Anne Whiting, Founder of Anne James New York, talks about how her made-to-measure women’s wear label combats waste in the fashion industry. She explains how she uses upcycling, deadstock fabrics and a ‘slow fashion’ model to create custom pieces and drive consumers toward sustainable fashion.
JJ (the Host of The Understory Podcast): Hello everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Understory Podcast. Today, we're very excited to have Anne Whiting, who is the founder of Anne James New York, join us and talk about sustainable fashion and her own company.
Anne has an amazing background. She is a graduate of the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York and has done some amazing work. She was also the Sustainable Designer of the Year in 2020, the award was given by New York City ReFashion Week.
Thank you so much for making the time to talk to Understory. First off, tell us about yourself and why you started this brand.
Anne Whiting: Thank you, Understory. First, super happy to talk to you and your community. Oh my gosh as to why. Honestly, my answer is serendipity at this point, because after I finished fashion school, I designed and consumed fashion, just as an inherent practice. I thought I needed to work for a company and pursue more sustainable or sustainable initiative research instead of starting another brand, because I felt this world has so many designers and so many great clothes trends. What would I contribute as another company?
I kept designing and it almost pursued me just by saying yes to a lot of opportunities for fashion shows and collaborations and pop-up shops. The feedback for all of it has been positive. My ideas are different in that process. I've devised a company that is really idealistic, and we'll get into that later, but it pushes in the direction of challenging the existing fashion systems, and current flaws. So that is why I started - to be a model of a new direction.
JJ: You just mentioned about creating this idealistic company, and it is interesting as we learn more about your process. Tell our audience about what this vision is and how does it work.
Anne: Anne James New York is my inspired brand name. It is named after some of my family members, and obviously myself, and the city that I am based in and always have wanted to live in and where all the fashion magic happens. I sometimes call it my platform for things that I want to say through fashion, design, and through a sustainably minded apparel business.
The platform is a made-to-measure womenswear label, which means that I currently keep very little inventory, and instead I make pieces either per order or custom per the exact measurements of a shopping client. I felt that this was the best way to offer a product that isn't otherwise so easy to find in today's women's fashion model and also doesn't contribute to massive amounts of wasteful overproduction as is what's happening in the fashion industry right now.
I am not making more clothes that just add to your closet and that you easily throw away. I am also not making more than even I can handle as a company and need to put on sale and have leftover or need to throw away or need to burn which a lot of companies have done just because of excess inventory. My main direction is to combat waste and the issue of too much.
I also embrace upcycling, and part of that involves my effort to use remnant stock fabrics from excess production by companies and fashion fabric mills. Almost literally nothing new is needed in my design process, so I think that is pretty cool.
JJ: When you tell that to perspective clients, what is their reaction?
Anne: I think it is a range of reactions. Some clients just want beautiful clothes, and it is built into my model that it is a different sourcing model, and it is fun by using this remnant deadstock fabric system. I have limited quantities of the fabrics that I use and once something is made into a garment or a few garments, I cannot necessarily reorder.
It's fun for people to have a look at what's available in the name of no waste, in the name of not producing anything “new”, and then realize that what they're going to get is one of a kind. I have other clients who are sustainably minded, and they are really excited about that aspect of the design.
JJ: That's super cool, and it is a little bit counter intuitive in the sense that you make custom made clothes. I think one of the things that you also write on your website is about slow fashion, whereas most of the consumers today think about fashion either as luxury, high-end, or fast fashion.
Where do you think the fashion world is headed to with all these different trends and innovators? Entrepreneurs like you kind of pushing the industry to be more sustainable while also changing the way that consumers are thinking about how they buy fashion.
Anne: I think it is tough. Honestly, I will admit that it is hard to get totally on board with the sustainable fashion movement. Like you said, in contrast with our current easy consumerism culture, a culture that is not necessarily ready to spend what it might cost to produce something slowly or sustainably. I mean, it is really a model that is set up for making more and making it cheaper.
