Lost in Fiber

Being a corporate responsiblity/sustainability expert and a style enthusiast at the same time, e c c o * e c o has been one of my favorite blogs for a long time now. Writer and environmental fiber artist, Abigail Doan blogs about sustainable fashion, textile expressions, cruelty-free designs and many other interesting topics covering responsible solutions to the global challenges we all face. I love her blog(s) as much as I love her art- no wonder I was super excited that she agreed to a interview so I can introduce her, her views on sustainability and her art to you. It was such a great pleasure to read Abigail's thoughtful and wise answers- I hope you enjoy this interview just as much as I did.

Abigail, "lost in fiber"

Abigail, first of all, I know you do a lot of things - tell me, what is your background?

I am an environmental fiber/textile artist by profession but I also write about ecological innovation and fashion. I grew up on a small family farm in the United States, but I now live between NYC, Eastern Europe, and Italy. My husband was born in Europe, so we decided to live between these three places so that our children have exposure to the rich culture and landscapes.

I started writing online as a way to organize my thoughts about sustainable fashion, textiles, and the role of aesthetics in creative problem solving. Blogging is a great way for me to sustain a community and dialogue with like-minded people wherever I travel.

What are you wearing right now? Who/what is your style inspiration?

I am currently in Sofia, Bulgaria, where the days are hot and sunny, so I have been wearing my assortment of organic cotton slips and dresses by designer friend, Kee Edwards of Loup Charmant. I am fortunate to have a lot of extremely talented friends who are involved in sustainable fashion and organic fiber work, so I never run out of ideas for style inspiration. I look to a mix of vintage and innovative textile designs for my closet picks. I love Dutch design and try to support handcraft initiatives of all varieties. My summer jewelry consists of lightweight "golden grass" bangles made by Brazilian artisans at Aurea Golden Grass as well as colorful striped wedges from TOM’s Shoes. I really like to keep things simple and fresh in the summertime, as so much about looking and feeling healthy is about being light in atttidude. I am a bit partial to women artists in history as my style icons. Trailblazers like Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keefe, Louise Nevelson, and American artists who lived and worked in Europe earlier this century are figures I am fascinated by at the moment. All had such timeless style and a system for fashioning themselves that really complimented their creative investigations.

I know that you are dedicated to sustainable living. How do you see the fashion world with that in mind? Are we getting there or is there a lot to do?

The fashion world itself has a long way to go in terms of sustainability. The whole concept of "sustainable fashion" is by nature paradoxical. I do not like to preach any sort of style or fashion doctrine to anyone, as I really feel that if someone has the luxury to craft their own personal style in a meaningful and creative manner, than the other pieces fall in place from this platform of self-knowledge. The best style is often resourceful and about doing more with less, or at least (re)discovering those things that you seem to love time and time again. This is why vintage clothing and accessories are so alluring – they have embedded stories to tell and typically are very well made. Given that I travel a lot and maintain three homes, I am very conscious of streamlining my possessions and also shopping locally to support design and sustainable economic growth in the places where I live with my family. In Bulgaria, for example, I try to do outreach work for cultural preservation and textile education so that traditions there are carried on and celebrated on both a local and global stage. I try to support young designers who are looking to do more work in sustainable fashion, and blogging often helps me to do this. I think that it is important for each individual to focus on what they can do, rather than relying in some of the umbrella ideas that are vital, but often postpone immediate action.

I love your style - what are your tips and tricks to be fashionable, stylish, but put sustainability as a priority? What makes the perfect, sustainable outfit?

The perfect sustainable outfit for me is something that you look and feel good in. Contemporary style really should incorporate an ethical edge, as it seems a bit behind the times to wear clothing and accessories where others have to pay the cost for luxury. We do not do this with food shopping, and we really should not consume clothing that is toxic to the environment or the livelihoods of garment workers or artisans. Not all of my clothes are eco-friendly in terms of fabrics or process, but I always try to shop with longevity in mind. I learned this from my husband, who selects quality-made goods that he anticipates being able to pass down to our boys. Then again, he is half-Italian and has always had a great sense of style.

You might not know this, but I have worked in corporate responsibility ever since I graduated- I see that big corporations are trying hard to be responsible, but that is not enough. How do you see big fashion corporations' responsibility in creating a sustainable world?

I really think corporations who are not addressing sustainability in some meaningful capacity are robbing the consumer of a future that we all share. A lot of grassroots efforts on the eco fashion frontier come from the designers themselves as well as consumers who want access to better design options. There are enough consumer advocate groups out there right now that with a little bit of research fashion lovers can learn about companies who are doing a responsible job with their current mission and long term roadmap for improving their production methods and sourcing strategies. Corporations need to be more transparent in what they do in order to gain the trust and money of consumers. We can make them do this by refusing to purchase products and goods that are not ethical, through and through.

What are your everyday routines to protect your world, your environment and make our society better?

