Transgressive, unique, out of the established… Nina Dornheim arrives from the high spheres. She is a fashion designer from Germany based in Brooklyn with over 10 years design and development experience. Nina has designed for high-end Ready-to-Wear brands like Proenza Schouler, Jill Stuart and Kiki de Montparnasse. This designer has also worked for large retailers like Zara and small contemporary lines including a private label for Saks Fifth Avenue and a new contemporary line for Cynthia Steffe.
But all this is history. Nina Dornheim has invented a new way of creating fashion that has completely touched the space we have reserved for the illusion. How? She has created Studio-842, a fashion brand born of the deconstruction of vintage clothes that later become garments with a great progressive character thanks to the spirit of upcycling.
I think the worst of the current system is the illusion that we need new stuff all the time. And in reality those fast and disposable items, most of the times don’t make us feel good about ourselves or make us feel special. So instead of 10 cheap t-shirts, just buy 3 really high quality ones you will have for years to come.
Life’s little things
In her wardrobe we find sustainable fashion brands like The Reformation and Suzanne Rae. But Nina mainly buys vintage and second hand clothing. I have roamed thrift stores and flea markets since I am a teenager. For me it is exciting to discover clothes with a past and wear them in a new context. – she tells us.
In addition to her passion for fashion, Nina is a garden lover. Since I moved to Brooklyn, I got obsessed with gardening. Our apartment building has a backyard which was completely neglected so I cleaned it up and started a garden. Apart from bushes and vines, I grow herbs, berries, tomatoes etc. We also have a farm share, where we get our vegetables from local organic farmers.
Me and my partner are being mindful before buying anything new and try to fix and recycle whenever possible.
From the garden, she takes us to her library: The book that most inspired me was The Upcycle, by William Mc Donough and Michael Braungart. They reimagine our society based on their idea of cradle to cradle and show us the possibility of a world in which every human act becomes one of beneficence and abundance. As you can see, I am an idealist– she admits, smiling.
The other book that really had an impact on Nina’s life was The life-changing magic of tidying up, by Marie Kondo. I know it has been hyped a lot, but it really opened my mind to Minimalism. Once you reduce all your belongings, you can really appreciate each thing you own and think much harder before buying anything new. Apart from keeping waste in check, the best is that Minimalism really simplifies your life.
Nina explain us her main objective this year. It is the same of that from many sustainable fashion designers: to connect more with other likeminded entrepreneurs and organizations and collaborate more. I believe that together we can accomplish so much more. It is still really hard to work in an eco-conscious way and as a group we are always stronger.
The seductive power of Vintage
Nina arrived at Studio-842 after much research. Working as a designer, she often researches vintage clothing for inspiration but most of the times, there is something about the original -the quality, the fabric, the individuality and the time- that was put into making the vintage pieces, that is not possible to translate into modern industrialized and fast paced clothing production. The clothes just do not feel the same way and with Studio-842, they wanted to bring this individuality back to the clothes. We were thinking a lot about how most women maybe 60 years ago would probably own no more than 5 dresses. Many of them designed and made their own clothes back then, repaired them time and time again and a piece of clothing was just so much more appreciated. Yes this is true, we think the same.
Vintage clothes give me endless ideas what to create with them and how to make them fit into our contemporary wardrobes. I love that by recycling and upcycling I can give these pieces a new and hopefully long life so people can actually get the original, not just the copy.
Studio-842 started as a vintage boutique where they create modern collections based on a fashion theme and color concept. They carefully select, clean and restore them. Part of the vintage boutique is also a wedding collection. And then they decided to take it a step further, so actually they design new pieces of clothing.
They don’t start with a piece of fabric but with a garment that we deconstruct. Most of the raw materials are vintage. The many months dedicated to make these delicate fabrics become a rare luxury in our fast paced lives. Previously, all pieces were one-of-a-kind and now we are planning to produce a small series of select items. For this new series they will use new ecological fabrics and will hire local seamstresses who will produce it in small factories located in the Garment District, in Manhattan. Customers will soon be able to purchase these new Studio-842 collections in Concept Stores.
