Photographed by Natassia Bruckin
Over the last few years, I’ve been slowly rebuilding my wardrobe, buying significantly less and choosing better – making sure that each piece I invest in will have a good, useful life in my daily routine. When I discovered Shaina Mote, with its clean lines and modern sensibility, I carefully added a piece of hers to my wardrobe. A pair of Nadir denim is my first piece of Shaina’s and will no doubt be the last. These are clothes that disavow trends and are built to last.
Designer Shaina Mote is likely the best ambassador for her eponymous line of clothes. Discreet, unassuming, and with an exacting eye for detail, she is the embodiment of her creations, the by-product of a short-lived experience with fast fashion. After working as a buyer for a trend-driven, fast fashion company and being dismayed at the unsustainable practices common to the industry, Shaina started her own company. Shaina Mote’s clothes are the antithesis of mass production – collections are centered around a commitment to fair production. Over the years, she has built relationships with family-run contractors and local craftsmen in Los Angeles. Each stitch, French seam, and bias cut is crafted by a person she knows personally. Fabrics are sustainably sourced, from eucalyptus-derived Tencel to organic cotton poplin.
Aesthetically, Shaina’s pieces are reminiscent of ’90s chic utilitarian minimalism. There is purpose to every detail; even seemingly decorative elements serve a function, like a tie around the waist. Of special note is the way Shaina builds her collections – there are the requisite seasonal ones but there is also what she calls “The Essentials,” a core wardrobe of versatile pieces that work throughout the year. From the aforementioned Nadir pant, a pair of black denim wide-legged trousers that can be casual when paired with a slouchy linen tee or event-ready with a quick change of top, to the caftan-like stylings of the Avignon dress, with a clean structure that imagines itself as equally appropriate in a design office or on a weekend by the sea, each piece from this collection presents a strong case for the modern uniform.
Here, a chat with Shaina on the challenges of running a sustainable business and her favorite spots in Japan from her last visit.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I started my career in fashion as a buyer for a trend-driven, fast fashion company. It was a world where pieces were made as cheaply as possible with little regard to the people and places affected by the process. This job greatly influenced how I regarded style and design and gave me a strong point of view on the ever-difficult-to-pin down word: “sustainability.”
Why did you decide to start your own line?
I knew I loved fashion as a means of expression, but I just didn’t agree with how the majority of the production was being executed. In this process, I realized something could not be wholly beautiful to me if people or the environments involved were being negatively impacted in the process. When I began my company, I came to it with a strong mission to keep the production in our local economy in factories that have fair working conditions. I figured, even if the business I am able to give these factories is small, it is a positive impact on my direct community to be able to fuel the local garment manufacturing industry. Much work within the garment industry goes overseas and the direct impact is that the families in our community lose jobs.
Another one of my focuses was on the fabrics themselves. I love textiles that are durable, easy to care for, pack, breathable, stylish, textural, and natural. For my collection, I try to use as much US-based, organic, and sustainably-produced material as I can with low environmental impact dyes or washing processes. Currently in my collection, not much fabric is coming from the U.S. since many mills are closing due to the stiff overseas competition. It is a sparse trade! When in doubt, I revert to finding the “best of the best” should I need to bring fabric in from overseas. I do love Italian and Japanese fabrics and these make up the majority of my collection – those materials I hope to be organic and sustainably created, however I do balance the concept of my collections with sustainability, so in some cases I fail to find sustainable fibers that are also fashionable. I always try my best to prioritize sustainability when considering fabrics.
Lastly, when considering sustainability, I do think so much of it comes down to the design itself. I consider cross-seasonal wearability, timelessness, and design elements that lend themselves to being reinvented. For instance, the first piece I ever designed in 2011, the Tie Dress, was built out of the need to have a dress that could be worn from day to night or season to season. This idea really interests me truly from a design standpoint. With this concept, I always make sure that my pieces are built to last. Every piece we produce has French seams and bias-bound edges. It takes our sewers double the time to create, but it is worth it as you can rely on the garment to stand the test of time.
My current focus with sustainability is on building my own sewing atelier and I am really excited for this most recent Spring collection – everything was built mainly by our own in-house sewing team, as well as a handful of specialty, family-run factories in L.A.
Making things in this manner can be challenging! Some people ask, why is this “so expensive.” I think the real answer is that we are doing our best to balance each side of the equation – making things in a more thoughtful manner with fair wages to our team is important. It is also our responsibility to the consumer to sell pieces that are built to last and to be a longtime wardrobe standby.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Much of my inspiration comes from strong women, travels, and art.
Favorite places and purchases in Japan from your last visit?
I love Cosmic Wonder’s shop in Tokyo. Hakone and Kyoto were beautiful. I purchased many beautiful textiles, baskets and brushes in Kyoto and particularly loved the Master Recipe shop in Kyoto.
Best way to unwind after a long day?
I love a hot bath with Epsom salts and sage essential oil or a walk outside in nature to unwind.
Shaina Mote’s SS19 and Essentials collection will be available at pop-up event, Feel Good Market, on May 18- May 19 at TFC Showroom.