Sass Brown: Author, Professor, Pioneer
With another recently published book, author and professor Sass Brown took time to share her vision and take on sustainable fashion with R.E.V. To date she has carved an illustrious path and remains one of the leading figures and pioneers of this sector of the industry. Her vision for ReFashioned: Cutting-Edge Clothing from Upcycled Materials is based on her research into what designers are inspired to use and reuse as far as clothing materials are concerned. A native Londoner originally, she is now Acting Assistant Dean for the School of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York and discusses her thoughts on the sustainable fashion movement on both sides of the Atlantic. Her website, www.ecofashiontalk.com, offers an insight into what people are doing across a number of channels where sustainability and fashion are both concerned. This is the first part of a two-part interview.
R.E.V: You have recently written a book, ReFashioned: Cutting-Edge Clothing from Upcycled Materials. What first drew you to this specific aspect of sustainable fashion?
Sass: ReFashioned is an outgrowth of my first book Eco Fashion. When I was researching and writing that book, I thought there were simply too many great designers working with upcycled materials than I was able to write about in that particular publication, so it naturally led to a publication of its own. I also find the breadth of materials that designers are upcycling incredibly inspiring, as they are so much more diverse and creative than you would assume.
R.E.V: You’re currently the Assistant Dean for the School of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. How do you find your students are reacting to the introduction of sustainability more and more into these arenas?
Sass: Generally speaking I find that young people are hungry for information on the topic. They already have a social and ethical conscience, and are looking for models to aspire to. One of the main reasons I write about the topic is to inspire creatives of any age to make more conscious choices by showcasing some of the truly inspirational work being done.
R.E.V: Having established yourself as a designer, what led you to be interested in ethical and sustainable fashion originally?
Sass: I was by nature relatively ethically minded I think, and always found a means to recycle and minimize waste as a designer. I have a passion for craft and artisanship, and later in life that lead me to volunteering with a women’s cooperative in Rio, and the dye was cast. From there on I was hooked. In many ways it was very refreshing after working in high street fashion for sometime, and it helped revitalize my love of the industry after getting very jaded. In addition, I also returned to school to take my Masters quite late in life, and focused every possible project and paper on ethics in design, which eventually led to my website and blog, and then my first book, Eco Fashion.
R.E.V: As a native Londoner now living in New York, what do you perceive as being the major differences in approaches to fashion and style in each city?
Sass: That’s a really interesting question as there are actually major differences in how different countries approach ethical design, that tie back to the native culture. The British for example excel at upcycled design, I think because they have a long history of make do and mend, and an enduring love of vintage clothing, so it just makes sense for them. The Spanish, have a good number of designers upcycling event banners for accessories, I think because Spain is such an outgoing, celebratory culture. America is not so easy to pigeonhole, but it is a much larger, more diverse country to begin with, and made up of cultures from everywhere else in the world. There are of course aesthetic differences as well as process and material differences; the British have always been renowned for eclectic, individualistic, avant garde design, the Americans more minimal, wearable and saleable. Those differentiations remain no matter whether you are producing ethical design or mainstream, but as with all stereotypes, don’t always hold true.
R.E.V: Do you think that there is more of a dialogue surrounding sustainability and ethics within the fashion industry in either the UK or US?
Sass: I think the dialogue is different. To some degree there is more of an immediacy for many of the European countries to find solutions to things like landfill issues, simply because they are much smaller, with much more finite resources and landmass. Hence why many of the European countries are far more advanced, and have much greater participation with recycling, than in the US. I lived in Italy for 4 years before moving back to New York, and it was illegal in Florence not to recycle your waste. Representatives from the local government would randomly search garbage bags, and apply quite hefty fines for those found not complying. There are many more areas to sustainability and ethics than simply diversion from landfill of course, but many of the same concerns of finite resources and finite landmass fuel the European need to find solutions, as well as make the responses more manageable.
Get in touch with her @ecofashiontalk.