A chat with designer Daniel Silverstein

Zero Waste Sustainable Designer Daniel Silverstein I am all about supporting local design talent and when I saw Daniel Silverstein’s Zero Waste top in my instagram feed it immediately caught my attention. And then when I learned about the concept behind it…let’s just say it’s going on my Christmas list of what I will be giving as gifts.

And being the slightly obsessive type that I am I decided to interview him to learn more. Daniel’s one of the talented designers whose studio is at Manufacture New York, an industrial space in Brooklyn where designers and manufacturers work side-by-side allowing the designer’s to make small runs of products and keep the whole process in New York.

Katya: So Daniel, how did you come up with this shirt?

Daniel: I'm super excited about this shirt because I've been dreaming of this kind of a thing for years. It’s literally all re-purposed cutting room scraps. New fabrics that have never been used or warn. Factories just don't use them. They cut out what they want and throw the rest away! So it's really pre-consumer waste. fabric and it’s taking the textile remnants and piecing them together to make something new.

Katya: Instead of deconstructing it’s like reconstructing. And it has that modernist feel I always associate with deconstructed clothes…the point of deconstructed fashion was to show that fashion wasn’t flawless and your pieces are kind of like taking a flaw in fashion – the wastefulness and using that to create something new and unique.

Daniel: Thank you! I've seen people take textile remnants and piece them together to make things to wear and they always look like they belong in like an eco-fashion category and that’s really been bothering me because I think everybody needs to stop thinking about it in a craft way of doing things and more of the future.

Katya: Yeah, let’s talk about the concept of eco-fashion and I'll just be straight up: I'm coming slightly late to the dance with the whole sustainable thing but now that I’m aware of it, in part by articles online and then by my designer friends changing their focus, I still see that a lot of people still associate it with a “hippie dippie” aesthetic and an assumption of lower quality. Where do you see yourself in association with “eco-fashion” or do you wish that was just something that would just go away as a term?

Daniel: Well eco-fashion has a connotation like punk has a connotation… punk can be super high fashion –look at Vivienne Westwood- so I understand it in a sense because we're all victims of that exact same thing where you hear a term and you think you know what it means and what I have come to realize and what I hope to see more of is that as people start businesses and large companies that have a huge market share right now grow everyone is seeing a need and a demand to make things in a more conscious way and so I don't necessarily think it's about being eco because I don't really know what that means but I think that conscious design and conscious consumption are incredibly important trends for the next generation of designers both as employees and entrepreneurs.

My focus is on how to reduce consumption, consume responsibly and consume better materials. I don't do any development on actual materials and I wouldn't say I'm ignorant but I'm not as well versed in some of the materiality as I would like to be because I'm just one person and I'm a team of one. But a common thread seems to be incredibly clear to me which is that less waste is better so I'm focused on that piece of it and as the people who focus on materials hone in on what the best things to use are I hope to incorporate those materials into my designs but right now I'm focused on how to use all of it or use less of it. And still keep up with the Joneses in fashion! Zero Waste Sustainable Designer Daniel Silverstein

Katya: So you’re a team of one. How on earth do you make these shirts?

Daniel: I actually came up with a model around the time I moved into Manufacture New York and I came up with this new idea just making sweatshirts –blogging about it, talking about it, doing different things. But to do something like this, one at a time, by myself.

Katya: Cray cray

Daniel: Exactly! I’d have to charge like 300-500 dollars for one of these just to make it worth my time. But I was able to produce it right here and can sell them at $85 a piece which is quite reasonable.

Katya: What’s it like working from here?

Daniel: I heard Bob (Bland, the Founder) say that every single time someone comes in here with her their reaction is so strong. Like oh my god, you can tell this is something really super special. And it takes so much time and so many hands to make something with this scale succeed. And one of the reasons is it’s an accelerator more than an incubator

It's a community building because everyone in here is brilliant, incredible designers, brilliant thinkers, motivated interesting people and you've just got so much energy in one place and you start seeing incredible stuff.

Katya: What do mean it's more an accelerator than an incubator?

Daniel: I feel like they offer services, like you can have your products developed here, you can have your things manufactured here but it's not like I'm going through a program as a designer here that says “this is how you become successful”, it's more like we have all these incredible resources and all these people and there are literally no walls between you. And it’s like “Go!”

Katya: Just listening to you I find it exciting. After all the depressing news about fast fashion and everything is made overseas this feels like a real little revolution…

Daniel: Totally!

Katya: So, you’re teaching a class this weekend as well?

Daniel: Right! I focus a lot on two different things: One is actually having an impact on reducing waste and the other is educating young designers and other professionals so that they can incorporate these practices into their designs as well. And the thing about zero waste is it's not an aesthetic it's a way of thinking. It’s just a process of design and manufacturing so with that being said, I always tell everyone you can sub in your own priorities where I use the word zero waste.

That's my priority, that's what I'm trying to do but if you care about made in your home country or you want things to be fair trade, or whatever, then that's your number one priority and that's how you can be actionable.

I've gotten a lot of feedback in the last couple of years that I seem like I’m working on too many things but I'm not. I'm only working on zero waste. There's a lot of different things going on whether it's a custom wedding gown or it's my zero waste shirt or I'm teaching a workshop, but it's always focused on zero waste. So I recently saw “The True Cost" documentary, it's amazing you have to watch it if you haven’t seen it, but I think that one of the things that it does for the viewer is that it really shocks them into feeling guilty about their purchases and at the end of the film I felt kind of good because I hadn't been a part of any of that for like five years. I was like wow! I'm still shopping, I'm still trendy I'm still making stuff and you just don't have to be a part of this system!

NOTE: Learn more and register for Daniel's workshop on Saturday November 21st here (At least 2 years of design, sewing knowledge and pattern making experienced required).