(RE)designing with Lanni Lantto: Interview

Lanni Lanto Draped See Dress

photo: Yin Tang

by Nevena Rousseva

LA based Lanni Lantto is not a designer. She is a (RE)designer.  Her approach is unconventional, as was her route to fashion- starting out as an environmental and social activists in Washington D.C. The premise of her designs is using pre-existing materials, like clothing she finds in thrift stores to breath new life into them as redesigned pieces. Instead of sketching designs she uses an actual garment as her canvas and lets it guide her to creating a new piece.  This way she creates zero new waste and actually keeps garments out of landfills. Her goal is to take upcycling mainstream and change perceptions about the concept.

On September 9th Lanni will be participating in Tesla’s Style Night where through her redesigns she will explore the transformation from petroleum-based transportation to electric vehicles. I caught up with her about redesigning, her philosophy, and the challenges facing her and the fashion industry.

What’s your favorite part about redesigning clothing?

The creative process, being able to conceptualize the potential of the transformation of one object into something else is very exciting.  Then being able to tell people what it is made out of and in their reaction seeing that they just saw that same potential and knowing that now they are forever changed. Even if it’s the tiniest of rethinking, at least I was able to affect them by showing them what is possible.

You were an activist before moving to fashion- why fashion?

Yes, I was born an activist in that I have always been very sensitive to the injustices around me.  We live in a culture that degrades women and destroys nature.  It may seem that these things are separate but I believe they are very much related.  Fashion doesn’t have to be so superficial; it is a wonderful vehicle of change.  It’s all about the message we convey through this medium; and my message is about rising above the bulls*it to a higher truth.

What’s the higher truth?

The truth is that we all are beautiful as we are.  You don’t have to do anything to become beautiful nor does a flower, – it just blossoms into what it was always meant to be.  Making a connection between our personal self-worth and the value of our natural resources is a big first step.


Lanni Lanto XL Blazer

photo: Yin Tang

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the fashion industry today?

Long-term sustainability, limited raw resources, and ethics.  The fashion industry has gotten itself to a very greedy stage; create as much as possible as fast as possible while making as much money as possible.  The results have been devastating considering this is a trillion-dollar global industry; toxic chemicals, immense water waste, Co2 pollution, landfills overfilling with last season’s trends, low wages and inhumane working conditions.  We are so over-fed by ready-made fashion that we don’t even know where our clothes are made or even HOW they are made!  I ask people all the time, do you know how your shirt was made? Do you?  Redress Asia made a great video that shows a shirt’s lifecycle.

Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve redesigned?

I’m currently working on a piece that tells the story of our transition from the mindset of industrialization to ‘ecolization’ (I may have just coined a term!).  There are so many layers of symbolism that are possible through the art of clothing; color, texture, history – along with the actual materials like car parts, employee tags from the River Rouge plant, voltmeters – all these things tell a story without words.

What are you finding to be your biggest challenge right now?

My biggest challenge is patience.  I have so many ideas on how to bring upcycling mainstream that require collaborating with other people.  There is a lot of integrity behind this mission so it’s about waiting for the right people to show up at the right time.  Which I am confident they will.


Lanni Lanto Design

photo: Yin Tang

What’s one other thing in the world you’d like to see get redesigned in some way?

There is a global movement happening, where as a species, we are evolving to a new level of thought and action.  We are seeing the negative consequences of how we have designed our lives over the past couple hundred years and we’ve realized this is not working for the planet or us.  We are redesigning our future in all areas (from green architecture to gift economies) based on ecological principles- working in harmony with our surroundings instead of dominating them.  I see fashion redesigning as one part of a whole in our awakening to a better future.

Where did you grow up?

In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, surrounded by woods and Lake Superior.  It takes about 3-7 hours in any direction to get to a “major” city so it’s easy to be connected to nature.  It’s a harsh place to grow up 8 months out of the year (cold climate and heavy snow) but we tend to become very resilient and resourceful as a result.♥

For more on redesigning check out some of Lanni’s videos. To see more of Lanni’s work click here.

