Amanda María Forastieri's namesake label has been in the making for well over two years. But you could say the designer has been preparing for it her whole life.
"Fashion design is ancestral for me — dress-making was taught by my grandmother," she says. "I always knew that fashion design was it."
What Forastieri wasn't so sure of was the fashion industry: the speed at which things are produced and discarded, the non-stop demand for newness, the exploitation and waste that all creates. Even when she was a fashion design student at Drexel University, she was thinking about all of this.
"I knew that I wanted to have my thing... It was more me realizing that I have the privilege to actually open a new door and a new pathway for people to think about different models, about maybe divesting a little bit from that excessive profit growth and thinking about engaging with more care," she says. "During college, I was already in this phase of expanding my social and political awareness... I'm a designer, but I feel like after college, I was able to explore my creative process in a way that was very intuitive to me, and I realized this is not anything like how I'm being asked to design or create within the paradigms of the traditional industry."
Forastieri graduated in 2020 with an award-winning collection, a $10,000 grant and a desire to further explore what it would mean pursue fashion on her own terms. She returned home to Puerto Rico, with the intention of doing not much more than taking a break. Instead, she kicked off what she describes as a "really long research phase" that would see her spending time in New York City, Copenhagen and the island where she grew up.
"I started writing stuff down on a blank page, thinking of how I could merge art with print making, and how that would tie into a brand that has a mission," she says.
That took Forastieri to New York, to see "what types of relationships I had to build in order to make the brand something that can support me and the people that are making it on the island;" then to Copenhagen, where she sought to learn more about sustainability in a place that has become renowned across the globe for its efforts in this field; and always back to Puerto Rico, to establish those roots and connect with the projects already working to support a local supply chain.
She tuned into seminars from Slow Factory's Open Edu program ("they tie this knowledge that we need to have, these decisions that we're making about the clothes and the scale to the social and political reality of the world"), participated in a mentoring program that connected her with a Costa Rican textile designer ("throughout that process of me feeling very lost and me facing myself, she was giving me a lot of suggestions on where to source, how to source, where to educate myself") and tracked down potential collaborators through the CFDA, brands like Mara Hoffman and the public library. She touched a lot of clothes, sent a lot of e-mails and talked to a lot of people.
"I had the clothing, the vision, the editorial — that was a defining point for me, like, 'I want to kind of carve my own path in this industry,'" she says. "You have to make money, but I just really want to try and build something new."
That all built up to the July debut of her namesake label: an apparel capsule made entirely in Puerto Rico, by the Cooperativa Industrial Creación de la Montaña in Utuado, and four scarves. She also worked with Cara Marie Piazza, a natural dyer in Brooklyn, to develop a deep magenta shade from flowers and bugs; and with Orto Print Studio in London on the placement of prints.
As Forastieri builds on the expressive colors, bold abstract patterns and voluminous silhouettes she introduced in her graduate collection back in 2020, she continues breaking with the rigid structures the industry demands of designers and brands, such as seasonality.
"It's not collections — it's a progression from my past work that improves upon it, so it all merges together," she says. "It's not so much about creating new, new, new, new. I'm already thinking about how the materials that I bought for this collection — whatever's left over, whatever scraps — is going to feed into the next one. It's about interconnectedness, of every single season or capsule or collection that I launch. I took my old designs and added new things. A lot of the process was very spiritual."
When you buy a piece from Amanda María Forastieri, you'll receive a description of how it was made, from sketch to production. "I want people to not only engage with it visually, but also engage with it spiritually, so that they then make it something that feels close to them and makes them take care of it," she says. Right now, "spirituality" to Forastieri is about our relationship with nature, how "nature's cycle mimics our own" and, again, the interconnectedness of everything we do — "how the fibers are being crossed, what fibers are we choosing, what communities we're engaging with, but also what themes and topics we're exploring that tie into that."
At launch, prices range from $150 to $3,000. Forastieri's very aware that that's prohibitive to many, especially in Puerto Rico, and is already thinking of ways she can open up her art to more people — whether that's through rental, public art installations or something else — which "will require stepping out of the traditional fashion model of exclusivity," she says. "I believe in accessibility, and that's one of the contradictions of sustainability in the world we live in today."
There are many words Forastieri uses to describe her brand; "interconnectedness" comes up a lot, and is arguably the most befitting. It touches every single facet of what she's building: the intuitive way she designs, the mindfulness with which she approaches materials, the circularity she aspires to, the bridge she's building between her professional training and her community in Puerto Rico.
"[I always felt that] I need to establish a cult following before I go back [to Puerto Rico], because I feel like I can't sustain what I do and what I'm creating," Forastieri says. However, the socio-political and economic reality on the island shifted the timeline: "With the pandemic and the earthquakes, a lot of [the Cooperativa Industrial Creación de la Montaña's] income [has gone] — I saw that this was happening, and that this was more urgent... It was very gratifying to engage directly with the people making it and create a relationship with the person that actually made everything."
Forastieri is among a collective of creatives and business owners that share a "vision.. to do better in the industry" in Puerto Rico, she says. Through her work with the Cooperativa Industrial Creación de la Montaña and her time on the island building the brand, she's been able to meet makers based in Puerto Rico that share her values and aspirations, and that she hopes turn into collaborators — such as natural dyer Olga Sofia Galvo, the farm and textile lab Trama Cultivo and the paper goods maker Paper & Flowers.
She understands her ultimate goal of mapping out an entire supply chain and production operation in Puerto Rico, of creating something totally different, is "going to be very slow," that "it's going to take a lot of shifting, a lot of learning, a lot of failure, a lot of success."
"It's about acknowledging that things don't work as efficiently there because of our conditions, and accepting that as part of that reality," she says. "There are people looking to invest in this and who are open to maybe waiting three days because I didn't have power to sew. It's part of where we live. This is what you have to accept in order for you to develop this. It's also sharing the vision with people; there are some that don't see it yet. It's not only fashion; it's art and theater. It's a whole community of creatives that are present and sharing it in a way that then feeds back into it."
Amanda María Forastieri's future outputs will continue to iterate and innovate — the designer's seeking out ways to work with natural dyes in Puerto Rico, brainstorming how to use more secondhand fabrics, thinking of how to improve her materials. "Sustainability is a constant research phase," she says. "You're trying out new things, especially if you want to make pieces that are sustainable and very long lasting — it takes a while for you to find that formula."
Now that she's moved into the "building phase," as Forastieri puts it, next comes finding a more permanent workspace in Puerto Rico. "I've been nomading around with all my materials and it's very exhausting, but also it doesn't really let me do the mess and experiments," she says. After putting out this inaugural offering, she'll see how it's performing financially and figure out next steps — whether that means targeting new customers or partnering with like-minded retailers. Then, it's back to the proverbial lab: "I'm going to experiment with upcycling — I've already been gathering some materials for that — and printing on existing textiles."
She's also thinking about what the brand looks like outside of the apparel medium. One idea is "community coloring books where you can do something and then have someone else that you don't know color next to you… I always envision it in parks, in public spaces," she says. "Of course it can exist in a gallery, but if it's a public space, more people can go and enjoy it."