I grew up with a mother who was a textile designer in Manhattan, surrounded by the fashion industry. Some of my first memories are going to meetings with my mum at other designers’ showrooms and watching her create beauty through fabric. While she was working in her studio airbrushing new sweater sketches, I would be sitting next to her, colouring my own “creations”.
I love fashion as a way to relate to the world around you. Especially growing up in NYC, the energy you feel is like nothing else. But my mother, being a part of that world, was always quick to point out to me the less glamorous side of fashion, the profit over ethics, the unrealistic beauty standards, the impact on the environment, and the health of factory workers.
I knew I wanted to design, but I was also aware of all the ethical implications, which made me feel stuck. It was a dream I kept in the back of my mind. Every time I thought of it I would end up with the fear that in an attempt to create, I would end up destroying.
I like to believe that everyone wants to be as good as possible, wants to do the best they can. I think anyone would agree that there is nothing smart about killing. There is nothing stylish in suffering. There is nothing chic in exploitation. However, I think there are two main problems that stop that ethic from rooting in reality: the ease of technology, and ironically, how it has led to the loss of consciousness about how interconnected everything on this planet is.
When you can get whatever you want at a moment’s notice, including shoes from Amazon Prime at 2am, you can lose track of the true cost of these items. It is easy to forget how the animal who was killed relates to the sea around it, how raising cattle truly impacts the earth, how the the leather from the slaughtered cow is produced, polluting the water, sickening workers, and onward. It is natural to then feel helpless and overwhelmed when you become aware of the cycle of suffering and exploitation in production and how we are all part of it.
The frustration in all these things is huge. Frustration at the waste and pollution that happens in the typical fashion cycle, frustration at animals being used as fashion. Frustration that so little is crafted locally anymore. Frustration with the typical fashion calendar that asks for designs at least 6 months ahead of product. Frustration at the options that are out there for larger sizes, with cheap fabric and badly cut, garbage bag-like shapes.
I think when you say “I’m not going to stay trapped in this frustration, I’m not going to sit back and feel helpless anymore, I will do something about it, I’m going to do my part to create that change” – that’s when change happens. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about progress. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway. If I waited until I felt like I was ready, I would still be waiting.
We created Djuna Shay as a response to the feeling of ‘it always has been that way’. We need to have clothing options that mirror what is needed right now – and that’s cool, chic accessories and clothing, made in the U.S., that make people feel good through what they are wearing as well as the choices they are supporting when they buy from us. I want to help change the concept of what people might think of when they hear the words “vegan” and “fashion”, so that they don’t feel like they are missing out on anything style-wise. We need to keep promoting a future of fashion that doesn’t make someone say style or substance. We need to encourage a shift where they can both exist together.
One of my favorite aspects of designing is getting to collaborate with people who share the same heart and similar goals. Ashlee Piper is my friend. She’s also the vegan powerhouse behind the popular blog The Little Foxes. Devoted to all things beauty, with a vegan and an eco twist, her blog is, in Ashlee’s words, and I couldn’t agree more “vegan and chic as hell.” Our collaboration with Ashlee came about in a truly organic manner. What started as thoughts of t-shirts turned to a makeup bag or everyday clutch – and then we realised it was something that was missing and needed.
One of the largest problems in the fashion and textile industry is the amount of leftover fabrics and materials from the cutting and sewing process. A vast amount of fabric is not used and considered to be a “waste product” which then goes into landfills. Not good. When creating our bags, we needed to find a better solution. What once would have been considered ” the cutting waste” in the production process of another larger canvas product, is now used as our bag.
On Ashlee’s last visit to NYC I got a chance to see her, have some coffee and enjoy the glorious sunshine, while chatting about our collaboration.
DD : What was your vision for our collab?
AP : Well, we’ve been friends for a while and started out to create a single-concept, high-design shirt. That then evolved over time and we began to think: 1) there are so many awesome options (many of which are made by our friends) for message t-shirts and apparel, and 2) there aren’t really any animal-rights message small accessories that are a little irreverent. I love the idea of wearing your values, but I also wanted something that would be highly functional and could go with any outfit or anywhere with you. Plus, I’m a big makeup lover, and I couldn’t find fun, roomy makeup bags that had sayings I was into (sorry, but the whole “I’d cry, but my mascara is designer” thing didn’t resonate with me). You sourced the incredible zero-waste, made in the USA, roomy-as-heck bags, and we collaborated on the sayings and designs.
DD :Refining, refining, refining is a big part of any collection. It was definitely a part of ours – we worked through 9 or 10 different design ideas before we came to the final ones.
AP: Oh, hell yeah! I liked that we could also balance our aesthetics. You love bold prints and brights. I dig minimalist stuff. I thought having a bag with a fox reference would be a nice hark to my brand and my own personal motto, “red lips and rescue dogs are my Religion” is my favorite one. I think we struck a nice balance of portraying these in a way that’s wearable, no matter what peoples’ styles are.
DD: What was the most fun about collaborating?
AP: Getting to work with you (duh). It was a zero-pressure, all-fun process, which is very unlike how I tackle work in my professional life and with my brand. We were just enjoying creating things and bouncing ideas around with no timeline or serious expectations. I mean, really. How often can you do that?
DD : Right? It means you can send endless rhyming text messages, when creating phrases too.
AP: And have conversations entirely comprised of emoji and animal GIFs. Definitely unlike other business meetings in my career. Ha! Seriously, though, I’d urge anyone who wants to put something positive out there for animals and the planet – be it a product or a concept – to just start. I’m not a designer by trade, but I’m lucky enough to know lots of talented people who are. Just because you’re not quite sure how to execute on your ideas doesn’t meet you shouldn’t start somewhere. While this isn’t a high-design collab by any stretch, establishing the working relationship and understanding the logistics definitely paves the way for other future, more ambitious projects.
Shop the The Little Foxes x Djuna Shay collection here.