Community, Vulnerability, and Sustainability: The Healing of the Fashion Industry
By Sophia Kagan
Edited By Marian Mohamed
Part 1: Creating Community in the Fashion Industry
Fashion designer Lorena Pipenco's sketchbook process. (Photo/Courtesy of Lorena Pipenco)
Fashion designers are often stereotyped as lone wolves committed to their survival in the industry, but in reality, they need a pack for their creativity to thrive. Local New York fashion designers Anna Roth, Lorena Pipenco, and Becca Flood debuted at New York Fashion Week in September 2023. A sense of eagerness exudes from each designer as they aim to make an impact through their collections' vulnerable display of community.
“Never compromise giving to artists”
Becca Flood, who graduated in 2022 from the Fashion Design BFA program, is a designer raised in the Hudson Valley whose work challenges outdated stereotypes of women in modern rural America. When reminiscing about her years at Parsons School of Design, Flood emphasizes that one of her most transformative moments during her education was finding herself as a designer during her thesis year, examining her roots to discover what she wanted to say.
Flood grew up in a challenging environment that taught her to be a strong woman with the courage to care. She wants to create spaces for people to express their beauty and honesty. After graduation, Flood decided to meet a classmate at a cafe to share a relaxing afternoon, but the meeting turned into something bigger.
“Everything can change over a cup of coffee,” Flood said with a laugh.
On that day, Flood and her friend decided to create a swimwear collection together. Flood designed and developed the tech packs, while her classmate translated Flood's documents and sent them to factories she had connections with.
“Our design aesthetics are very different, but we both share inspiration from our origins. My friend from Peru knew factories back home, and the sharing of resources strengthened our connection,” said Flood.
Contrary to Flood’s goal of fair collaboration, the mainstream fashion industry focuses on exploiting aspiring creatives through internships. At Parsons, internships are not required but are heavily emphasized for school credit. What Flood came across during her time at Parson and at various companies tested her boundaries as a designer and human being.
“It’s illegal for interns to do more than a specific amount, yet many internships don’t follow this rule. My own work has been taken by a company at one point, and the company profited off of my designs without giving back to me,” said Flood
After such disillusioning experiences, Flood vowed to be a brand that treats others right. Specifically in an industry that often relies on payment solely through exposure, Flood makes sure to actually give back to those who work with her.
“I always pay the artists that work with me. It's a part of how I'm doing business right,” said Flood.
Flood also often uses wool from local supplier Catskill Merino-Knitters Wool and recently got featured in an email of theirs.
Jumping dogs chasing a pearl designed by Becca Flood. (Photo/Courtesy of Becca Floods)
“Collaboration is all about seeing different perspectives”
Anna Roth is an artist who often collaborates in her practice and solves problems concerning sustainability and social justice through local community solutions. She graduated from the Parsons MFA Fashion Design program in 2023.
Luckily for the fashion industry, Roth’s work is all about finding community. When Roth moved from Portland, Oregon, to New York City, she knew no one on the East Coast. Roth was forced to build her support system from scratch.
“I’m an extremely community-based person, that’s where I find my meaning. Starting off without a community at Parsons was rough, and my mental health worsened as a result,” said Roth.
The creation of Roth’s collection “Fitting In” is a major step in building her community. The garments debuted at NYFW were designed with the goal to eliminate loneliness through communal dancing and being vulnerable expressing taboo emotions.
“I explored dance as a way to heal. Moving your body allows emotions to be expressed in a healthy manner, rather than the toxicity being bottled in,” said Roth
Roth’s collaboration with the performers dancing in her garments gave way to new opportunities. Logan Gabrielle Schulman, a performer who was part of the runway show, is using some of the puppets under pieces for their upcoming operetta that they’re directing.
Social media is hailed by many artists as a way to market themselves and find collaborations. Many creatives have found significant success on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, such as Hellcat Eyewear, Wisdm, and Alexandria Masse.
Social media was the key to Lorena Pipenco’s success.
“Initially, I had difficulty finding opportunities, I applied for competitions that I regularly wouldn't win, and I was worried whether people would appreciate my work. When I began posting regularly on social media, I was surprised that my followers grew rapidly,” said Pipenco.
“The key to my growth on social media was creating unique and authentic content that makes viewers feel more at home. I wasn’t creating for an audience, I was doing it for myself," said Pipenco.
Look 108 in Lorena Pipenco's collection for the 2023 Parsons MFA NYFW Show. (Photo/Courtesy of Lorena Pipenco)
“The right people naturally gravitate towards you when you are authentic”
Pipenco, a graduate of the Parsons Masters of Fine Arts Fashion Design program in 2023, is a storyteller who narrates her connection to her family's experiences in post-USSR Romania. She brings life to their forgotten hopes as she navigates the complicated relationship between heritage and memory.
When volunteering for the Parsons MFA show, it was revealed that not every graduating year is guaranteed a fashion show.
“It takes a year for the school to raise money and plan it. It was a struggle organizing this event while we were also creating the collections. If you need something as an artist, you have to fight for it,” said Pipenco.
Advocacy for artists is an essential skill that allows them to find the people who will respect and care about their creative vision. For effective advocacy, designers must prioritize being honest about their visions to others.
“I sometimes struggle with the conflicting needs of my audience and being authentic,” Pipenco said. “As a rapidly growing brand, I feel the immense pressure to sell.”
Pipenco combats this tension by connecting with those she loves.
Pipenco simply calls her family and any conversation or story is enough to dispel the feelings of self-doubt. Community to Pipenco is rooted in her design process by the people who make up the intricacies of her personal life.
“I often take inspiration, and even use the work of my family. In one of the garments I created for the MFA show, I asked my family to send me tablecloths they macrame. I then upcycled the tablecloths to create a patchwork bodysuit,” said Pipenco. "I play with the idea of the right and wrong uses of materials by incorporating unconventional fabrics with history into my garments. Upcycling materials means to also upcycle its memories; to bring up the past and remake it into the future.”
Hopes for a Future Community
Pipenco hopes to be part of unique retailers that support artisans.
"I hope to see my designs at retailers like Dover Street Market; they do a great job of giving designers a space to breathe, rather than streamlining store visuals and taking away from the designer’s vision,” said Pipenco
Pipenco currently sells at Apocene, a unique retailer with the goal of spreading awareness of emerging creatives.
Flood is still currently developing the foundations of her brand; the people who make the most of her audience are fellow Parsons alumni, family, and friends.
"I hope to expand my customer base and reach my target audience; strong women in their 30s to 40s, looking for garments that compliment their independence,” said Flood.
Roth has an intriguing take on what fashion can be outside of the industry.
"I think it’s tragic that companies with big platforms, like Adidas and Nike, have an insular approach in collaboration, looking to work solely with other big brands and celebrities,” said Roth. “I am working towards creating an open studio that is funded by community support, specifically through donations and volunteering. I want to experiment with ways to create value that isn’t monetary in a community setting”.
Development of Fart/Shame Garment from "Fitting In". (Photo/Courtesy of Anna Roth)
This series of interviews showcases an incredibly diverse amount of people starting out in the industry who want to build strong foundations for the community. Lorena Pipenco, Anna Roth, and Becca Flood are building communities that challenge the fashion industry’s exclusive and unjust practices toward artisans. The key to building community stems from learning who you are to convey your essence to others; whether to a stranger through social media, having casual chats with other artists, or intimate conversations with those you hold closest. These designers have created a huge impact already, and it is certain that they will be part of revolutionizing the fashion industry.