Too Good to Be True?
Let’s face it, the idea of getting the latest fashion items at cheap and affordable prices sounds like a dream come true right? Maybe it’s time to rethink the way we shop because although the idea can sound very appealing at first, being fashionable can come at a huge cost to our environment.
The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, producing 10% of all global greenhouse emissions (only second to oil), and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. This is mostly due to fast fashion, and as the industry grows, so does the environmental damage. Fortunately, there are ways to be fashionable without it being such a huge cost to our planet.
But first: what is “Fast Fashion?” The Oxford dictionary defines it as “Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.”
Compared to 15 years ago, the average American buys 60% more items and throws away an average of 80 pounds of clothing per year. In this super-competitive market, fast fashion brands make sure that new styles are available to the public daily at the lowest price possible. On average these fast fashion brands create around 52 micro-seasons per year, producing practically a collection for every week of the year. With most of it ending up in landfills, the United States generates more than 15 million tons of used textile waste each year. The main reason for this is that most fast fashion items are NOT built to last. In order to bring these inexpensive styles as quickly as possible from catwalk to the consumer, fast fashion retailers use rapid production, cheap materials, and cheap labor resulting in low-quality items with a short life span. In addition to all the environmental consequences, there are a lot of human rights violations involved in producing these fashion items including mistreated workers and exposure to toxic chemicals.
ALL this damage to our planet and our communities for low-quality items that don’t last? Alexina Prather – the founder and creative force behind the sustainable fashion brand Alexina – is on a mission to empower consumers to learn about the current state of the fashion industry, as well as sustainably spicing up their closet. She creatively reuses second-hand clothing and transforms it into trendy, upcycled fashion pieces. Alexina uses classic denim jackets as a sustainable foundation and hand-picks every piece of additional fabric that is sewn onto the used denim ware. The end result? A timeless jacket transformed into a conversation-starting fashion statement. Alexina recently completed her Master’s in Business Sustainability at the University of Miami. I had the opportunity to interview Alexina and learn more about her story, her passion, her brand, and much more.
“The more items we can keep out of the landfill the happier our Mother Earth will be.”
How did you decide you wanted to go into fashion? Have you always wanted to be a designer? Tell me your story.
I have always been fascinated by the fashion industry. In 8th grade a spent a summer at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York City, and being in this environment definitely sparked my passion. I’ve been knitting and sewing since before I learned how to read, so I knew I would likely end up on the creative side of it all. Back then it was mostly fascination from afar, and I had no idea what type of space I wanted to hold within it. It wasn’t until more recently that I realized I wanted to be a part of the Sustainable Fashion Revolution because of how environmentally harmful the overall clothing industry has become. Once I found this subcategory within the larger industry, it expanded beyond a fascination and I became more involved.
Tell me about your fashion brand Alexina. How did you get started? What does Alexina provide?
The inspiration for Alexina started when I was living in New York City, but the actual creation of the brand didn’t begin until I relocated to Miami.
One day, I was walking down the street in lower Manhattan and saw a woman walk by wearing a classic denim jacket that had a few patches of fabric on it. You could tell by this woman’s whole look that it was an expensive jacket. I thought to myself, I could make that exact jacket for under $20, and have a lot of fun doing it! This is how the idea for Alexina’s brand began. I started exploring NYC’s thrift scene and collecting secondhand denim jackets. I lived in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn and barely had enough room for my own clothes, let alone my sewing machine. I had the idea but didn’t have the physical space to create. When I moved to Miami, my living space expanded, and I was finally able to begin creating the jackets I had envisioned.
Alexina is a sustainable fashion brand that up-cycles clothing and advocates for the secondhand clothing industry. We believe that clothes should be cherished and mended. The more items we can keep out of the landfill the happier our Mother Earth will be. Alexina educates our customers about the harsh realities of the clothing industry while providing one-of-a-kind styles that can spruce up a closet or any outfit. The denim jacket has been around for hundreds of years and isn’t going to disappear as a fashion statement anytime soon. We started out with denim as a foundation because it is durable, stylish, and should never be thrown out. We are proud of the designs we have created but also the information we have shared. We know that you do not have to sacrifice your style in order to be responsible, if anything, it encourages individuals to become even more creative with their clothing choices and style.
What materials do you use when creating your designs? Which ones are your favorites?
So far, the base of our designs has been mostly denim. We’ve added a range of materials, mostly secondhand or repurposed. My favorite designs are the custom jackets, that allow us to connect and collaborate with others during the process.
Describe your creative process
It all starts with a great denim jacket. You need the base to be solid but also inviting. After that, you can create anything! Our process differs if we are making a custom look or an original design. However, it always includes some level of trial and error. Denim jackets can come in so many different shapes and sizes. The fabric can be dark or light. The thickness of the material can certainly affect the ease of adding to it and result in different outcomes. The process is in no way standardized or structured. It differs with every look, and that is what makes them so unique!
What is your workspace like?