Sustainable Fur- Has Peter Williams Figured It Out?

Ata Peter Williams VestAta Peter Williams Vest2

by Nevena Rousseva

Sustainable fur? Sounds dubious, but after talking to the unconventional designer Peter Williams, you like me, may think it is possible. I’m not talking about mink, sable, or chinchilla, but seal and sea otter fur. It’s not the type of fur that usually comes to mind, and this new designer doesn’t procure it by going to a wholesale furrier and buying the hides. His way is a little more old fashioned.

Peter Williams is half Yup’ik Eskimo and half European blend from Alaska who hunts seals and sea otters. He hunts the animals for food and uses the hives to make vests and other products under his company Ata. For him hunting is not a sport, it’s a way to connect spiritually to his Alaskan roots and ancestors.


Ata Designer Peter Williams

Peter Williams, hunter and designer, photo: Diana Saverin


Alaskan natives have had a relationship with the marine animals for over 7,000 years. Many of the natives would put the hides back in the ocean after hunting because of the cost to ship and tan them. Peter however saw the potential of the hides. Creating clothing with the hides is a way for him to share his culture and craft with the outside world and support his community.

Normally sea otters and seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However Alaska natives are exempt because they have a spiritual relationship with the marine animals, which play an important part in the preservation of their native culture. For this reason only the natives can hunt seals and sea otters and work with the fur. Peter sees the animals he hunts as an extension of himself in the form of food, clothing, religion, art and culture. He doesn’t take advantage of the animals by hunting more than he needs. After each hunt he performs the ritual of giving the animal its last drink of water and thanking it for its life. This creates a bond between him and the natural world.

Sea otters are not endangered. Their population is healthy and growing. The sea otter fur is very dense, up to a million hairs per square inch. It is also one of the most luxurious furs in the world. The vest below is a combination of seal and sea otter. The top and bottom white fur is seal and the dark fur in the middle is sea otter. The back of the vest is wool. The reason for using wool is to make more vest with less marine animals and to keep the price lower. It takes approximately one sea otter or seal to make the front of one vest. Peter uses only the hides he has hunted. For this reason quantities are low.


Ata Peter Williams Vest

seal and sea otter vest

Ata Peter Williams Vest

For Peter hunting is a metaphor for life in that it’s unexpected and unpredictable. Interacting with the animal, working with it and eating it gives him a sense of identity. The whole process from hunting to a finished product takes a few months.

Ata products and Peter’s process are an example of sustainable fur because the animals are respected and only hunted when necessary, so there is no over hunting. This is vastly different from the horror stories about the killing of other animals for their fur.

If you want to know what it’s like to go hunting then watch this short movie of Peter hunting for seals. Just a warning there are some graphic parts.

For more on Peter Williams and the Ata products click here.

8 Questions for Roots jewelry designer Vanessa Chew

Vanessa Chew Roots JewelryBy Nevena Rousseva

These days I find it harder to come across interesting jewelry. So I was really pleased when that I discovered Vanessa Chew’s line of wooden jewelry called Roots. This is jewelry that stands out both for the design and the material used.

I caught up with Vanessa over email to find out more about Roots.


1. How did the idea for making wooden jewelry come about?

The idea came about organically. I was making coasters as gifts for my family and friends one Christmas while in grad school. The jewelry was born out of the desire to keep the off-cuts that resulted from those gifts out of the waste stream.


2. What is the inspiration for the pieces?

Geometry, sustainability, my family and friends.

3. What makes the jewelry sustainable?

The jewelry is made with re-purposed wood, originally off-cuts that would otherwise go to waste. In keeping with that, I now source salvaged wood or off-cut wood.

4. Where do you get the wood from?

It’s an ongoing search but I try to keep all my sourcing local.

5. Do you cut the wood chips yourself?

I prepare the raw wood myself in a woodshop. I cut each board and the jewelry pieces according to it’s shape, size, and grain of the wood. I then hand sand and finish each piece.

