An Interview with Hillary Sampliner of Nuvango (Part One)

Hillary Sampliner is the creative and fashion director at Nuvango, an innovative sustainable fashion brand that is heading 3D printing for the fashion industry. Know more about Hillary and Nuvango below!

Tell us about yourself – familial/personal story, education, and prior work.

HIllary Sampliner

HIllary Sampliner

I grew up in a neighbourhood called Parkdale in downtown Toronto, an artistic and multicultural neighbourhood that provided me with profound social and cultural experiences that shaped the type of creative I am today. Relentlessly pursuing artistic endeavors as a child, I was lucky to have the encouragement and support of my parents who would sign me up for art classes, entertain my ever changing crafting needs, and educate me artistically and culturally by taking me to neighbourhood festivals, museums, and art galleries. It was no surprise when I had my heart set on attending Etobicoke School of the Arts (ESA) for high school. I auditioned and was accepted as a visual arts major where I met some of my closest friends and collaborators today. I honed my artistic skills at ESA and developed a passion for design and textiles, designing a collection for the school’s fashion show, and as yearbook editor. I decided to attend Ryerson School of Fashion for University, gaining a Bachelor of Design Degree, and several awards for my final collection.

Graduating university is where my real adventure began, I decided to open up a small studio doing custom bridal and eveningwear in downtown Toronto, and simultaneously designing collections for my brand, Ruth Weil. Named after my grandmother, Ruth Weil had a good run of three years showing at Fashion Art Toronto, garnering the attention of stylists, actors, and media, and helped me figure out my own strengths and weaknesses as a designer and business owner. It came to a point where I no longer felt I was learning, developing, or feeling rewarded by my work. I was barely making ends meet, and I had a slew of service industry side jobs to keep me on my feet. I needed a change.

When most people go back to school for a masters, I decided to sell everything I owned and move to Europe for an unpaid internship. I considered this to be continuing the educational path that was right for me. I wanted to learn new techniques, be challenged, and gain hands on experience working abroad for one of idols, Iris van Herpen. Moving to Amsterdam to work in a Couture house was one of the best career decisions I’ve ever made, I learned trade secrets of the Couture industry, was inspired into new ways of thinking about challenges, and gained confidence in my abilities as a designer and an artist. Working with Iris was not fun or easy, she is a difficult person but also a genius. Learning skills like laser cutting, 3D printing, and participating in Paris Couture Fashion Week made the negative experiences all worth it.

I ended up leaving after 6 months and moving to the UK where I worked for Mary Katrantzou, a digital print based fashion designer. She was a wonderful mentor, boss and creative. I helped prepare for the Fall 2013 London Fashion Week showing with Mary and her team, and then moved back to Toronto to catch my breath.

HIllary sampliner 3d printed fashion

3D printed fashion by Hillary Sampliner

In 2014 I attended the first 3D Printing for Fashion Design Masterclass in New York City at Eyebeam partnered with NYU and Shapeways. I was one of ten participants over a two month course teaching the technical skills needed to create 3D printed apparel but also analyzing the social, economic, environmental, and aesthetic implications of designing using this technology. I was connected with some heavy hitters in the 3D printing world and absorbed as much information as I could in the hopes of becoming somewhat of an expert in the field. I teamed up with two other participants to make a 3D printed garment that contains over 800 separate and movable parts interconnected to make a mesh-like structure. This piece was displayed twice in New York City in art galleries, and was featured at Dutch Design Week, as well as written about in Wired Magazine, Huffington Post, and several other publications. This piece had inspired other projects since its release in 2014 that have taken the concept a step further. Since coming back to Toronto for the second time, I began working at Nuvango, starting as an associate designer, and quickly moving my way up to become the Fashion Director.

What is the importance of ethical fashion to you?

Ethical fashion has been a part of my dialogue since first year university where we learned about overseas manufacturing, sweatshops, and the waste produced by the fashion industry. It made me passionate and aware, and was a turning point in my beliefs about the industry. I vowed then and there to never work for a company whose practices were unethical. This made my career path that much more challenging because there are so few companies that follow a sustainable and ethical supply chain, but this also makes the work I do now that much more important.

After closing my business and before moving to Europe I was looking for work. I was working retail and wanted desperately to get back into design in some way. I applied for several design jobs in and around Toronto, landing an interview with a high profile fast fashion house. I was never passionate about securing the job as print designer but I needed something. I was given a trial assignment to knock off a Chloe floral print to the best of my ability. I was shocked. I didn’t think it was right. As I dug deeper I  started to hear unsavory feedback about this company from current, and past, employees citing some of the companies best practices which included such actions as negotiating lower garment costs with overseas factories. Connecting the dots I knew this also meant the people sewing the garments would be in unsafe conditions for slave wages.

Shortly after declining the position with this fast fashion retailer, one of their factories collapsed, killing over a thousand innocent people. I was happy I had made the decision to decline the job, but I was outraged that no one was taking responsibility. In the race to the bottom, none of the companies who negotiate for lower garment costs wanted to admit that their decisions were directly related to slave wages, unsafe working conditions and thus, the factory collapse. Ignorance was no excuse in my opinion, anyone who has ever sewn knows how much time and skilled work goes into making something as basic as a tee shirt, and that buying a tee shirt for under a dollar does not add up to fair wages or good working conditions.

I wanted to do something, I decided I needed to change the industry from within, from the position of the designer, of the business. I made it my goal to find a company that prided itself on local and ethical manufacturing, and to set an example of what an ethical business could look like. I wanted to show that consumers are willing to pay a higher price to know that their clothes were made with care by people like themselves, who are paid fairly for their skilled work. I wanted to show that a seamstress, a printing press operator, and a garment cutter are respectable and highly skilled jobs that should be regarded as such. I made it my career goal to find a company that shared this value where I could help shape the new face of ethical manufacturing.

What is the importance of sustainable fashion to you?

Sustainable and ethical fashion are one in the same in my opinion. Conducting a business in a sustainable way is ethical, in turn, part of being an ethical business means partaking in sustainable practices.

3D printed textile by Hillary Sampliner

3D printed textile by Hillary Sampliner

The apparel industry has evolved since the industrial revolution to become one of the most wasteful and fickle industries. The demand for trendy, disposable clothing is what drives the fast fashion industry to produce for volume at a low cost rather than quality. The implications of fast fashion are only now being discussed despite the industry moving in this direction since the 1950’s. Before mass production, clothing was made to last and would be cared for, repaired and passed on for generations until it literally fell apart.

Eliminating disposable clothing in favour of quality, long lasting garments is the only way to move in a sustainable direction. Rethinking the way we consume clothing as a society and reconsidering the perceived low value we put on garments will foster a new appreciation for garment workers, their skills, and a willingness to pay a premium for quality garments.

What is Nuvango – its title, mission, productions, and vision?

NU-VAN-GO, rhymes with mango – comes from the idea of “the new Van Gogh”

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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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