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The Famous Fashion Designer Who Became A Chemical Engineer, And Went Back To Being A Fashion Designer.. To Save The Planet

Published on September 10, 2017 by   ·   196 Comments Pin It

The last thing the world needs is more fast fashion, and nobody knows this quite so well as Olga Kapustina. Olga was a fashion star in the 90’s, before reality stars dictated style, and when it was still cool to not document your every move. In those late 90’s-2010 Cameron Diaz, Angelina Jolie, Rachel Bilson, Fergie, Sophia Bush, Toni Collete, Parker Posey, Maria Menounos, Katie Holmes, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and yes – even Kim Kardashian wore her collection. I discovered her during a rare financial windfall upon buying a few dresses at Barney’s New York. Her designs stood out like a glorious, silky, body conscious sore thumb. Elegant, sexy, and feminine – with relatively affordable price points compared to the other dresses on the racks at Barneys, I fell in love with her designs and shopped them religiously. As luck would have it, we ended up dear friends. Her story is an example in allowing yourself to evolve and change, and maybe even change again.

The Famous Fashion Designer Who Became A Chemical Engineer, And Went Back To Being A Fashion Designer.. To Save The Planet

The Famous Fashion Designer Who Became A Chemical Engineer, And Went Back To Being A Fashion Designer.. To Save The Planet

Here’s her story;

Tell me why you went back to school for Chem Engineering, and why you decided to go back to fashion?

I started my collection in the very late 90’s, and it was a very magical time in the industry. It was a designers market and I was part of the first wave of contemporary designers. It felt fresh and there was so many new designers to discover. There was an enthusiasm in the air and it felt like new and young designers had a real voice and were creating a shift and filling a necessary hole in the industry. This was a time that was really pre -internet, pre bloggers, so you would find designers through word of mouth and walking around the city and discovering a new little shop. There was a sense of mystery and adventure and women in general had a greater sense of personal style. They did not have so many avenues to just go online and copy the “it ” girl. The emergence of the fast fashion model and the explosion of the internet really killed fashion for me. I came from a generation of designers who were not so financially driven. Yes we wanted to make money, but that was not the first premise of our business model. There was a huge shift from a designers market to a merchant’s market that I didn’t feel comfortable with. Designing from spread sheets, “on trend”, and celebrity obsession. I wasn’t sure how to navigate this new terrain and wasn’t even sure I wanted to. I lost sense of who I was and made some bad decisions. Some from fear, some from inexperience. What was clear was that I needed a change and I needed to do work that I respected and made me feel useful. Engineering provided that outlet for me and created an enormous shift for me. Math, chemistry and physics are just beautiful subjects and opened up my psyche to so many more possibilities that I ever thought were possible. It was truly the exploration of magic for me. I’ve decided to go back to fashion because the fashion industry is experiencing a very interesting shift right now. After more than a decade of extreme expansion and greed, it is experiencing a necessary shift in the other direction. That is simple physics. A lot of damage has been done. But that also means a lot work needs to be done to correct and re shift. I decided to return to the industry because I feel I can combine my skills as a designer and engineer to make that happen.

What are you planning to do in fashion that nobody else is doing?

I am a big proponent of sustainable fashion and biodegradable materials. There is a lot of scientific research and development being done where fibers are being developed from agricultural waste. Synthetic biology is another area with great potential. Engineering yeast to make animal fibers like silk and leather without harming any animals is a huge step in the right direction. Being sustainable also means not spending natural resources and energy transporting goods from all over the world. The industry needs to work as a collective to help bring back domestic manufacturing back to U.S. . Especially innovative textile manufacturing and the development of artisans that make the clothes. Imagine having a textile plant that produces textiles from agricultural waste, such as wheat, or chicken feathers or rotten milk? Ideally, it would be great if we were all vegan and no one ever hurt or traumatized other living beings. However, this is not reality and I don’t think will be for a very long time if not ever in my lifetime. We have a consumption problem, a landfill problem and enormous expenditure of natural resources for energy. We have to start looking at waste as something golden and we have to do it close to home. This requires the participation of many companies and I hope to be able to develop this idea into a reality one day with help from the collective industry. My ability to understand the languages of design and engineering puts me in a unique position to facilitate that happening. What I am doing in the current moment, is re-launching my line in a more sustainable way. Although I was always pretty sustainable. This in itself is not so new or revolutionary. What is unique to me, is that my clothes have a very unique vision and most importantly a strong energy associated with them. I am infused into my clothes and I use it as a channel to connect to other women and empower them. There is power in a dress when it is made by the right person and with a certain intention to it. It is my very own form of witchcraft and a way I connect to my own roots. I constantly hear from my former customers that they are still wearing my pieces from 15 years ago. Or wearing something until it literally falls apart from so much use. You will never get this feeling from a mass produced garment. This is why they are easy to throw away and this is why it is important to support companies with a certain level of awareness that exist beyond profit. You will naturally consume less and do more. Just as there is a huge difference between a painting and a print of a painting or 1000 prints of a photograph or painting. The same analogy can be made between couture or independent designer and the copy you find at an H & M. They may look the same , and perhaps even fit the body in a similar way, but energetically speaking they are 2 very different things. You cannot deny the difference from owning the real thing or a copy.

