This is my first blog post even though I began this journey about 8 months ago. I have started and stopped so many times to write this post, but my perfectionist self never allowed me to hit 'publish'.
Let me first go back to the reason why I started Ninêh in the first place. I have been a designer for 15 years. I have had my share of work travels for other companies. Exhausted and burned out at times, but loving it.
My first job was for a women's premium denim brand. In the early 2000's most of the premium denim was made in LA or Japan and denim has quickly become a luxury item that would cost up to $400.00 a pair. Intense washing, shredding, chemicals were being used to create the perfect worn in look. My company at the time, decided to make premium denim in China and make it more accessible to customers. The idea worked and they soon became very successful. The wash process was still the same, very artisanal and each pair took over 12 hours in total to make. I was traveling to Southern China to work with garment factories and wash facilities about 3 times a year. I have seen first hand the conditions factory workers where submitted to. Overnight hours, living in bunkers away from their families and children, only 2 days off per month. These workers would save all the money they made throughout the year and send it to their parents. Never use it on themselves or save it for a future education. That is what they knew and sadly they had no better options.
Factory managers/owners would always give me a masks while I was working in the wash facilities. The fumes will not only burn your eyes, but affect your lungs. I used to question the managers as to why their workers weren't using any masks. One answer I got was 'they don't live that long anyways'. Disgust and anger ran through me, but I was too young and naive to do anything. This has stuck with me all these years and I never forgot the faces of the people I met while working in those Chinese factories.
It was very difficult to leave the fast fashion bubble in the epicenter of the Manhattan fashion district. I was getting payed a good salary, had good benefits, living comfortably in one of the best cities in the world. I was having a lot of fun traveling, partying, eating out and making great friends.
I moved to LA in 2008 and expanded my knowledge into Ready to Wear, working for a corporate company for the first time. I was by then building full collections of tops, dresses, bottoms. The demands were insane! I was working 12-16 hours a day. I was forced to work with cheap qualities and didn't get to see any of the production being made or had any interaction with the factories making my designs. I felt completely blindsided. The job lasted less than one year. 2008 was a rough year and over 200 employees where laid off from the company at the same time.
I was happy to be back in New York again, I was planing my wedding and going back to my old routine. I quickly found another design job in the junior market. I was not ideal, but it payed my bills and gave me great flexibility. There I was again, traveling, shopping the market, always looking into what girls where into and what they wanted to wear. What was the next trend in denim washes? How can I make another studded jean with the most outrageous acid wash and add 3 different colors of dip die? AHHHHHHH!!!! Kill me!!! I couldn't even stand myself.
In 2010 I got married and soon after had my first daughter Sienna. My priorities changed completely! I was back at work for another junior company, but my frustration was growing quickly. My boss at the time, a woman I admire so much for her awesome guts and for her belief in me, gave me the chance to start developing a young contemporary collection out of India. I started traveling to India and completely fell in love with the country.
We were living in a Bohemian bubble. Free People was the most admired brand within the young contemporary realm and girls would do anything to have the top to bottom 70's boho look. Off course, that is where the money was, so many companies started looking into this lifestyle trend. I could design the most heavily embroidered, hand made looking garment, but at the cheapest possible price. That is why so many fast fashion companies wanted to make their garments out of India. The artisan labor is so easy to find and they are really good at it.
Factory workers in India can bead or embroider anything you want. A fully hand beaded night out dress, as seen in the Top Shop's and Zara's of the world, will weigh 10 pounds and still cost less than $100 dollars. Off course the fabric is cheap polyester. That to me was just not right! Especially when you know how labor intensive and how long it takes for each garment to be made "BY HAND". These factory workers are making cents, being exploited at every level to reach the demands of the industry.
I have to say, I was a culprit, the level of creativity it gave me while working with Indian factories was amazing, and I learned a ton. But deep inside I was sad, all this work, hundreds of styles every quarter. Some styles would turn into bestsellers, but the majority will end up lost in sales racks at department stores for 1/4 of the original price 'or worse ' in a landfill. My office was covered in piles of unsold styles that were never shown or gone into production. It was always about more and more and less about the quality. Always chasing after a trend before some other brand caught it. 'Some times it was too late'. There was never time to look back or think twice about what we could have done differently.
Rana Plaza happened, and I am not going to say anything more about it, because if you don't know it, just google it. The weird thing about it and I didn't really think about this until recently is that people in my industry (my boss, owners, co-workers, factory agents, production managers) no-one, I mean absolutely no-one talked about it. It was like nothing had happened. No-one wanted to be compromised or risk making necessary changes, or really didn't have the time for it. Sadly, everyone seem to have forgotten or not payed attention. The demands from buyers, crazy fashion calendars and reckless consumerism just got worse after that horrible incident ruined thousands of lives in 2013.
By now I am writing a book, I am sorry. How do I end this?...
I had been following a shift in the direction of the market and how millenials in general were becoming interested in sustainability, more aware of the lack of transparency in the retail world and turning into better shoppers. Online retailer were giving them experiences on top of the product they sell and telling a story behind the product.
I was sick and tired of it all. I was itching to do something for myself and my family. I wanted to design pieces that not only reflect my lifestyle but will surpass trends and be carried over from season to season. So I quit my job and booked myself a trip to India. The rest is history...
I was there for 3 weeks last November, I met with 3 incredible family owned factories in Delhi and Jodphur and I learned the ancient art of block printing from Bagru. I came back to New York with a full collection designed and I couldn't be happier for the decisions I've made.
It's been a crazy ride and I can't believe I am just about to ship my first run of styles.
As a customer, I want to feel a connection to the source. I want to be educated about what I am putting on my body and at what human cost. And this is how Ninêh began...
Thanks for being here!