But that said, the impact of fashion is so far reaching. It is not like we can shut down the entire industry. It has been amazing to see the sustainable and ethical and green minded fashion movement almost explode over the last almost 10 years.
Starting with just so many platforms popping up to help push the industry in this new and necessary direction, and that involves websites and showrooms and all sorts of places where you can shop sustainably and consciously, and they make it easy for you.
With the help of that growth and internet, it's has become really easy to read brand stories about how they're implementing green consciousness into their branding. And then if you want to go beyond that, the information available is endless. If you want to get really educated about materials that companies are using, there are blogs, there are exposés, there are World Bank forums, there are United Nations discussions and everything out there about the impact of polyester and about the water usage of cotton.
I think what is available for consumers if they want to be conscious, they can start because the information and the resources are out there. I think you can start. You can start small. You can start to buy fewer things to let the industry know that we need to slow down. You can also support sustainable brands. You can Google ‘I want to find this sustainable T-shirt’ and there are going to be 10 options that come up.
The innovation is another discussion. That is endless, but in the progress of all that information, we can support brands using GOTS certified cotton and reuse material and give all the initiatives life.
JJ: It's so fascinating, and it just shows that there are lots of opportunities for innovation. And still lots of room to push forward for change both on the consumer side, on the manufacturer, and design side you mentioned upcycling and it's not a top of mind word in many consumers.
People understand recycling, but when it comes to clothes, people think about recycling clothes in a very specific way. Elaborate a little bit more about upcycling your design process and why that is impactful.
Anne: Upcycling is obviously derived from recycling only. It involves a semi elevation, hence the up of what you are recycling something into in fashion. For example, it normally takes the form of someone remaking an old garment, of which there are millions around the world, either in our closets or in secondhand stores, or in landfills, or just waiting to be sold in stores and factories. It involves taking an old garment and making it into something new and exciting worth wearing or worth buying.
It is kind of crazy to say as a fashion brand that I'm going to go to a vintage store and get a bunch of old blazers or blouses or pants and remake them, but that is exactly what needs to happen for us to take stock of what's already available and already existing per what I said about there just being so much out there.
There's a lot happening in upcycling - all sorts of mending communities, people learning how to sew, people learning how to cut the sleeves off of this and attach them to that, and get innovative with clothes that already exist instead of supporting a wasteful consumerist system.
I use fabric, but it's pre existing and has nowhere to go and is considered maybe last season's print by a certain company or a certain buyer. And I'm like, no, it's beautiful. I will use that. Yeah, so that is upcycling in a nutshell.
JJ: I think from a consumer perspective, they probably wouldn't necessarily care if it's an upcycled piece of apparel that's beautiful, functional, and even better help to reduce wasting in your planet.
Anne: Yeah, and there has been a lot of positive brands that have popped up like doing just that. Doing upcycling because people are in favor of it. They like the idea that it's this one of a kind, well-made maybe vintage but definitely sustainably minded piece. I will add to that that it's really cool to see all of these grassroots movements, but upcycling in particular makes its way to the top of the various stablished fashion world. For example, Chanel's recent resort collection was actually made from all of their leftover fabric from previous seasons, so that's pretty cool to see upcycling and one of the greatest brands we have.
JJ: Thank you so much for that perspective. Tell us how people can find you, get a unique piece of apparel, and get into your process.
Anne: I have an Instagram and you can find me there @annejamesnewyork. You can also contact me via my website or firstname.lastname@example.org for an email about a consultation of fabrics and fittings and the type of clothes that you need. And I also am available for shopping on two sustainable fashion platforms and e-commerce sites. One is The Canvas and the other is Pildora.com. Hopefully more in the future.
JJ: Thank you so much. Ann Whiting, who is the founder and CEO of Anne James New York, which is her womenswear label. Thanks so much, Anne.
Anne: Thank you so much Understory, thank you.