Meet the Women Challenging Industry Norms
A Q&A with Livari Clothing
By Caitlin Ruggero
LIVARI is a New York City-based zero-waste ethical womenswear label founded by three fiercely intelligent and determined women looking to have a positive impact on the environment and the world itself. Alysia Reiner, Claudine DeSola and Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs create designs for those who want to break away from industry norms. SUSTAIN magazine was able to speak with LIVARI for a candid and insightful interview. Below, find out how Orange is the New Black star Alysia Reiner was influenced by the hit show to help create LIVARI—and how Claudine and Tabitha feel about everything from plus sizes to women’s rights.
SUSTAIN: How do you feel about the ways the EPA has changed under the new administration? The “back-to-basics” agenda focuses on narrow, outdated goals and will abandon important climate regulations put into place by the Obama administration. Do you think that LIVARI is an important brand in today’s environment and can make a change?
ALYSIA: Claudine, Tabitha and I started LIVARI out of our deep feelings of unrest in response to the current administration. This is a moment [in which] we as individuals and as creators need to step up and do everything we personally can. The political is now so personal, and the personal is political.
SUSTAIN: Do you find that it’s more difficult to put together stylish pieces of clothing while using zero-waste practices? Are you optimistic that this could become the norm in the future?
TABITHA: It is definitely more difficult. First and foremost, clothing needs to be beautiful and stylish. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how sustainable or zero-waste a garment is, if it isn’t attractive, it won’t sell—as it shouldn’t. When I start draping, it’s an exercise in discipline as well as lots of trial-and-error to land on a design and a collection that is beautiful and also zero-waste.
Zero-waste designing will become the norm when other lines see how economically viable it is to not waste 15% of their fabric budget. This is the future. It’s just a matter of time.
CLAUDINE: My mentor Yeohlee Teng of YEOHLEE created so many pieces that were zero-waste. I learned about this movement from her when I worked at her showroom back in 1997. Yeohlee has been incorporating this into our process for 20+ years. When I think of zero-waste, my part in all of this is more from the production side—with LIVARI, we will not produce pieces until we get orders, or do extremely limited runs—we don’t want that waste on the other side either. It is one thing to design your collection being zero waste, but it is another to then produce and have all these clothes that don’t sell.
SUSTAIN: It’s very pleasing to see that LIVARI offers a great range of sizes from women’s extra-small to extra-large. How do you feel about the body positivity movement? Will LIVARI offer sizes up to 1X or 2X in the future?
TABITHA: We wanted to make a collection that would speak to women from varied experiences. That includes size, racial identities, countries, careers, etc. I’m really excited to see varied representations of womanhood in mass media because of the body positivity movement. We still have a long way to go, but it’s definitely exciting to see the progress. LIVARI will definitely be offering larger sizes in the future, but we want to be sure to do it thoughtfully. Just sizing up clothing isn’t the solution. Clothing needs to be fit differently for curves and we want to make sure we are doing that justice and listening to women with curves when we do it.
SUSTAIN: Tabitha, does LIVARI align with your views as a women’s rights activist? Do you think that there are sexism problems in the fashion industry that LIVARI can challenge?
TABITHA: It definitely aligns with my views as an activist. 75% of the people who work in the garment industry are women and the majority of these laborers in the U.S. are immigrant women. As an immigrant woman, I’m particularly concerned about the fair and ethical treatment of people who just want a stable job in the industry along with a life in this country and who may settle for less than fair wages because of this need.
We are three women who have made it a point to give opportunity and work to other women—be it artists, sewers and formerly incarcerated women—and we use our art to challenge sexism in the industry.
SUSTAIN: Claudine—as a celebrity stylist, is there anyone who has influenced the work you put into LIVARI? What direction do you think the brand is going in terms of its “look”?
CLAUDINE: I have worked with Alysia for many years styling her for a lot of her events, and she to me is one of the woman we are designing for. She looks amazing in the collection, but beyond that Alysia is someone that can be on the red carpet sharing some of our messages—it is not just about buying and wearing Livari, but is about little nuggets of inspiration—the opportunity to talk about art, activism and zero-waste. I think strong confident women are making this world a better place and can inspire us through their work—whether that be art, activism, business, or technology. We are all a part of this forward movement. I think there will be a lot more educational artistic projects that we will roll out. So beyond the clothing, [there] is hopefully some fashion alchemy we are putting out there.
SUSTAIN: Alysia, how did playing “Fig” on Orange is the New Black and getting involved with the Women’s Prison Association influence your work with LIVARI?
ALYSIA: From our very first meeting about Livari where we talked about all the things we wanted to change, I said "what if we hired women coming out of prison?” I’d been a supporter of the WPA ever since meeting them after the first season of OITNB, and now that’s what we’re doing. We're in partnership with the WPA, with another great organization called Road 22, and we're also creating our own initiatives and partnerships here in NYC with the help of the Mayor's Office and the Made in NY fashion program—it’s so exciting!
SUSTAIN: It’s also exciting to see that you have an upcoming role in the dark comedy, Egg. How does this role align with your fashion brand and beliefs?
ALYSIA: I produced and am starring in Egg, and in it, I play an artist. When I was researching the role, I was also working on LIVARI, and I felt so overwhelmed sometimes, but I re-framed that and thought, “well, I'm actually researching the role by making this fashion line!" By being a designer and being an artist in that new way, I was creating my character.
Photographs by Livari Clothing.