Maximalism in Sustainable Style
An Interview with IRISHLATINA
The assumption often made about sustainable fashion brands is that all the clothing is typically plain, minimal and monochrome.
IRISHLATINA proves this assumption wrong, with clothing that is bold, fun and far more interesting than the fast fashion designs rolled out to the masses. Founder and designer, Rebecca Rivera, established IRISHLATINA in 2013 and has been making original, “seasonless” and statement-making streetwear designs ever since. Rebecca’s most recent collection, “WASTE NOT”, is made from post-consumer products which have been transformed into colorful, unique designs, that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill. I caught up with Rebecca to delve deeper down into what truly makes IRISHLATINA so unique.
SUSTAIN: Rebecca, you studied costume design for your bachelor’s degree in California. How much do your studies still influence your designs today?
IRISHLATINA: I grew up performing in musical theatre productions. The costumes, and hair and makeup, were always fascinating to me. Rehearsals were important, but it was dress rehearsal that really made things come to life, and got everyone excited. I feel the same way about fashion. Clothes can transform a person. Haven’t you ever walked a little taller because of what you were wearing? Clothes can be our everyday costumes. I’m very much inspired by costume design and the fantasy of the theatre when designing for IRISHLATINA.
SUSTAIN: IRISHLATINA designs are all made from post-consumer products. What prompted you to use these materials? Was it a conscious decision to be sustainable, or was it a happy by-product of your design process?
IRISHLATINA: Honestly, it all came about because of the documentary The True Cost by Andrew Morgan. After seeing it, my eyes were opened and I had to make a shift in how I was doing things—not just to make sure that I wasn’t contributing to the negative impact the fashion industry had, but to make sure I was actively contributing to the betterment of the fashion industry.
SUSTAIN: Since the brand is based in both California and New York, which of the two cities impacts the brand’s aesthetics most?
IRISHLATINA: I’ve asked myself this same question. The young folk in California have such great personal style. Effortlessly cool, and not afraid to wear lots of color and print. The fashion-minded in New York are so dynamic and striking. They take risks and turn heads. Having spent my adult life split between both coasts, I have a great love and appreciation for both aesthetics. I think IRISHLATINA takes a casual look (like a bomber jacket) using a casual medium (like t-shirts), and turns the volume up!
SUSTAIN: Looking at your designs, like the Confetti Coat, I couldn’t help but think of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits. They have a sort of sculptural feel. Is there any particular art or artist that you look to for inspiration?
IRISHLATINA: Just this past weekend, someone referenced Nick Cave when talking about my Confetti Coats–I love that! Those coats have so much texture and weight. One of them in particular took approximately 22 t-shirts to make. You can imagine how heavy it is! But the weight adds to the dimension. The wearer’s shape is transformed. They look powerful. I am very inspired by dance and movement. Putting dancers in my clothing is one of my favorite things. They bring the clothing to life.
As far as tangible art goes, I am most inspired by folk art and craft: quilting, weaving, embroidery, crochet, collage, felt art and art made from found objects. ERIDAN who embroiders on potato chip bags, Sew Your Soul who made an entire convenience store out of felt, and Riffblast who takes renaissance paintings and adds cartoon images to them, to name a few.
SUSTAIN: On your website I was struck by something you’ve written: “sustainability is not a trend.” Can you expand on this more? Do you think the word sustainability has become overused and redundant? Has it even become problematic?
IRISHLATINA: I think what happened for the food industry will happen for the fashion industry. There will be major corporations trying to profit off of the idea of sustainability, like throwing around the word “organic”. But these companies will eventually stop talking about it if it’s not authentic.
It has to be about change, not trend. Positive change comes about from a need and a desire to do things better, not as a means to make a profit.
After the buzz is gone, the brands that are still around, still talking about the future of fashion sustainability, they will be the real game changers. And it’s up to the consumer to ask questions, seek answers and hold brands accountable.
SUSTAIN: How difficult was it to set up your operations in Southern California and why did you want to do this?
IRISHLATINA: Luckily for me, I am from Southern California, so I have family and friends out here, but I also have a network of support from all the connections I made through showing at Los Angeles Fashion Week.
Fashion in Los Angeles is really growing. I know of other brands who have migrated from NYC to LA. It's cheaper to manufacture out here. There are also some factories that are willing to produce with smaller minimums. A minimum order of 15-20 pieces versus a minimum of 100+ pieces is a huge deal to a brand that's just starting out. New York is also so saturated with fashion brands. It can definitely have its downsides. But on the upside, it's a well-oiled machine. You have everything at your fingertips, even if it is more expensive. I've definitely driven ALL OVER the garment district in Los Angeles looking for something I could have purchased at every shop in New York's garment district. So, there are pluses and minuses to both.
You just have to ask yourself what it is that your brand needs most. Right now, IRISHLATINA is produced in-house. I'm at a stage where it is smartest to hire help when needed, than to outsource and overproduce. I don't want to overproduce, and then have excess product. You know, the main reason for "sales" is because a company has excess stock they need to move to make room for new stock, while still trying to make a profit on what has already been produced. It's a tricky balance that my brand is still navigating. And unless we go back to couture, made-to-order clothing, navigating this balance is a necessary evil.
SUSTAIN: Describe to us who the IRISHLATINA customer is. How did you discover who your customer is? Do you think Instagram helped you at all?
IRISHLATINA: I definitely think Instagram helped to identify the IRISHLATINA customer. There’s nothing quite like an algorithm to show you those like minded individuals on the internet. Women’s Wear Daily described the IRISHLATINA customer as a “woke millennial,” and I can’t say that I disagree.
Although he/she need not be a millennial, the IRISHLATINA customer is definitely someone ready for positive change. They want to look fresh, but not at the expense of someone or something else.
SUSTAIN: Finally, what are your long term goals and dreams for the brand?
IRISHLATINA: My dream is to bridge the gap between high fashion and sustainability. Streetwear and high fashion have found a beautiful marriage, but sustainability is still seen as “hippie” and “DIY” or “boring basics”. Ethical, sustainable fashion can also be elevated designer fashion, and I hope to continue that message. Also, because most IRISHLATINA pieces are one-of-a-kind, they cannot be produced on a massive scale, but that’s OK. They also need to be produced slowly, and that’s OK too. Not only does the consumer need to change their belief that they deserve to get clothing quickly and cheaply, but also manufacturers and wholesalers need to be more open to working with small brands that are trying to do things differently. I hope that IRISHLATINA can help make a positive impact on the fashion industry for social and environmental improvement.
IRISHLATINA's newest collection is called "NO NEW WASTE", and will be releasing in mid-August.
Photos Courtesy of IRISHLATINA