I feel like I just traveled around the world! And not because I am still on the other side of the world, but because my interview with Carmen Artigas, Mexican designer/teacher/”eco-cop” (her word, not mine), was a whirlwind trip around the globe from inside the closet of her beautiful Park Slope apartment. Carmen was one of the first people I asked for advice when I decided to pursue THIS I WEAR, and she is the extreme embodiment of the conscious consumerism I hope to explore here. Yet it is still not always easy to shop consciously and to dress intentionally. As a teacher at FIT and Parsons in ethical fashion, I thought she might have some advice on how to start asking questions about our clothes and connect with our stuff in a new way. Given Carmen’s passion, it was a pleasure to sit back, listen, and let her be my tour guide for awhile.
What are you wearing today?
I’m wearing a bracelet that is made from two types of wood. It was a gift from an ex-boyfriend in Milan. The dress is also an Italian brand, not very known…Hache? I like it because…you know, like Pompeii? It gives me the idea of a painting from Pompeii – the pleating…So it just gives me a very romantic feeling, and it might not be flattering. Maybe I look three times my size, but I like it.
The shoes are the feature of the day. They are [made by] my friend Monisha [of Love is Mighty]. The inspiration was an antique Tibetan necklace. She did everything beautifully. And this [necklace] is from Mexico. What is the stone? Jade? From Mexico, in the south near Chiapas.
What part of your outfit is most special to you? And why?
This is my personal critique, because I stopped buying H&M just over three years ago. I just thought, “I can’t do this. I’m not going to support them. I don’t like their quality. I can’t figure out how the prices can be this low.” I teach Ethical Fashion, so I just stopped buying [H&M]. But this was one of my last purchases – these tights. They look like tattoo, and many people have stopped me and asked me “Where did you get that?” and I say “H&M.” I never saw them again. They never made them again.
And they’ve lasted?
Yes, they’ve lasted all this time. So that’s a very unusual choice. But I don’t have anything else from H&M, because it doesn’t last. You can tell. It’s made to fall apart. But meaningful? I think the shoes right now, because I just appreciate the story behind them and the person behind them, because I know Monisha worked very hard. She had a vision, and it came full circle.
Do you have a shopping philosophy? How do you shop?
I really am very aware about waste. My personal sustainable agenda is about water, trees, waste, and working with artisans. So waste is an issue for me. It doesn’t go away. It’s not going to disappear, so where is it going? So I would say of my shopping habits, I will only shop for things that I see longevity. Of course, price…
Do you shop often or only when you really need something?
Very little. I actually was able to ask that question to a whole classroom [of FIT students]. I said, “How often do you shop and where?” They were caught off-guard because many of them – the youngest people – said Forever 21, H&M, vintage, and Zara. And the men barely shop. They didn’t even know what that meant. Maybe their wife took care of that. But the younger they were, the lower the price point. And the older they were, the more interested they were in longevity. And so am I. I have things that are 20 years old. They are beautiful, because they were never in a trend. I like things that will never be noticeable in a trend.
For people who are shopping at Forever 21 & H&M, a lot of them are doing it because of their budget. Do you have advice for them?
But the obvious reply is that there is no quality, right? So if you wash it once or twice, the garment looks terrible. [The students], mostly because they chose to take Ethical Fashion class, are becoming very aware and feeling guilty. It changed radically towards the end of the class. One semester I asked [the question] at the beginning of the class and one semester I asked towards the end of the course, and the answers were very different. Everyone was like “Oh no! We do swapping, I shop in stoops [sales], I inherit things…” So people were more connected to what’s out there that they aren’t making the most of.
Interesting! So it’s more that as soon as people become just a little bit more aware of it, they start asking questions?
Yes, because they ask me “what’s behind the price of a $4.99 top?”