6. What kind of a woman do you see wearing your pieces?

I find Roots appeals to a wide range so I’ve seen interest from those who are sustainably minded, to the fashion forward. It’s a great blend of both.

7. Can you tell me about your background?

I received my Masters of Industrial Design from Pratt a few years ago. It was through my study abroad in Copenhagen during my time in grad school where I fell in love with wood as a material. There was a great amount of respect and appreciation for the tree from which the wood came. I connected with that and the natural beauty of wood.

8. How did the name Roots come about?

Roots means many things. It references where wood comes from, the tree. It also refers to whom I originally created the jewelry for, my family and friends. And the name Roots also refers to this jewelry line being the foundation from which Vanessa Chew Designs begins. ♥


Source4Style Makes Sourcing Eco Fabrics so Easy, You’ll Have Time to Design

Benita Singh Source4Style

Benita Singh

by Nevena Rousseva

“Search, sample, and source”

I’ve always been interested in how and where designers source their fabric. Finding that gem of a mill that produces a fabulous weight silk with just the right sheen, or one that makes a flowy cotton fabric with the perfect drape can make all the difference. Sourcing is such an important component of designing and designers spend a considerable amount of time doing it. Without the right fabric a designer’s vision won’t be fully executed and the dynamic of the collection may fall flat. When I was a design student at FIT, finding the right fabric in the right color was the most important thing for my designs. I’d spend more hours sourcing in the Garment District, than I did designing.

And I’m just talking about sourcing conventional fabrics, not environmentally friendly ones. Those are even harder to find. Years ago I didn’t know where to look. I’d spend hours searching the internet only to find a relatively empty marketplace. But in recent years things have changed. There are many companies making high quality eco textiles. Still, you had to do some digging to find these new suppliers. That is until Source4Style came on the scene. The online tradeshow that brings you sustainable fabrics from 32 countries in one place has become the shining star and beacon of light for easily sourcing eco textiles.

Friends Benita Singh and Summer Rayne Oakes co-founded Source4Style in late 2010. Several months of discussions culminated in Benita quitting her job with a marketing agency in 2011 to build up Source4Style. I caught up with Benita, who is soft spoken, but with intelligent eyes, at her New York City co-working office in the Garment District.

Source4Style is in a growth period. Last summer the site had about 40 fabric suppliers. It is now up to 140.  “We really wanted to rapidly increase the size of the market place in order to really create a comprehensive sourcing tool” explain Benita of the company’s focus on growth.  They’ve added new features on the site, like searching suppliers based on the minimum amount of fabric needed “So designers can find suppliers that not only meet their design criteria but also meet their business criteria as well” notes Benita.

The most critical thing about Source4Style is that it now does the heavy lifting for designers in terms of sourcing, which allows designers to spend more time designing and developing the other parts of their business. The company finds suppliers through tradeshows, LinkedIn groups, general market research, and international trade commissions. Part of Source4Styles’s social mission as Benita explains, is to “expand market access for suppliers that can’t afford to go to tradeshows”. It also works the other way. Source4Stye brings new fabrics to the designers who can’t afford to go to tradeshows and access new suppliers. That’s a win-win.

The company vets all potential suppliers using a comprehensive questionnaire that has been expanded to include social compliance. Before the categories were organic, recycled, fair trade, and preservation of craft and culture. Now the vetting includes social compliance to account for suppliers who support local enterprises and add value to a community, but their textiles and practices may not fall into one of the mentioned categories. Benita gives an example. A family owed mill in Prato, Italy that is making fine cashmere that may not be certified organic or recycled, but still produces an excellent material that’s non-toxic or synthetic, and has a great story from a small family owned business. Benita puts it this way, “We don’t want to be the definers of what sustainability means. Our goal is to provide the platform that allows designers to make their own decision about what sustainability means to them and how they want to be supporting the industry and not be exclusive in the sense of – ‘no you did not meet this regulation so you can’t be on Source4Style’. That said we obviously have to have a high level of vetting in place to make sure we are living up to our mission of promoting socially responsible sourcing.”

