”™s out there somewhere.
YT: If I were a designer with a small line and I wanted to start going in that direction of sustainable fashion, where should I start?
CY: I would start with the fabric. Definitely choose fabrics that are suitable for your design. Don”™t just use it because it”™s organic cotton; use it because it works with the design. My philosophy is that design has to come first””that has to be the selling point.
I would definitely look at material, but also, what”™s the intention of your design? Who”™s your market? Who are you trying to design for? Go in that direction. Don”™t be too trendy.
YT: What part of your business do you like the most? Is it the designing?
CY: I think it”™s the control. It kind of came out of necessity because I started it doing everything myself. I still do a lot of it myself. You have to have a dialogue with your stores and what people want. That”™s what”™s nice about having the shop””talking to people about what they”™re looking for, what of our stuff has worked really well for them, what”™s not working.
I had a friend whose whole idea of fashion was that it”™s living art. You”™re putting it out there and it looks different on everyone; people interpret it differently and it”™s like this living thing. It can get chopped up””you can totally change it. So I guess that”™s it.
There are different problems that come up that you have to solve, and you get to collaborate with people on stuff. I think the whole thing has been very serendipitous.
1953 S. Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027