Conscious Elegance creates fun, ethically sourced eco-chic wedding attire at a fair price. Sustainability, social responsibility, & affordability are their priorities and reflected in every aspect of their business. Designer Lori, tells us more.
Tell us about family background – geography, culture, language, and religion.
When I hear the words ‘family background’ I think of my parents. I was born of Italian and Austrian/Romanian parents in upstate NY and we moved south to small-town Maryland, first on the Eastern Shore (Salisbury) then in Central MD (Fredrick), for my formative years. I have one sister who is 20 months younger and she was my best friend throughout our childhoods. My culture growing up was one of crafting, frugality and DIY, though not what one might consider artistic. My family valued education and independence and my mother went back to college when I was a pre-teen; I was able to watch her graduate, which was an incredibly proud day for all of us. Language: Spoke English at home but studied every possible foreign language at school (I wanted to travel!).
Tell us about your story – education, prior work, and so on?
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in English Lit, Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP). Still licensed and certified as a speech-language pathologist, because I worked too hard to give that up. I was previously certified in massage therapy not for a career but from a lifelong interest in holistic medicine. I figured that the best way to learn how to be healthy was to learn how bodies work. I put myself through grad school as a costumer for semi-professional theatre in Baltimore, Maryland which is where I truly learned to sew. I learned my craft through apprenticeship rather than from school and I believe that my way of learning was infinitely better for me. Worked as an SLP for 12 years before deciding to start a custom wedding dress design company that would cater to the hard-to-fit bride. Kept the company up for 10 years before deciding to move onto designing baby and household goods.
How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
While researching sources for my dress design business I became aware of both the horrors of factory conditions and the poisoning of lands & people through use of pesticides and production of petroleum-based fabrics. Until then, I’d had no idea what had gone into the cheap t-shirts I was wearing. I refused to be part of the problem and decided to Be the Change. I shifted my company’s focus to use reclaimed and eco-supportive materials exclusively, with a focus on local production and zero-waste business practices.
What seems like the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?
Again, our world has become polluted and depleted due to our squandering of resources. Her people have been exploited and abused, all in the name of ever-new and ever-cheap fashion. We need to be part of the solution and we need to lead the way.
The Brundtland Commission Report described the need for sustainability. In that, we, the human species, need to meet the “needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” for long-term sustainability. Does this seem correct to you?
It does seem correct, if for no other reason than the world has taken the opposite approach for so long and we see where that has gotten us. There may have been a time when there were so few people taking up so few resources that there was no need to think to the future. That time is long past.
How can ethical and sustainable fashion contribute to the long-term sustainable future for the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the environment?
There are several ways that come immediately to mind:
1) By reclaiming and re-using resources, we limit the consumption of raw materials and thus limit the energy needed to produce and refine them is greatly reduced.
2) By reclaiming and re-using resources, landfill space is spared and less land is required to be cleared to make room for our trash. This protects wildlife and real estate and preserves it for future generations.
3) By using ecologically sound practices to grow crops such as hemp and organic cotton, our land in use is spared the pollution of pesticides and herbicides. The surrounding flora and fauna and the people who grow and process these crops have a better chance of healthy lives. In addition, the land is kept viable for those who would come next.
4) By keeping production as local as possible, we support our communities and save fossil-fuel consumption by reducing shipping and transportation costs.
What is Conscious Elegance?
Conscious Elegance is a micro-brewed independent design company that creates beautiful and useful things from reclaimed, vintage and sustainable materials.
What inspired the title of the organization?
I wanted to convey the concept that conscious consumption could be beneficial and elegant. At the time I was creating the business (the early 2000’s), I was designing high-end wedding dresses and the pervasive thought was that eco-friendly and sustainable dresses had to be ugly and homespun, like a burlap sack. I wanted to show that Conscious does not equal Austerity.
What are some of its feature products?
Conscious Elegance is in transition at the moment; we had been focusing on sustainable fashion and design for the first 10 years of our journey. We’re now developing and designing high-end and useful household items such as infant crib sets and duvet covers using reclaimed and vintage silk, hemp and organic cotton.
What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?
See above. Besides reclaimed silks, our new materials are certified organic cottons and hemp blends. To my knowledge, currently the world’s hemp crops are principally grown in Romania and China, though we are hoping to change that with improved legislation.
Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Conscious Elegance?
Since we use mostly reclaimed and vintage fabrics, our manufacturers come from every time and every place.
Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?
Yes. The hemp and silk blends that we use have a 100 SBP rating, or Sustainable Biodegradable Product rating. This means that it was cultivated in a sustainable fashion and will biodegrade 100%.
As for our reclaimed fabrics, we are not able to predict the biodegradeability of each piece of vintage silk, but we focus on sourcing natural fabrics rather than petroleum-based products, with the intent that our fabrics will return to the soil like any other natural/biological substance.
What is the customer base – the demographics?
When we were creating wedding dresses, the demographics of our market were mostly age 20-40, educated and eco-minded, though we did have several clients who were glad to have a beautiful well-made custom gown regardless of the sustainability. We did our best to educate them while we made them look gorgeous on their special day.
What topics most interest you?
Frugal and sustainable living, wholistic health, archaeology, photorealistic drawing/painting.
Did someone mentor you?
No. Sadly it has been very difficult to find gurus in this field who were doing exactly what I’d wanted to do.
Have you mentored others?
Many (countless!) fiber arts students contact me from all over the world to learn more about hemp fabrics and sustainable business practices. I’m glad to give them info and send them swatches, free of charge, for their school projects. I also lecture regularly at local events to help educate the public, even presenting at the American Textile History Museum, where I had a gown on exhibit.
What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?
I get great satisfaction out of making something beautiful, and, even more importantly, something useful out of materials that had been discarded and unused. I believe in making the most of what we have.
Any other work at this time?
Besides working in fiber, I am a portrait artist, largely focusing on graphite as my medium but recently branching out into pastels. I show in local galleries and at sci-fi / fantasy conventions. I have several pieces online at http://www.afinelikeness.com/gallery/
Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?
While he may not be a fashionisto, the author Neil Gaiman is one of my all-time Inspirations. His commencement speech to the University of the Arts 2012 is a piece that every creative person should take to heart. Google ‘Neil Gaiman’s Awesome Commencement Speech’ and you’ll find it.
Any recommended means of contacting, even becoming involved with, you?
Email works best.
What seems like the greatest emotional struggle in business for you?
Charging a fair wage for my work. My family wasn’t wealthy and money was always a concern when I was growing up. I’m constantly aware of how many people struggle and my heart goes out to them. I want to help.
What seems like the greatest emotional struggle in personal life for you?
Feeling like my reach exceeds my grasp. It feels like there’s never enough time or stamina or daylight to do everything I want in a day.
What philosophy makes most sense of life to you?
Two come to mind. The first is ‘Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without’. The second comes from ‘Desiderata’: ‘Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.’
Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?
I’m extremely grateful for the time you’ve put into this article and thank you for the chance to speak. I truly believe that together we can change the world into what we want it to be.
Thank you for your time, Lori.