The other thing is I support my friends. I have many friends who are designers, so I buy directly from them. It’s a relationship, and it’s a supportive relationship. I also get a better price, because we are friends. It’s meaningful that way. The other day I was wearing something from Ross Menuez. He’s a designer for Salvor. Everything is done locally. He does the silkscreen, and he’s a genius at the printing. I shop from him, and Monisha recently. I guess if I go through my closet, I could start noticing…
If someone looked at your closet right now, what would they say about your style?
Eclectic! Eclectic, Boho, Bohemian. I would be Boho chic. My impulse buy will be handbags, shoes – that I cannot resist. And I don’t care about a label. Nothing in my closet has a label, like a logo. I avoid logos at all cost. I find them tacky. I don’t need to advertise. I like craftsmanship and creativity, so most of my bags are handmade or very unusual. I think you communicate more personal style with accessories rather than the outfit. That has been my mode. I’ve done it always. And you know, let’s say if you gain weight, you know that black is going to slim you down. So you have a neutral choice of wardrobe, and then you would spice it up with accessories. Jewelry, I like also, but I like very meaningful big necklaces that have a lot of impact.
Once a piece ends up in your closet, how long does it stay there?
20 years. Most likely 10 or 20 years at least. But my size keeps increasing, so I have things that don’t fit anymore…
Would you say that you love everything in your closet?
Yes. It’s a language. Definitely first impressions count on people…Like [my style] is not expected. I have Uniqlo pieces, but I want to make them look special. [These pieces] carry an energy.
And with that question, I’ve selected a few highlights from the tour of Carmen’s closet, making sure to leave in the stories as only Carmen can tell them and including a little list of the items we didn’t quite have space for as an extra treat.
Select pieces by Christina Kim, Dosa
I was a big big fan of Dosa – the founder is Christina Kim. She’s a Korean designer, and everything she does is amazing, but it’s very expensive. So I collected a few pieces of Dosa from sample sales. They’re very unusual. She works with artisans around the world, like this is a mud-dye cotton from China. They pound the pigment in, so they hit the fabric [until] it becomes this finish, like metallic. This is another skirt from her. If you wrap it, it has multiple uses. It’s like an art piece, like you’re a gallery owner, no?
Rebozo is the typical Mexican shawl. The colors are amazing. This is called articela, so it’s synthetic. They used to be [made of] silk, but now it’s synthetic. The fine ones should pass through a ring. When they sell it to you, they pass it through a ring, because it’s so light and so precious. That was the old Mexico.
Rope Necklace from Tanya Aguiniga
This is from a friend of mine who is Mexican but is based in Los Angeles – Tanya Aguiniga. She’s amazing. She also works with artisans in Chiapas [and] with artisans around the world, but it translates well. It almost looks Japanese in a way. I went to her studio. I connected with her on Facebook and made an appointment. My brother took me to LA, and we ended up in her house. She took me to her workshop. It’s amazing.
Replica of original handmade skirt
I made the original in Mexico City when my friend and I were doing costume design. She made me this skirt, but it was ruined with makeup. So I went to Thailand, and I brought my skirt with me, and I asked them to copy it. So this is a replica of the original one from Mexico.
Select additional items:
Vintage kimono from Japan
Fabric handbag with coin decoration from Thailand
Turquoise necklace from Chiapas, Mexico
Men’s wraparound pants from India (they “look like pajamas”)
Silk and bead necklace by Carmen
Trosman-Churba piece from Argentina
South Mexican pants received as a gift from her aunt
Bone and bamboo necklace by German sculptor working in India
Thank you to Carmen both for the interview and her patience as I worked on this piece. If you couldn’t tell from the interview, Carmen is such an inspiration for me personally, so I was truly honored that she let me into her closet and shared her incredible knowledge about ethical fashion with me. If you’d like to find out more about Carmen, I HIGHLY recommend the Facebook page she runs, Ethical Fashion NY, and you can find information about the colorful woven plastic bags she creates with imprisoned workers in Mexico in the top photo on her brand website, Viva la Vida.
*Quick note: I’ve linked to several websites for the designers Carmen mentioned. I have no affiliation with them, but just think they are worth your time. Enjoy!