My workspace is my home. I have a sewing machine that is more than 10 years old. My closet is full of fabrics, jackets, and the materials needed to create. Although the physical work happens in my home, a lot of the creative process is done in thrift shops and secondhand stores.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style has definitely shifted as I have changed my own shopping habits to become more responsible. However, my style has always been bright and colorful, and this certainly shines through in my work. The original pieces I make tend to be bold, statement looks. For my own wardrobe, I have learned to do more with less. I tend to add a lot of accessories like bold earrings and jewelry to complete a look. And I always prioritize comfort. There is no point in wearing something that doesn’t make you feel good while wearing it because that will show in your body language. In my opinion, comfort is key in making a look stylish.
What surprised you the most about the process of starting and running your own business?
I love to learn as I journey through life. However, when you bring this mentality into starting and running a business, learning lessons can become very expensive. I made a lot of mistakes and took a lot of risks in the beginning. I now feel much more confident about my own business model and approach but it has certainly been a roller coaster ride to get to this point, and I am sure the ride is not yet over.
How do you want people to feel when they wear your clothing?
Unique! One-of-a-kind! Empowered. Knowing you own something that no one else in the world has, that is such a special feeling.
Not only do you sell your own creations, but you also offer clients the possibility to customize their orders. What kind of questions do you ask before beginning any design project? Which piece of information is of the most value?
I ask my clients to look at the jackets I have created in the past to potentially spark inspiration but also show them my own skills and technique. However, I’ve also had a lot of customized jackets force me to add new skills to my portfolio. When asking the customer questions, it is crucial to know what purpose this jacket will serve. I want to know if the person plans to wear this jacket on a daily basis or if they want to save it for special occasions. Will it be a statement piece for them or everyday use.
I saw on your website that you like to name your designs. Why do you like to name your creations? Do you name all the designs you create?
I don’t tend to name the custom designs, but I feel like giving my original designs a name provides even more originality. It shares insight into their back story. It is another way to make our Alexina brand unique.
What would you say is your greatest strength when creating a design?
Understanding what will work and what won’t with a specific jacket. A lot of people envision certain designs that I know aren’t going to translate to the denim canvas. Knowing my own strengths and talents. I’ve had a lot of requests for painted jackets, but I can’t paint. I can sew. Although I’ve seen many painted jackets and think they are beautiful, that is not a service I can offer to my customers because it is not my strength.
What advice do you have for people who want to shop more sustainably? How can people recognize legit sustainable brands?
Thankfully there are many credible resources that help consumers shop more consciously. One of my favorite resources is called Good On You, it is a mobile app and website directory that rates brands. Outside of helpful resources, my favorite ways to shop more sustainably is to do it less, and when you do shop, to shop secondhand. The most sustainably t-shirt is the one that is already in your closet. If you are able to limit your shopping habits or swap instead of buy, that is always going to be more sustainable then buying something new. If you do end up purchasing a garment, buying secondhand first is a great way to reduce your environmental impact.
Additionally, it is important to do what works for you and your lifestyle. Don’t try to change all of your shopping habits overnight. Make small changes and try to stick to those. Over time you will notice the progress you’ve made.
You very recently completed your Master’s in business sustainability at the University of Miami. How has it been balancing your business with school? Did you have social?
It was tough, especially in the beginning. I had just launched my website and Etsy shop in June of last year, and then I began a full-time Master’s program in August. I didn’t have as much as I would have liked to work on my designs and I had to pivot my focus. I wasn’t able to go to as many vending events as I would have liked to. However, my program taught me so many important lessons about running a business but also sustainability! The timing wasn’t ideal but it really pushed me to develop my business further and will be so helpful in the long run.
What is the most memorable project that you worked on?
I paired up with a woman who recently started her own brand as a fashion stylist. To date, it’s the most fabulous jacket I’ve ever helped create. She didn’t want me to hold back at all. It included fringe, appliques, hand embroidery, and was such a powerful statement piece. It took us a few months to find all of the aspects and details that she wanted to include. She trusted me with her vision but also pushed me beyond what I would have created on my own. Together, we made the most fabulous jacket that embodied our two brands and it was just such a blast to build it together.
Now your focus is producing denim jackets. Do you see yourself adding other design articles in the next years?
Definitely! I want to create more with denim outside of jackets. I found a secondhand shop where you can purchase clothing by the pound and I’ve recently started buying denim jeans there. It doesn’t matter what condition the pants are in, because I will be taking them apart and using them for patchwork fabric. I have seen some amazing designers using denim patchwork and I can’t wait to do more of this and expand beyond the traditional jacket.
What is your favorite part about being a designer?
I love connecting with others. I want to create designs that have lasting stories. My favorite part about this whole process is the people I get to meet and interact with while doing it.
What advice do you have for people who want to start their own fashion brand?
Find your niche. There are so many brands out there, it is important to find a way to be unique. Also, know your impact. Especially as consumers are demanding more transparency from brands. Be able to speak to the materials you use and the choices you make. Whether you want to be a sustainable brand or not, be able to share and disclose information so that your customers can make their own decisions.
What’s next for you?
We are just getting started! We look forward to incorporating more designs and collaborating with other designers. Aspects of our business have definitely shifted due to the current circumstances but we plan on coming out even stronger when this is all over. We recently became a Remake Ambassador and look forward to sharing resources with our customers and followers about the fashion revolution. We’ve hosted one Thrift Crawl and hope to plan more in the Miami area for individuals interested in learning more about sustainable fashion practices. Stay tuned for more designs and products that continue to teach our customers how to incorporate sustainable fashion practices into their life.