The vetting process was expanded in order to really support small suppliers. However, Source4Style does not exclude major players from using their platform. For example Toray, a multi-billion dollar textile company out of Japan, who are pioneers in developing a vegan ultra suede, use Source4Style to reach customers.“Everyone is on Source4Style for a different reason, but they all come back to our core of providing much needed alternatives in the industry” says Benita

There are over 5,000 designers using Source4Style coming from 76 countries. Most of the designers are coming from the US, however a lot of traffic has been coming from Australia and New Zealand. One reason is because they are not located in the vicinity of the major textile trading shows that take place in New York, London, and Paris. Source4Style gives designers in more isolated areas increasing access to textiles without the hefty travel expenses. Many of the designers using the platform are small brands, however established companies like Calvin Klein and Tory Burch have also signed on to use Source4Style.

Benita and her team of 5 are currently working to bring new features to the site. For example they are talking to groups like Cradle to Cradle and GOTS about ways to educate suppliers in order to help them transition to more sustainable practices. They are also beefing up content on the site. One of the key pieces is the interactive trends reports. These reports are about linking market trends with the textiles found on the site. As Benita puts it “It’s not just here is a great material we found, but here is a great material and here is how it aligns with the trends that you are seeing.”

In the next year or so the company hopes to move to their own office where designers can come in and swatch directly.  “We are a technology company” says Benita “but we understand that the offline-online experience is so important.” Source4Style also wants to continue to grow, and have enough suppliers to rival an offline tradeshow that typically has anywhere from 700 to 1000 suppliers. By the end of this year they are looking to have 350 suppliers showcasing on Source4Style.

So if you are a designer looking for environmentally conscious fabrics, then Source4Style is the place for you. Even if you are not currently looking for fabrics, make sure you check out this innovative new platform that is disrupting traditional ways of doing business in the fashion industry.

You can sign up to use the site here. When you do, make sure you download the Spring Summer 2014 trend report.

For more on Benita and her team click here.

Priti by Design: Let Me Count The Ways You Can Wear This Clothing Line

Priti By Design.

by Nevena Rousseva

Imagine your closet having only a handful of pieces. Among them- a smart suit, a skirt, a sexy dress shirt, and an evening gown. Forget the clutter bomb that most of us call our closets. The idea of so little clothing can be scary though. But what if the suit coat changed into a cropped jacket, the pant converted into shorts, the skirt doubled up as a sleek cape, and the evening dress meta-morphed into a cocktail dress or a night on the town dress.

This is clothing that transforms and does double even triple duty. This is Priti by Design clothing.

I first met Priti Bali-Kahn, the designer behind the label and a vivacious woman with a dark-haired bob and talkative spirit, a year ago after her first collection debuted during fashion week. Recently Priti invited me to join her at the historical ‘21’ Club in mid-Manhattan for a promotional photo-shoot for her Fall 2013 collection shot by photographer Bill Gregorio. The model was Amber Creighton from NBC’s News Butterfly. I got to talk to Priti about her collection, inspirations and sustainable initiatives.


21 Club Priti By Design Amber Creighton Evening Gown

An evening dress made for dinner at the famous ’21’ Club wine cellar


21 Club Priti By Design Amber Creighton Cocktail Dress

Transformed into cocktail attire


21 Club Priti By Design Amber Creighton Club Dress

And later drinks at the bar


Priti’s collection is vibrant, luxurious, and most importantly, it’s fun. Her inspiration is the classic silhouette and as Priti puts it “These are statement pieces, they are not trends, they are not fads, they are classic.” She is drawn to classic shaped because they look good on different body types and will be relevant for years to come. The image of the suit below, for example is inspired by Coco Chanel. It’s paired with a lace shirt equipped with a removable ruffle. “That’s Coco Chanel, masculinity and suddenly a touch of femininity that you are not expecting” Priti says. The capes and boatneck top are inspired by Alexander McQueen, and that gorgeous evening dress up above was inspired by Priti’s own Carolina Herrera wedding dress. She envisions Audrey Hepburn, the inspiration for her harem pants and peplum suit, wearing this outfit on one of her UNICEF missions.