What disgusts you most about the industry?

While it may seem that in last 10 years or so there was a fashion explosion, and financially speaking that is correct. But fashion as any type of art form , globally speaking, is really dead. The richest person in the world at this moment is the owner of ZARA and many brands have made an enormous amount of money with the same business model . The model is simple. More volume produces more profit. How they generated the volume has been completely irrelevant and has been covered up by very clever marketing. You cannot achieve such cheap prices without exploited labor or natural resources or both. I think what angers me the most is that they are still using clever marketing to achieve a sense of calm over the people calling them out on their practices, however, their business model is still to produce more product and open more stores. I remember recently reading an article in an eco textile publication, where the owner of LVMH was being praised for his “sustainability ” initiative in which they have decided to stop killing snakes in the Amazon. Instead they where going to breed and raise them in cages before they kill them! I mean …WOW! so thoughtful. But the article showed this man as saintly for his efforts! We, as a collective, have allowed ourselves to be become completely disconnected from the process and so there is no point of placing blame. We have to move forward with better textiles, better technology and continue to insist on transparency and connecting directly to the consumer to educate them and get them involved.

How has being a Mom changed your designs?

Aside from discovering the power of gravity, becoming a mother has given my heart the power of nurture and intimacy. I’m fairly consistent with how I design, but some of my earlier designs were significantly more body conscious and looking back I feel protruded a form of detached sexuality I do not feel comfortable with anymore. The world has changed and I have certainly changed. I do not have a need to see myself or a woman bound tightly. When I start sketching or draping, I create a feeling of nurture and the need to be enwrapped in some way. A virtual embrace. The clothes are sexy, but more sophisticated, softer and looser. However,I have always loved a low neckline. There is something very beautiful to me when a woman bares her heart and I often like to keep that area pretty open, unless I am feeling incredibly vulnerable that day. Then I really cover up.

Are you veg, and why?

I try to be Vegetarian / vegan as much as possible. I like the taste of meat, so I do it for ethical reasons. I do not think we can ever achieve peace in this world until we come to terms with our own violence and look inward and understand our relationships to other inhabitants of this planet. I try my best. I have fallen off the wagon a few times at dinner parties , or traveling so its not for me to preach, but I try my best.

What is the easiest thing one person can do everyday to change their carbon footprint, from a scientific, but also realistic perspective?

1. Stop eating red meat. Or at the very least have it rarely. To many natural resources go into growing and feeding cows and this form of agriculture has been shown to have a direct association to global warming by numerous studies. There is no need to have animal protein daily. Ever. If everyone was more conscious and just ate less there would be a huge difference in how these animals were raised and killed.

I know many of you know this. But if you are one of those people that have read the science and most people have… and you are also consuming meat regularly, You are a climate denier. Period. So stop marching. Confront your hypocrisy and understand that every time you go to the supermarket and buy that steak or burger you are giving your money directly to the “climate deniers”/ businesses that produce meat for profit.

2. Reduce plastic use. Bring your own bags to the store. No plastic bottled water! Cook at home. The number of plastic containers that go into one meal is outrageous.

Are we doomed, ecologically speaking?

The planet is not doomed. The planet is fine and will go on with or without us. We as a species and many other species might be doomed. We have been at this brink many times before in history and science has always found a way to help humans continue to survive and thrive. This may happen again, but it is becoming more difficult for science to continue to achieve this because as we grow and multiply, we also multiply the number of variables that must be controlled at the same time. We have many drug resistant bacteria, many strange new diseases, polluted water, polluted food, erratic weather patterns all happening at once. The most important thing science can do right now is to prove we are all one and we are intimately connected to everything and everyone around us.

Why run a GoFundMe now?

I have decided to relaunch my my collection as a small edited group of ethical and sustainable pieces.  I am also finding ways to have new and innovative  biodegradable fibers from agricultural waste manufactured here in the U.S. and hopefully they will one day be incorporated into my collection, as well as many others and we can get one step closer to truly green manufacturing. These funds will go towards sampling and fabric costs and help me gain some momentum.  For each donation of $250, you will receive 1 piece frOm the line.  That is basically at cost. I know you still own many of my former pieces and know the love and workmanship I put into every piece.  GoFundMe just seems like the logical community-minded next step!


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