Re-imagining the fashion industry with a minimalist approach

I believe in the power of business for good, and believe that businesses need to be part of the solution to the sustainability crisis that faces our planet. But fashion (and indeed, capitalism) as we know it needs to be re-imagined. So you can probably understand why I am impressed with this designers take on her fashion business. This post was written by Elizabeth Stilwell and originally appeared on her blog The Note Passer

“The way I live my life right now is trying to just buy less.”

Fashion designer Christina De Smet and I sit talking in her charmingly sparse apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn which she shares with her fiancé, Dermot, and cat, Miles. We’ve been friends for years after a chance meeting at the event of a mutual friend. She and I frequently meet at boutiques one coolness level above mine—looking, but rarely buying. A seasoned designer, De Smet speaks candidly with me about the the state of the fashion industry, educating consumers, and how she hit upon her unorthodox method of production.

Her eponymous line debuted last May and discreetly rolls out just one new piece per month, a modus operandi meant to uncouple consumers from wanton consumerism. “You talk to friends and they are like, ‘I’m going out tonight. I’ve got to get a new top,’ and I’m like ‘Why? Why do you have to buy a new top to wear? Why can’t you get something out of your closet and restyle it a different way?’” She explains, “If you buy something—for instance the wrap dress that we have in silk charmeuse—if you put a little t-shirt under it, you can wear it to the office on any given day, and then you can put it with heels and earrings and put your hair up and wear it to a wedding. I think people would be more impressed that you wore the same dress and made it look great two different ways.”

THE WAY BACK

At 31, De Smet can remember the emergence of the fast fashion industry in the early aughts, but says she didn’t realize its implications on the environment and consumer mentality until she entered the New York fashion industry in 2007. Growing up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan (a suburb of Detroit), De Smet spent summers with her artistically inclined grandparents drawing, painting, and sewing custom clothes for herself. She says, “I’ve always been interested in fashion. I would make clothes for my dolls, dress up my cat, and I spent a lot of time scouring estate sales with my mom, looking for forgotten items that I could breath new life into.” Her first trip to France was at ten years old and she later lived there while studying abroad. Reminiscing, she reveals, “I couldn’t get over the fact that French women looked so put together wearing the best basics: jeans and a t-shirt. It was the nineties after all. I remember trying to adopt the look then, but I never felt like I mastered it until I was in my twenties.”

De Smet began her fashion blog, DESMITTEN, in 2008 as a creative outlet during her years designing for a mass market retailer and says those two endeavors opened her eyes to the growing troubles of the industry. “I was getting really disheartened by all of the consumerism and waste. When I quit my corporate job, I was trying to be really good about buying just five pieces a season and it really made me make considered choices about buying pieces that I can wear now, or when I’m pregnant, or when I’m 40 or 50 years old—things made in good quality fabrics that I’d want to wear for that long, and that I know would wash well and wear well.” Going back to 2014 on her blog, she has championed a method of shopping called the “Five Piece French Wardrobe” which allows for the purchase five pieces per season. On top of this methodology, she was designing and sewing one piece per month for a collection called Project de, an exercise which primed her for the production of her own line.

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