In our final installment of the Uniform Project Pilot Series, we have a chat with model, activist, entrepreneur and March pilot, Summer Rayne Oakes. A true eco-fashionista, Oakes shares not only her homage to 1950s style as demonstrated by her take on the classic LBD, but also details on her partnerships and efforts to spread the word on sustainable design and ethical fashion. Check out the interview below or visit eBayGreenTeam.com for the original article and previous pilot profiles. And be sure to follow Summer throughout the rest of the month to see what else she does with her LBD… as she tells us below, she definitely has few more tricks up her sleeve.
Sheena Matheiken: It’s been a busy month for you (but when is it not!). Between your multiple jobs as a successful entrepreneur and model… what convinced you to take on the 1-dress challenge with the Uniform Project?
Summer Rayne Oakes: I love fresh approaches to sustainable fashion and fundraising. And this seriously has been such a blast. I just don’t know how you did it for a full year!
SM: Ever since Tara introduced me to you, I’ve been a fan of your work. We need more people like you bringing credibility and sass to the sustainable fashion movement.
SRO: Ah shucks. Thanks.
SM: But you’ve really solidified your commitment with Source4Style — your new venture with your best friend Benita Singh. We at the Uniform Project source all our fabrics for our Little Black Dresses on Source4Style and can’t wait for all designers around the world to discover your site. Tell us more about Source4Style and how it’s going so far?
SRO: Building Source4Style with Benita has been such a pleasant experience. And we couldn’t have gotten the site to where it is today without the rest of the team: Elizabeth, Dave, Max and Sarah.
The mission behind Source4Style is to make sustainable design possible. Benita and I were essentially looking for a more scalable solution to sourcing sustainably. We came up with the idea of a curated B2B online marketplace that allows designers to source and discover more sustainable materials from a network of global suppliers. It’s been wonderful working with designers — including the Uniform Project — to help them connect directly with suppliers and discover new materials.
At the end of March we’re launching a community fundraising initiative called the Smarter Garment Center to help get service suppliers in the NYC garment district more business online. And by May we’ll have launched our Premium Level Service, which will give designers greater access to booking orders and sourcing tools.
SM: Both you and I are huge fans of your cause this month, charity: water. It’s so refreshing to see a non-profit organization getting it right… their transparency, branding, energy and most importantly their 100% model gives charity the makeover it desperately needed. Tell us about your longstanding relationship with them and why people should donate this month at the Uniform Project.
SRO: Ah! Scott Harrison of charity: water has been such a force of nature. I know he doesn’t like to take a lot of the credit, but it’s the strength of his spirit that helps make charity: water so successful. It should be supported for all the reasons you list above – and the fact that they have such great success in facilitating construction of clean water and sanitation facilities all around the world.
SM: Speaking of makeovers, I still feel that the sustainable fashion movement equally needs a facelift. Perhaps it’s even the fact that it markets itself as a ‘movement,’ which pigeonholes it into a not-so exciting corner. How do you think we can bring more desirability into the ethical fashion scene?
SRO: Movements are powerful forces of human nature – so I don’t see fault in calling it a “movement.” But fashion has never been egalitarian. There needs to be a balance between aspiration and accessibility, curation and community.
SM: How is Payless ShoeSource working with you to raise money for charity: water?
SRO: Ah, they’ve been great. They are matching funds raised online dollar-for-dollar, so it’s double the fun. Plus they are giving 50% off offers for shoes and accessories from the environmentally-preferable collection that I work with them on – zoe&zac.
SM: You’ve been really rocking the Payless shoes too.
SRO: Yah, I’ve been sporting zoe&zac, Christian Siriano, Lela Rose, Isabel Toledo… I love how my shoes and accessories have just been tying all my outfits together.
SM: You’re a sustainability consultant to companies like Payless, Portico, Modo and Aveeno. Can you give us some insight on some of the real roadblocks faced by bigger companies and what needs to happen within the fashion industry to facilitate a concerted global effort towards shedding its toxicity?
SRO: First and foremost, companies doing “business as usual” have to get baseline data on their impact and simultaneously understand what the impacts are. The larger the company, the more challenging that can be – so I empathize with the arduousness of the process. But it can be an exciting and rewarding challenge for all those involved, particularly when you can show progress.
With the concerted efforts of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco Index, AAFA’s commitment to sustainability, and the formation of a Sustainable Apparel Coalition – I think the apparel industry is finally on a road to a place that is very promising.
SM: Let’s talk about your Little Black Dress project. You wanted to create a dress that celebrated classic feminine curves. And you worked with your friends Terri and Cassandra from Carasan Designs. How was the design process and what were your guiding principles in designing this Little Black Dress?
SRO: I knew I wanted a 50s shape so I came up with an initial sketch which was a V-neck, sleeveless top and flared skirt with buttons all the way down the front. I had it in my mind already how I would wear it. I knew I wanted to pair it with collared shirts, boleros, underskirts, crinolines…
I showed my initial sketches to Terri and Cassandra and they just blew me out of the water with the final design. They gave the dress a sweetheart neckline, pockets, and two drawstrings on the bottom that could turn the dress into various bubble dresses, drop-crotch rompers, and the like. We didn’t even do a fitting and they masterfully tailored the piece to fit me like a glove.
SM: And keeping with the Uniform Project little black dress standards, this dress is already proving to be quite versatile! How many different ways have you worn it so far and how will you push it further this month?
SRO: I think I’ve worn it practically at least a dozen different ways already and I’m pretty sure there is a new way to wear this dress for every day of the month. I definitely have a few more tricks up my sleeve. You’ll just have to tune in for the rest of the month.
SM: How has the 1-dress challenge changed the way you get dressed every day?
SRO: It’s made me a better dresser (laughing). No, seriously. You not only have one main piece to work with, but you’re also on display every day. It inevitably makes you more imaginative, more fearless – and people respond to the confidence in your creativity.
SM: You’ve received some great vintage accessory donations from eBay this month. What are you most excited to try on? Any hints on what to anticipate for the rest of the month?
SRO: Ethnic prints! Hats, hats, hats! And big-girl bloomers!
SM: What kinds of things do you look for on eBay that you can’t find anywhere else?
SRO: Vintage hats, bloomers, petticoats, and other random fashion memorabilia.
SM: Do you have a favorite eBay vintage store?
SRO: Not really. I’m a targeted shopper – so if I’m looking for a pillbox hat – I’ll search for that and go from “highest price” to “lowest price.” The more expensive stuff is most often the most precious – and will often retain its value if I ever consider reselling.
SM:Lots of people are really loving your looks this month. Will you be reselling any of your pieces?
SRO: Yah, most likely. I’m going to be consigning some of my clothes on I-ELLA and raising more money for charity: water. So if you want to capture a little piece of my wardrobe, you can have first dibs there!
SM: What do you love and hate most about fashion?
SRO: Love: How elite it is. Hate: How elite it is. You can say we have a love-hate relationship.