I live pretty simply, despite the travel that I do a few times a year. I do not own a car nor do I drive around every day. I cook meals from scratch, support local farmers and growers as much as possible, and try to shop within my own neighborhood to keep small businesses operating. I also recycle as much as possible, and my artwork also incorporates these practices as most of the textile and fiber in my projects is recycled from the home. I am also an advocate for slowing life down so that we have the time to re-learn how to make things by hand as well as appreciate the beautiful objects in our lives.

Fiber Flotsam / bound 02 (2011)
Materials: recycled fiber, old lace, vintage threads, street flotsam, beads, cord, hand-dyed wool and vintage scientific illustration 

Tell me about your work as an artist! What are you working on right now?

I have entered a wonderful new period with my work as my children are now close to four years old, and I am finally able to get back into several projects that I have had on the backburner for a while. Ironically, my career really took off during the first year that I had twins, i.e. I had my first museum exhibition, so I had to be creative about finding a way to care for my babies as well as get to some of this intricate textile work. The focus of upcoming projects revolves around ideas related to fiber and "fashioning self and the environment". Some of this will be site-specific work using fiber and indigenous vegetation in remote locations in Europe and the American Southwest. I am also working on a new "off-the-grid fashion" writing series that I cannot say much about at the moment. Folks can always learn more on e c c o * e c o as well as my artist blog.

Fiber Flotsam / Nest 01 (2011)
Materials: recycled fiber, vegetation, dried lichen, thread, and scientific illustrations

What do you like the most about your job?

Definitely the amazing people who I get to share ideas with, tell stories about, and collaborate with. I also like the flexibility that I have to travel, live creatively, and craft a life for my family. I have had a lot of jobs in the past, but I really like being my own boss. I also love that my job brings me even closer to nature.

Fashioning self (portrait) / handmade paper and vegetation (New Mexico, 2006)

Ground cover 01 / knotted fiber, hand-dyed wool roving and vegetation (New Mexico, 2006)

Many people here in Hungary are not really keen on living a sustainable lifestyle - what would be your advice for those who want to start with a few small steps?

I think that it is important to take small steps and do those things that are really achievable and meaningful in your immediate sphere. This could be something very poetic like trying to start a windowsill garden or repairing old clothes that you like but can no longer wear. Using one’s hands brings one closer to the source of a true existence. Buying green is not the only way to go green. I find that people in my neighborhood here in Bulgaria are living very sustainably in ways that are not necessarily trendy. For example, they till small patches of soil outside of their building, use the clothesline for drying garments, and certainly have small bundles of garbage that they take down to the street bins. Some times these bags are so tiny, and they obviously have been able to do this by buying food that does not come in packaging and at a higher cost. I also see the older generation canning lots of vegetables and preserves as well as mending textiles that they hang on their terraces. There is a grace to this way of living that is not about being able to afford eco-friendly clothing or design objects, but makes perfect sense for the environment and a life well lived. This, for me, is what sustainability is about.
What is the most useful piece of advice about sustainable style that you have ever gotten?

That’s an interesting question – probably a Shakespeare quote that my grandmother, an amazing seamstress, used to say, "To Thine Own Self Be True." Sustainable style, despite the global implications, is very much about knowing oneself and understanding one's personal style and needs as a way to craft a wardrobe and lifestyle. This can be an ongoing organic process and certainly does not come from the dictates of a fashion magazine. Glossies are for ideas, but true style comes from within.

I know you are a mother - how do you teach your children about sustainability?

Honestly, my children teach me quite a bit about sustainability. They have taught me how to play again, how to find or re-invent a seemingly mundane object, and certainly how to be present. We play together all of the time, and I always make a point of immersing them in nature as much a possible. Nature is the teacher. I am really there as a guide. I want them to be able to discover their own joys. I want them to be able to cultivate their own reverence for the natural world and the role that they will take in its preservation.

Seasonal shades / recycled fiber, textiles, vegetation, soil and lace (2009)

What are your future plans as an artist and as a blogger?

Honestly, I plan to blog a bit less during the remainder of 2011 so that I can work on art projects as well as longer writing assignments. Both of my blogs will serve as journals for these upcoming undertakings as well as highlighting the work of artists and designer who I want to continue to support. There might come a time when I merge my two blogs together under the general umbrella of  "ideas about fashioning self and the environment" but I have not finished building the bridge for this just yet. I will also be working with a few new textile initiatives in 2011/12, so stay tuned for updates on this front as well. Thank you for sharing my ideas and inviting me to have this dialogue.

Hibernation 01 / recycled fiber, organic wool, silk cocoons and spun flotsam (2008)

Hibernation 03 / recycled fiber, hand-dyed wool and spun flotsam (2008)

{Thank you, Abigail, you are gorgeous.}

The title is the one of Abigail's new journal "related to ideas about "fashioning self and the environment" and will be a source for inspiration as I develop curatorial and art/fashion projects during 2011/12. It actually is a visual off-shoot from my talk/slide show at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC this past spring."

All photos are courtesy of Abigail Doan.


Everyone Is Good And Will Do Her No Harm

She's so beautiful it hurts. She has his eyes and it's kinda painful to look into them.

Frances Bean Cobain in Hedi Slimane's Diary via Stylecaster

The title is a fragment from Kurt's suicide note.