Rachel Denniston of Hipsters for Sisters

Rachel grew up in a small suburb of Los Angeles where she resides today. Growing up in a creative environment with her mother who is an artist, inspired her to study Art History and Chinese in a small liberal arts school in Lexington, Virginia. Hipsters for Sisters is a label she founded with her mother and sister. Read more about her and their fashion label, all made in their L.A. studio.

Tell us about family background – geography, culture, language, and religion.

I grew up in a small suburb of Los Angeles, California, where I reside today. When I was younger, my mother worked as a fine artist and I was always nearby while she painted on these huge, larger-than-life canvases. I was really lucky to always be surrounded by such creativity— paints and papers and craft supplies. I had a very creatively-enriched childhood. Today, my mom and I are business partners and I get to work with her full-time on Hipsters for Sisters.

hipsters for sisters handade bags

What is your personal story – education, prior work, and so on?

I studied Art History and Chinese at a small liberal arts school in Lexington, Virginia, but my passion has always been making things. Even when I was little, I’d be making purses out of glue and paper, so it just seemed fitting that during my senior year of college, my mother decided she wanted to reinvent the fanny pack and I was there to help her.

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

My interest in ethical and sustainable fashion sort of grew in an organic way. I’d been vegetarian since as early as I could remember, and so when my mom and I decided to start making bags, we couldn’t bring ourselves to use real leather —so naturally, we chose vegan leather instead. While we were perfecting our first designs, we learned about the toxicity of certain vegan leathers like PVC, so then we became even more discerning about the types of fabrics we used. We saw it as a necessity for everything we sourced to be safe for the environment and also the people wearing and making it. Although leather is always the least sustainable option in terms of fabric, we place strict requirements on the vegan leathers we do use. We require them to be free from organic solvents, odors and environmental toxins such as formaldehyde, pesticides, phenols, chlorine, heavy metals, carcinogenic and allergy-inducing dyes common in many synthetic leathers.

How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?

There are so many different facets to having your own fashion brand, and so to be quite frank, it took a while for us to get the lay of the land and figure out how it all works. Although, I do think the study of art and art historical movements really helped with design.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

Ethical and sustainable fashion brands are really the future. I think, in a sense, ethical fashion is a movement against the rise of fast fashion, and rightfully so. It’s a return to ethical and local ways of manufacturing — slow fashion, small quantities and local production means a lower impact on the planet. And if we can do all that while using sustainable and renewable textiles, then hallelujah(!), we finally found a better and more conscious way of participating in fashion. If we no longer have a planet upon which to wear clothes, then what’s the point of making them?

Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?

I love what Reformation is doing in terms of sustainable fashion. They’ve really changed the game by making it cool to care about the planet and has in turn, helped out a lot of us, small, sustainable fashion brands. I also really respect and look to the influential people that are using their power for good like Leonardo DiCaprio, and sustainable fashion icon, Emma Watson, and of course, the celebrities who participate in the Red Carpet, Green Dress movement by wearing (and re-wearing) sustainable gowns for red carpet events.

Hipsters for Sisters pocket bum bag in Saddle.

What is Hipsters for Sisters?

Hipsters for Sisters (www.hipstersforsisters.com) is a Los-Angeles based, hands-free bag brand on a mission to liberate women from their baggage. All of our bags are meant to be worn as belt bags (a revamped version of the fanny pack) and some convert to be worn crossbody. As a modern company, we believe we have a responsibility to the earth and so all of our bags are made locally and sustainably, using only the highest quality sustainable and cruelty free materials available.

What inspired the title of the organization?

Hipsters for Sisters is all about empowering women. 5% of the purchase price of every bag sold is donated to organizations that help empower women, protect the planet and animals. The name, Hipsters for Sisters, felt right, as we’ve always wanted to create a type of community for women (or sisters, if you will).

What are some of its feature products?

One of our best selling items is the Pocket Bum Bag (http://www.hipstersforsisters.com/bum-bag-pocket-xl-black). They’re made with eco-friendly certified vegan leathers, Ultrasuede (made from post-industrial recycled materials) and organic cotton lining. These are really popular because they’re particularly roomy inside, so you can take a lot of stuff with you, and also people love that you can slip your phone in the front external pocket which allows for easy access.

What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?

We use eco-friendly certified vegan leathers and natural materials like organic cotton, hemp, and cork. We also use Ultrasuede, made from post-industrial recycled material. Sourcing is the hardest part for us, and we are always on the lookout for new, innovative, sustainable materials.

Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Hipsters for Sisters?

Our bags are all made locally here in Los Angeles by a family-run factory that treats its employees with respect and love. Our factory is just a few miles from our office, which makes it easy to run over and check on production. They often put together “pot-luck” style lunches where each one of them brings a homemade dish and shares with one another. We are so lucky to have such skilled craftsmen and women working on our bags and the opportunity to meet and visit with them frequently, since they’re so close to our office.

Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?

Well, our bags are built so last. So they should last you a good ten or so years, before they start wearing down. Although all of them will eventually biodegrade at some point, but probably not before you’re done using the bag.

Hipsters for Sisters Convertible Belt Bag in Gunmetal

What is your customer base – the demographics?

Our bags are for all women, of all ages, all races, all ethnicities. All women need and want to be liberated and empowered. We are for everyone…except men, at the moment— but we are working on that! 😉

What topics most interest you?

I’m always interested in new ethical brands and innovative sustainable textiles. Also, art and how it intersects with fashion.

What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?

It’s rewarding to be part of a movement that is working to clean up the fashion industry, the second most polluting industry on the planet, and create more sustainable and ethical choices for consumers for a better, healthier way of shopping. It’s also rewarding to be able to give back and support organizations doing incredible things for our planet. Because of our customers, we’re able to give to organizations that help empower women, protect the planet, and animals. For example, last spring we saved almost 300 acres of Sumatran Rainforest through the Rainforest Trust, creating a save haven for critically endangered wildlife including the Sumatran tiger, elephant and orangutan and keeping the land lush with C02 loving plants and giving these animals a permanent place to call home.

What other work are you involved in at this point in time?

Hipsters for Sisters is my full time job, however, I also do some freelance writing on sustainable and ethical fashion.

Any recommended means of contacting, even becoming involved with, Hipsters for Sisters?

Of course, you can reach out to me at contact@hipstersforsisters.com and sign up for our newsletter (http://eepurl.com/F_wv9) to stay in touch with us about upcoming sales, events, and what’s new.

Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me about sustainable fashion. So grateful for people like you helping to bring awareness for the need of transparency in the fashion industry, and helping consumers making more responsible and ethical buying decisions.

Thank you for your time, Rachel.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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