Priti By Design Turquoise Suit

Coco Chanel turquoise inspired suit


Priti By Design Turquoise Suit

Bam! the turquoise suit transformed. The ruffle on the blouse comes off


Priti doesn’t want her clothing to be exclusive and out of reach for customers. “I want the middle class to access my clothes” she notes. Her clothing is priced between $150 and $350, a price point that is affordable and does not exploit those who make her clothing. And as Priti says “They all do double duty, every single piece does double duty. It’s 2 in 1 at least”.  And if you think of it that way, the clothes cost even less. Another interesting thing is her pricing strategy. “I priced out my collection separately with each piece being independent of every other piece but working together… so if the woman just wanted the reversible little black dress then that’s what she gets” says Priti. The concept makes a lot of sense. If you have a special event and you want to dress up that little black dress, you can for example get the fish tail and top and create a whole new dress.


Priti By Design Harem Pants Peplum Top

Audrey Hepburn inspired peplum top and harem pants


Priti By Design Harem Pants Transformed

Peplum top transformed into a sexy crop top and harem pants transformed into shorts


The designer is also conscious of the environmental impact the fashion industry creates. That’s why she is focused on  minimizing her impact. For the Fall 2013 collection she is using only silk, wool, and French lace. “There is no way to make nylon, polyester, or anything of the other crazy textiles, without hurting the environment” Priti notes. The clothing is dyed and produced in New York’s Garment Center. She worked with one of the last natural dyers left in New York City to crate the vibrant hues. Natural dyes still have chemicals involved, but the big difference is that those chemicals are not harmful to water systems. Synthetic dyes bring prices down, but heavily pollute the water that is discharged.  “I had to make a decision” Priti explains “Do I bring the price down or do I do it naturally?” She opted for natural. Priti is also focused on quality- “I don’t want my [clothes] 5-6 years down the line…coming apart, I want every one of my pieces to be in a woman’s wardrobe a minimum of 5 years.”


Priti By Design Skirt As Cape

First a skirt


Priti By Design Skirt As Cape

Then a cape


21 Club Priti By Design Amber Creighton Cape

Amber outside the ’21’ Club wearing the cape


One of the perks of Priti’s modular clothing is how easy it would be to travel with them. Literally you take a few pieces and you can be set for an entire week. And with the hassle of traveling today, that’s a big deal.


Priti By Design Dress And Cape

The black mini dress reversed and worn with the fishtail as cape. Let me count the ways to wearing these pieces…


Priti envisions Audrey Hepburn wearing her clothes, but as for real life celebrities, she would like to see Charlize Theron, Rosario Dawson and Mindy Kaling wearing her pieces because “these are all women with substance.” She wants her women to be “rich, fabulous, good at what they do, but always with a heart that says what can I do and give back to my community.” She herself is giving back, donating 10% of gross sales to Sakhi and Global Kids. She is looking to build more than just a fashion business, she is looking to create a social enterprise that can give back.

Are Priti by Design’s clothes the way of the future? Clothing that looks great and gives you options without cluttering your closet- I definitely think so!

To find out more about Priti, her clothing, and where to buy click here.

Bundshop Brings Chinese Design To The World

Double Cross Kick Eyes Glasses Nono Muaks

by Nevena Rousseva

“Made in China is dead. Designed in China killed it.”

We are all familiar with “made in China”. From clothing and shoes, to houseware, to electronics, pretty much everything we use is made in China. Now a days when I check where a product is made I am usually surprised when it’s not made in China. Many of us, or at least me, are used to thinking of China as the manufacturer of the world, the “made in China” synonymous with products as consuming is synonymous with today’s world. But what about designed in China? Now that’s something new. There hasn’t been a website where we could explore Chinese design…that is until now.