Our cleaning process is with eco-friendly products. We use a dry cleaner with a biodegradable cleaning liquid. Dry-cleaning is really one of the extremely hazardous methods still widely used, not only for the environment, but also for your health. We will produce locally in small factories in the garment district here in Manhattan and with local seamstresses.
We still mix some original vintage garments in the collection. The goal os Studio-842 is to design clothes for a modern wardrobe that make women feel good about themselves. I hope women will buy our clothes because they like them first and foremost.
A meaningless calendar
At Studio-842, the current fashion calendar does not make sense any more. They really want to get away from seasons. We believe in seasonlesss design so you can wear most of our pieces all year around. We also want to deliver new items continuously and depending on demand and the temperatures outside. So the 2017 Collection will continue to grow and evolve. At the end of the year we will have one big collection. As an eco-conscious brand, we want to offer clothes we really believe in and we want to do this at the pace that makes sense for our customers.
They are also planning to design close to the delivery to stores which makes them more flexible to react to customer demands. They will bring out designs in the actual seasons so their customers can wear them right away. So no winter coats in the heat of summer. This is not a new idea and the fashion calendar has been widely discussed by designer brands in the last year.
The aim of studio-842 is to create modern collections of one-of-kind upcycled and original vintage mixed with limited editions of new designs. The goal is to offer fashion that you can buy with a completely clear conscience. Our goal is to become cradle to cradle so we will have a positive impact on people and the environment.
Sustainable fashion is not easy
But, as many other sustainable fashion designers have told us, it is not easy. The hardest part for a small independent brand is the procurement of materials. To consider a fabric as sustainable is very complex, because you have to consider the growing of the fibre, the spinning and dying as well as the transportation and all of this requires a lot of research time. It is of course also more expensive, slower and you just have less options overall.
Being limited, also gives you the opportunity to find new solutions and be more creative – Nina says – Setting up an eco-conscious clothing production is not easy and upcycling is an even more ambitious goal. We want to be able to make small series of some of the upcycled styles and this requires a completely different process and different skills from the seamstresses as well.
On the other hand is the issue of consumers. Yes, yes, you, me, and everyone around us, we have not yet realized that we can not continue buying and throwing inexpensive clothes no matter what the big fashion brands dictate. I think we will eventually all come to realize that we have the power to change this system with our wallets. There is a big trend right now towards minimalism and fashion essentials and to own less but better quality items. I think that the fashion industry will go a similar route as the organic food movement which has already become the new normal for many people.
Clothes treated with chemicals affect your health and wellbeing as well.
Anyway, Nina points out something very interesting in this argument. It is not about more quantity in quicker turnarounds but about better quality and the whole story behind making the clothes. Luxury items are about experiences and I think in this way, eco-conscious and ethical fashion can be luxury items. But in the end, it is all about the quality of the design and the garment, because customers will finally choose the clothes they like best, no matter the story behind it.
That’s why Nina advises designers to do very thorough research on suppliers and factories before they start and create a network with other likeminded designers to support each other.
And to consumers who are not yet sure of sustainable ideas, what do we tell them? So far, eco-conscious and ethical fashion brands are still sparse and expensive, so I understand if many people simply cannot afford it. But you have other options like buying second hand or vintage clothing which often times gives you excellent value for the quality. And if the style is a bit outdated, get creative, tweak it and give it to your local tailor – she answers.
To end our interview, we asked her about someone who she admires right now: I just recently met my sustainable Super Heroe in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her name is Adriana Marina and she is the founder of Animana, an ethical & sustainable fashion brand which is made by Artisans in the Andes and Patagonia. She also founded an NGO called Hecho x Nosotros to promote sustainability in the fashion world by supporting artisan communities and with the platform Foro de Moda Etica Latina, she encourages alliances between designers, foundations, academics, international fashion experts, associations and artisans. She invited me to participate in an event they held at the United Nations Headquarter here in New York this month and I am basically blown away by the work she and her organizations do.