Welcome to Sustainability Week! While Fashionista covers sustainability news and eco-friendly brands all year round, we wanted to use the time around Earth Day and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse as a reminder to focus on the impact that the fashion industry has on people and the planet.
The idea of leaving a stable job at a well-known fashion company to start a new label from scratch could easily be met with apprehension, but for Genevieve Saylak and Corissa Santos, the designer duo behind Where Mountains Meet, it wasn't the case, despite the difficulties.
"When things are a challenge, and we hit speed bumps, which we do daily, at the end of the day we can feel good about what we're doing," adds Saylak. "It makes it worth it. For that simple psychological reason alone, we're so excited about what we're doing."
Saylak, who hails from Scarsdale, New York, and Santos, from Portland, Ore., studied fashion design together at Washington University in St. Louis. The two moved to New York City after they graduated and garnered jobs at a handful of high-end, contemporary and mass market brands, including Marchesa Voyage and Maggy London, as well as Theory, 10 Crosby Derek Lam and Ann Taylor. Though the two are well-aware of how much they've learned from their work experiences, they shared frustration towards the fashion industry's wasteful practices and tendency to neglect natural resources, or the creative process all together. About a year-and-a-half before Where Mountains Meet launched in 2015, Saylak and Santos started to brainstorm on the core pillars behind their own line and business.
Local production is of major importance to Saylak and Santos. All of the woven collections from Where Mountains Meet are made in New York's Garment District, while knitwear and handloomed textiles are done internationally by artisans in India and Guatemala, as well as a women's cooperative in Bolivia and a fair trade organization in Peru. "There's an amazing tradition internationally of communities whose livelihoods are based on weaving textiles by hand, and a lot of that has been mechanized," says Saylak. "But these handloomed textiles are very beautiful and they afford small brands an opportunity to really develop and be very creative with textiles."
Since Saylak and Santos are fairly new to working with artisans, they use nonprofits like Nest to seek out communities globally for potential partnerships, in addition to their own extensive research. Word of mouth within the sustainability scene also helps. "At the end of the day, anyone working in this sphere wants the same thing," says Santos. "We're all working towards a more sustainable industry with better practices."
"People generally want to share their resources and share where their textiles are made, and where their knits are done in the artisan world," adds Saylak. "Unfortunately, the rest of the fashion industry is less so. Often designers are very secretive about who they work with."
The Where Mountains Meet woman is as inquisitive, thoughtful and engaged with the world as the designers are when it comes to producing their line. They say they're not reinventing the wheel with their line — the silhouettes are minimal with a muted color palette — but it's the attention to detail, craftsmanship and quality that makes this label hold its own in the market and in a woman's wardrobe. "We want each piece to seamlessly add something to her closet, like it fits with everything that she already has," says Santos.
From the Where Mountains Meet Fall 2017 collection, which ranges on average between $300 and $500, a great example is a blue wrap sweater made entirely of alpaca from a Fair Trade-certified factory in Peru. Another standout item — and a favorite of the designers — is a handmade sweater made up of mixed yarns, like wool, bamboo and alpaca by female artisans in Bolivia. "We loved the idea of creating a motif in a knit design that was emblematic of waves and water," says Saylak.
When asked if working on Where Mountains Meet influences their own personal fashion choices, both Santos and Saylak admit that they buy less and spend more, keeping brands in mind that are doing good in some way, whether it's an accessible label like Everlane or a higher price point like Maiyet.
"I think it even filters into other areas of our lives, too," says Saylak. "An interest and a focus on buying local whenever possible, from a farm stand or the green market; knowing where the meat you buy at the butcher comes from; having a commitment to making charitable donations to organizations that work in the environmental sector." In fact, they've expanded their practice beyond the clothes and towards more ways Where Mountains Meet can give back. All through April, everything on the label's site is 10 percent off in honor of Earth Month, along with an additional 10 percent of the proceeds of any sale donated to The Nature Conservancy organization.
At the end of the month, the designers will be hosting a garden day meet-up to help clean up a local park in Brooklyn. "There's a lot of ways you can go green; there's a lot of ways you can do better," says Saylak. "We've found that that niche is a lot larger than we might have originally thought."
See the Where Mountains Meet Fall 2017 collection in the gallery below.