Bundshop Crush Cashmere Dress

Crush Cashmere Dress


Introducing Bundshop,the Shanghai based, one-year old start-up company that brings Chinese design to the world. Bundshop came about after co-founders Diana Tsai and Stephany Zoo, realized they where surrounded by an untapped market of talented Chinese fashion and industrial designers. Out of this they developed Bundshop, the first online platform to feature higher end  “designed in China” products. The “bund” in Bundshop is the waterfront area in central Shanghai where ships enter and bring goods in and out of Shanghai. Diana and Stephany had the same idea for their start-up, in that they are opening the port for Chinese designers to “come out” of China and American consumers to “come in” and explore Chinese designs.


Bundshop RI By Carrie Leggings

RI By Carrie Leggings


Bundshop’s goal is not just to sell products, but to also tell the diverse stories behind each brand. Here is a sampling. The brand SoZen came about after a professor brought students to one of the oldest bamboo craftsman villages and saw old artisans who used to make baskets and decorative items for high-ranking individuals of the communist party. The craft was dying out and he felt heart-broken, so he created SoZen in order to fuse contemporary aesthetic with the ancient art form of bamboo weaving. This way he is able to bring Chinese aesthetic back to modern times and preserve an old Chinese craft.


SoZen Tall Vase

SoZen Vase


At NuoMi, Bonita Lin, the designer behind the luxury fashion label uses her company as a platform for social change. After meeting a four-year old child prostitute, she started working with disabled orphans and single mothers, teaching them not just to sew, but tangible skill like how to produce an entire line. Besides providing livelihoods for the underprivileged, the company also provides surgeries for handicapped orphans.

Nuomi Red Coat

NuoMi Coat


Most of these products are hand-made so quantities per items are very low. Like designer Mary H, who hand makes the bags she designs. Quantities per style are around three or four, because she doesn’t want her customers to walk down the street and see someone else carrying the same bag.


Bundshop Mary H Grape Brown Back Folded

Mary H bag


Featured designers are from cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hansol, as well as from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Most of the designers on Bundshop have classical Chinese backgrounds in painting and calligraphy, or engineering backgrounds such as mechanical and electrical. Only two designers have a formal design background that they acquired in foreign schools. “In the US, Europe, and Australia there are all these amazing design programs” explains Stephany, and until recently “that kind of education was not available in China.”


Bundshop John Meng Wine Bottle

John Meng wine bottle


The educational environment in China around design has been changing. “In the past 10 years the number of design programs in China has quadrupled” says Stephany “Today there is almost 400 programs in China alone with an estimated 10,000 designers graduating every year. The next couple of years will be the first tide of really Chinese designers that are coming out.”


Bundshop Guang Lu Pen Holder

Guang Lu pen holder


Bundshop is coming at the right time in China as more designers are starting to emerge. Many want  intentional exposure, but don’t know how to go about it. Stephany explains it like this, “The only way without Bundshop to get [international exposure] is by selling on Etsy, Ebay, or Amazon, and none of those sites are focused on artisan designers…and sites like Fab.com are more apprehensive to take Chinese designers.” Intellectual property is also a factor. When a designer grows to a certain point in China, intellectual property and copying become a major concern. Copying is so ubiquitous there, that some designers don’t market their designs because they are afraid of copying.



Bundshop Latitude22 Plate

Latitude 22 plate


Growing into international markets is one way to avoid the rampant copying. “If [designers] are able to grow in international markets first, they can get big and come back to China, and having to deal with intellectual property [issues] is not as big a deal” explains Stephany, elaborating that “In China there’s these cloning companies, and when you put any of your design on a website like Taobao, the Chinese version of Ebay you have about six months before a cloning company comes, picks up your design, mass manufactures it, and sells it for a quarter of what price you have.” Bundshop is giving emerging designer a way to grow internationally, where copying is frowned upon.


