By Nevena Rousseva
Carmen Artigas is a well known figure in the sustainable fashion movement that is taking place in New York City. She is spirited, enthusiastic, and very passionate about what she does.
Ms. Artigas was born in what is now known as Mexico City and later moved to San Diego as a teenager with her family. She studied fashion in Milan and landed a job with an established designer at the time, where she met and worked with the young Alexander McQueen. Afterwards she moved to New York to work for Donna Karan. Ms. Artigas saw the world as her oyster and left New York to travel and work on numerous projects like curating the only shoe museum in Latin America, working on costume designs for movies and commercials, and briefly designing her own collection. At the end she found herself in India, where she worked along side a French anthropologist to protect endangered crafts, learned about organic cotton, and took natural dyes classes. She later moved to New York and started a product company that works with inmates in Mexico.
Ms Artigas has worked in fashion for 20 years. She has devoted the latter part of her career to sustainable fashion consulting, designing, and sourcing. She is currently teaching Ethical Fashion at FIT.
The following is our conversation.
You started out working for Romeo Gigli, one of the hottest designers at the time, and then moved to Donna Karan. What drew you away from working in the “conventional” fashion industry and led you to become a sustainable designer?
Well, at one point I also had my own line through investors, and that was a huge learning curve. You need a real team to make things happen at a descent scale. The project lasted a little over a year and we had a showroom in NY. That was 1999, and after that experience I took a 4-month sabbatical and traveled to India. I was invited to work for a non-profit rescuing endangered crafts and I also took a natural dyeing course – that experience completely changed my priorities and my perception of the human and environmental cost we pay for fashion.
You teach “Ethical Fashion”, a class offered at FIT for their Sustainable Design Certificate Program, how long have you been teaching it?
I started teaching in January 2011. I took the pilot certificate course at FIT in early 2010 and I realized they where not addressing the young designer that wants to start a sustainable line and people who already work in the industry but they want to change lanes (where to source fabrics, etc.)
I actually missed it in the Spring, what is the class about?
The focus is on bringing sustainability and ethics into the design process and making responsible decisions about sourcing and manufacturing. The course also provides an introduction to fair trade, the support of endangered crafts, the impact of textiles on the environment and a summary of the ethical and sustainable practices of some current fashion designers and developers.
Your company Viva La Vida makes products that are made by prisoners in Mexico, can you tell me more about that?
I originally intended to develop a line of accessories in Mexico, where I’m originally from, but when I found my supplier he was already working with a craft program with the Mexican jail system. I understand that some customers perceive it as a stigma to purchase something made in jail, but when I see something that expresses beauty and it came from a human being in whatever circumstances they may be facing I think there is some good energy there. I’ve seen similar programs in Italy and Germany.
Where do you see the fashion industry going if it continues the way it is, in terms of resources and waste?
We are facing global warming, material shortage, tightening restrictions, increased costs in transport and manufacturing, so it’s really up to us… we can shape the industry behavior by improving our consumer habits, curving our appetite for consumption and avoiding waste.
Where would you like to see the industry in 10 years?
Sustainability will not be a buzz word anymore, it will be the standard. Companies that succeed will have complete transparency and traceability in their supply chain.
Do you think it’s important for luxury design houses to embrace sustainability in order to really make a change in the industry?
It’s the only future of fashion.
You worked alongside Alexander McQueen at Romeo Gigli. If he was still alive and designing, could you see him embracing sustainability in his designs?
Good design never goes out of style; great pieces might remain dormant for a decade and then come back- just like the cycles of fashion. But Lee is a testimony to the craft and his pieces have become collectibles, so you can’t really put a price on them. It’s not so much a sustainable approach but elevating the materials to new levels.
There is a quote by him at the show (Savage Beauty) that points out a sustainable aspect:
“This collection is about… refinement. Every piece is unique and has emotional content. I want to create pieces that can be handed down like an heirloom”.
Do you have any tips for designers that want to be more sustainable? Any good places to start?
They need to be informed to make the right decisions. FIT is offering a great certificate with great industry professionals
We took the FIT Sustainable Design Program at the same time and I’ve heard you talk about sustainability. You are very knowledgeable in terms of fabrics, dyes, suppliers, and resources. Where do you get all your information? Do you have any websites or other sources that you can share?
I’ve been monitoring the industry since I became interested in 1999. In those days not many companies had websites… I try to get first hand information, make phone calls and meet in person- I don’t believe everything I read.
Ethical Fashion Forum is a good place to start.
What are you currently working on?
Preparing a syllabus to co-teach a new course on Sustainable Business Enterprise at Parsons The New School.
You will be at the Union Square Barnes & Noble this Friday 8/12 leading a session about the Veterans of the Garment District initiative to keep skills and jobs here in NYC, what will you be discussing?
I think we are missing out on the knowledge and expertise the retired or laid-off garment workers can offer and I’m sure they want to share their skills and return to the workforce, we are thinking of ways to organize this. ♥
Details for Veterans of the Garment District are below.
VETERANS OF THE GARMENT DISTRICT
Barnes & Noble, Union Square (Coffee Shop 3rd Fl)
6:45 PM Open to the public