Behind the seams with Jenny Hwa of loyale

Photo: www.loyaleclothing.com

Who are the creative figures behind these cutting-edge, planet-friendly styles that are showing us sustainable has nothing to do with tie dye or itchy fabrics? We asked our resident fashion writer Victoria Everman to catch-up with New York's Jenny Hwa.

New York based Jenny Hwa is the creative force behind loyale clothing. She first caught our eye with her bamboo and organic cotton bikini, followed by her widely-publicized first-ever organic cotton faux fur jacket. Started in 2005 with fitness and yoga wear for women, loyale has quickly expanded into full, seasonal women's collections; in the very near future, they will also be adding a men's and children's line. One-of-a-kind fit and intelligent cuts are just two of the many alluring features of the loyale line. When it comes to the brand's sustainability, they are an inspiration: using only sustainable fabrics and tree-free papers for hang tags, all items are made in the US, and yearly profit donations are made.

Victoria Everman: You spent some years doing ballet in San Francisco. Did your passion for fashion force you to change directions in your career?
Jenny Hwa: Being a dedicated dancer for 15 years, I gave it a lot of thought before hanging up my pointe shoes for good, but I knew I wanted to experience more out of life than the dance studios and theatre. Suddenly I realized I wanted to travel, learn foreign languages and be creative in other ways, such as sketching, ceramics and sewing. I had always been in love with fashion from a young age, it seemed like the type of career that would encompass all of my passions and interests. I knew no day would be the same and it would be a great challenge, two elements of life that inspire me and make me jump out of bed in the morning. So after some consideration, I began to make a game plan for breaking into the fashion world: business school, internships, networking and fashion school.

Were you introduced to sustainable fibres while growing up in Northern California?

As I travelled during university throughout the U.S. and Europe, I noticed the presence of organic materials made up into frumpy clothing I had no interest in wearing; that was when the seed was planted that fashionable clothing could be created from these materials and customers wouldn't have to sacrifice their style to support sustainable consumption.

What were some of the most important things you learned from working at Catherine Malandrino, Chaiken, and Jill Stuart before moving on to your own collection?
Working with renowned designers gave me a deep understanding of the craft and the designer's role of making a fashion line truly individual and creatively unique.

Have you faced any unique challenges in starting your own brand based on sustainable fibers and domestic production?
Sourcing and production of the garments is always an adventure, as any designer can attest to. It is my goal to provide the highest quality sustainable fabric and domestic, non-sweatshop construction at a price the consumer can afford…it can be a challenge.

What do you see as the biggest roadblock for getting green fashion to consumers of all financial backgrounds?
Providing the highest quality sustainable fabric and domestic, non-sweatshop construction at a price the consumer can afford is one of my biggest challenges.

You have a new website. Can you tell us about the upcoming men's and children's lines?
I really would love to make loyale a lifestyle brand that fits in with every family member and aspect of life, so we are slowly expanding our offerings. The clothing for each category will have the same design sensibility as the women's collection…sophisticated, chic and practical.

Do you seek out unique inspiration for each season's collection, or do you have an ongoing wellspring of ideas that you draw from?
I find the runway shows endlessly interesting in terms of sourcing details, color stories and silhouettes. It's our true inspiration to take an item that is impractical for daily life and transform that design or concept into a functional, comfortable, stylish garment that stands out in the crowd. In addition to this, I always look to inspirational cultural figures, such as Georgia O'Keeffe or Francoise Hardy. Anyone who contributed to society in a creative, positive way is intriguing and makes their way into loyale's collection in some fashion, such as their tom boy slant or signature trench coat.

The most talked about piece from the current Fall 2007 collection is the limited edition Costilla Jacket: the first ever all-organic cotton vegan faux fur jacket. Though it is much more sustainable than "traditional" faux fur, are you concerned about continuing to promote the look of animals in fashion?
No, we are attempting to create awareness about the adverse environmental impacts linked with the production of traditional faux fur. Some consumers want to wear faux fur and they are unknowingly harming the planet. Faux fur is usually made out of non-biodegradable synthetics such as acrylic, nylon and polyester. The production of these synthetic materials results in large-scale factory pollution of waterways, rivers and the ocean. In addition, more than half of the emissions of greenhouse gases come from acrylic and nylon manufacturing. Finally, polyester is made with oil-based petrochemicals, which are not only polluting the environment, but are also using up a finite natural resource.Many people purchase traditional faux fur in order to protect animals; however they are not aware of the environmental consequences. This jacket is a unique piece that is consistent with a timeless fashion trend while also taking into consideration the environment and all its various inhabitants.

With the hundreds of social and environmental non-profits out there, why donate 3 percent of your annual profits to Green Corps in specific?
Green Corps is an incredible organization that trains the next generation of environmental leaders. Each year the team at Green Corps inspires and prepares 25 recent graduates to become environmental advocates, who go on to work for the best non-profits in the US, such as the Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club and Green Peace. Their network of alumni is now over 375…that is a lot of people making a direct and positive impact on improving the health of our planet. We at loyale will only achieve so much by producing sustainable clothing, hence it is an honor to support an inspirational non-profit that is taking action and working daily towards the health of the environment.

Victoria Everman is a freelance writer, model, on-camera personality and founder of the San Francisco Craft Mafia.