Bundshop Random Dsign T-shirt

Random Dsign t-shirt


At the end of February, Bundshop will launch the new invitation-only website that will feature a total of 50 designers. The site will be featuring one new product every 24 hours. Each designer will have their own designer boutique where a carefully chosen pieces will be available for sale after the 24 hour period is over. Designers will range from architectural, graphic and fashion, which will give a more comprehensive view of design in China.

Check them out!

Fashion Meets Health: The Neodandi Way


by Nevena Rousseva

Neodandi is a brand that wants to make fashion healthy. The Seattle-based, but soon to be New York based label is about creating fashion for the individual that will bringing health and well-being to them. The inspiration for the brand is the spirit of humanity. Their tagline is “your inner vision is your outer exhibition.”

I met Niilartey De Osu, the Ghana born designer behind Neodandi and Mani, the director of operations, Niilartey’s muse and “other brain” at a tea shop in Chelsea to learn more about the line. Walking in they stood out as individuals, carrying a strong presence. Originally a Neoillusionist painter, Niilartey started designing for a small boutique in 2004 when the owner who knew him as a painter asked him to do a collection.

Neodandi Niilartey De Osu

designer Niilartey De Osu

The name Neodandi stands for perpetually birthing elegance. Niilartey describes the first part ‘neo’ as “perpetual motion” and ‘dandi’ comes from for the dandy style movement in the late 18th and early 19th century that birthed the tuxedo. To illustrate the importance of dressing well to the dandies, he tells me of a letter George Washington wrote to his nephew during the American War advising him what to wear. “These people knew the power of clothing, the power of presentation” marvels Niilartey.


He has a different approach to clothing. His focus is on the individual rather than the fashion. For him “it’s the individual that determines the fashion.” He thinks about how a piece of clothing he creates can serve the individual wearing it. “For me it’s all about health. [The clothing] has to be able to somehow psychologically improve the persons outlook.” By better health Niilartey is talking about mental as well as physical health. “If you are thinking the right thoughts you think about taking care of your body. It automatically becomes part of your activity. If you create to serve the person you are creating it for, the object starts to generate life of its own, without that design has no meaning.”

Neodandi Fall 2012

Niilartey does a lot of custom design for individual clients. The client will give him a general idea of what they want and the design idea comes to Niilartey by looking at the client. “When you walk into the space I’m feeling your energy what kind of person you are. Then I start talking to you, I usually don’t have anything in mind, I try not to anyway. If I do I always know I’m going to discard it right away.” He doesn’t formulate the idea, nor does he show the client any sketches. Instead he makes the clothing directly on the client. “I drape it on them and I start cutting. The whole time I’m asking questions- how does it feel?, do you like this?, how is the fabric?…I don’t let you look at the mirror so you don’t know what I’m doing. You’re just feeling it in the process….it’s very akin to medicine.”

And the results? “Almost 100% the person loves it”


This is his way of work. He doesn’t sketch because “sketching predetermines outcome, which means that I’m imposing onto the design, and the design I believe has its own realm, own timing, and a good designer is someone who is aware of the timing…and the timing really determines the cut and the direction …and by following these nuances a design comes out that first you didn’t set out to do, that is completely surprising to you and the one who is wearing it, and you get to experience it with the person who is wearing it, and I’m saying wow as the person is saying wow. Usually the person will do a spin or a dance.”

The time it takes him to create a piece of clothing varies. It could take several days if the piece is elaborate or it could take several hours. He tells me of a project he did with a photographer friend of his who photographed him working from the moment he grabbed the fabric and started draping on a model to the actual creation of the garment. It took three hours.


Niilartey has no enthusiasm for the way clothing is made today. Designers today he says “are not thinking of a specific individual they are thinking of a blank cutout person that everyone will go and fit themselves into. But each person is not alike and yet we pretend everyone is alike and we make clothes for everyone to be alike.” But with Neodandi he says  “you have a few pieces that you just switch around because they are all you every time you put it on your body it fits every curve on your body it goes into every part, the design is cut on you so when you put it on your body there’s alway a memory attached, what you felt like when it was first made, so you are always re-living that memory.”

He is not keen about traditional runway shows either saying “runway has been done so many times that people are dead to it now, it’s become standard, and yet nobody ever walks through life walking down a runway, nobody.” To him a fashion show is what we have been doing for the past 20 minutes, sitting around a table talking. This more normal situation is where “all of a sudden you see life happening just like you see it all the time you see how the pieces are worn in a situation, you see that the piece is moved and enjoyed around the body.” Mani adds another good point “you also see how fashionable life really is and it brings your attention to the beauty that we do experience at all times in our way and we can all see it as opposed to abstracting it thinking that beauty is there for models walking back and forth on the runway.”


This turns the conversation to the larger issue of the mostly unhealthy modeling industry. Niilartey says”When I look at models they look dead, they look like they are not eating, they have no energy to give to anything, you wanna see them having fun. They are wearing amazing clothes and they are like [he makes a face to portray the misery he sees on models’ faces on the runway].” He continues “seriously, you are putting 15 year olds that are so skinny into amazing garments and you are expecting them to convey adult ideas to adults, and you are expecting adults, who are not these 15 year olds, to buy this idea, and yet adults are doing it.”

So who does Niilartey want to see on the runway? “We want the person who is going to be wearing the clothes show you the clothes. If it’s you that’s going to be wearing them we want you on the runway so that people can see you and they can see themselves in you.” For the most recent Neodandi show he used real women who danced rather than walked the runway. The opening model was Mariya Hristo, who Niilartey describes as “short but powerful, really powerful woman, her walk is incredible and she is so into it” You won’t see skinny models at a Neodandi show. They want models that portray health. He continues talking about Mariya saying “she is very well fit and the idea for that is healthy model, this is our idea of a beauty, this is our idea of a person.” And the models aren’t supposed to be models. They are performers. “Mariya as a singular performer, we are creating models that are performers, They are performing modeling, they are not modeling.” The concept of health is very important to their presentation “we look for these types of women because that’s what we want to put out. That’s the kind of image we want to represent, the healthy image, a healthy person, because the world needs that, we need that.”

He believes designers are ultimately responsible for the kind of images they feed society and that most designers are “irresponsible in that they are feeding the public this stuff, and they are expecting the public to consume it and yet the public does not represent any of this stuff that is shown to them and the public should just boycott the whole thing, they should do it because it’s disrespectful and degrading.”


His hope for the fashion industry is that more designer will start to portray healthy images of women so that the industry can transform into “a very healthy industry where people running marathons are champions and people who are challenging themselves to do more are stepping up and showing what they can do.”

Designing is not about money for Niilartey. It’s about the emotional connections we create to clothing. To him “that emotion money can’t buy, and that’s all we are. That emotion is what you are creating for…If it’s just making clothes to make money, there’s many things I can go make money at, many different things. This business is a hard business and if I’m going to make clothes it has to be more than just making money I have to serve.”

Mani tells me a final story about a client to illustrate the healing power of Neodandi. This woman wandered into the Neodandi store and soon became a regular customers. Over time she shared that she had been diagnosed with a disease that caused her large amounts of pain. As the client became more acquainted with Niilartey and Mani she would say “I’m coming to you because I feel better when I wear Neodandi I’m coming to you because I feel like I’m getting health into my body when I put Neodandi on.” Mani says there have been other instances of clients proclaiming health benefits from interacting with Neodandi.


So what can we expect from Neodandi as it transitions from Seattle to New York?  For one thing everything in the store will be for sale including furniture and artwork. “The way we see the brand is as a total service to the individual.” In terms of clothing, the store will be a mix of small collections and seasonal pieces. “I observe design as a musical composition, you are always composing, you are always going. In the store you will see a seasonal change happen and the items in the store will be changing daily.” And of course the custom design component, will be kept. In fact Niilartey says custom will be done the most because “a lot of our customers, we’ve become friends with them. Once we have this kind of intimacy they are connected to you.”

Stay tuned for the store opening!

For more on Neodandi click here.