First things first, what does ‘Feral Childe’ mean?
The story behind our name has to do with a pivotal point in our lives as artists and designers where we were trying to reshape what we were doing. We had been working as artists, doing installations and art projects that involved clothes. Then people wanted to start buying the garments so we needed to get more within the program of wholesaling while still keeping the idea of how we started. That’s where the “feral” comes from, the idea that you’re not raised in civilization. You have to figure it out on your own, like a feral cat. For “childe”, the spelling is important. In the early part of the century, people used to spell words in the old English way. Shop – shoppe. Old – olde. So when you see that spelling, it brings up ideas about the older times. With the added “e”, “childe” talks about the narratives and stories behind the clothes. It gives you a combination of our technique and aesthetic; we create thing with our own ingenuity.
How did you get into sustainability?
It was really organic (no pun intended). Starting as young art students, you use materials that you can get easily and cheaply. A lot of times it meant using materials that were found. When we first started making clothes together just for ourselves as a little art team, we would go to shops selling seconds or mill-end runs of fabric. We would re-purpose things that we had made. Now, it’s so common to talk about sustainable fashion. Five to six years ago, it was very much a small pocket of what people talked about. H&M wasn’t doing their conscious collection. But we didn’t really know it was a thing – sourcing fabrics that aren’t as damaging to the environment, or trying to use fabrics that have a pure content to them. There’s a little bit of a funny thing about polyester fabrics or synthetic fibers. They’re actually really sustainable in a sense that they last a really long time, whereas some organic fabrics don’t have the sustaining power.
Mainstream fashion is missing…
Eclecticism. When we first started making clothes, mainstream fashion had so much crazy, weird stuff going on. Deconstruction was very cool and new. There was a lot of invention and innovation. Now, I feel like mainstream fashion doesn’t really have that. It’s more about luxury lines. You don’t really see that many experimental designers a la Martin Margiela.
I guess what’s nice now is the whole DIY culture. I like that. I feel like that’s how we started. For a long time, Alice and I sourced fabrics that you could cut and didn’t have to hem because they wouldn’t fray. Now, there’s a whole world of T-shirt re-purposing. I like that there’s this other level of fashion.
How do you choose your suppliers for your materials?
Alice does the sourcing very well. For the mill-end stuff, there aren’t so many suppliers that handle mill-end, so you can pretty much trust where the fabric came from. Our looms are manufacturers of fabric. When they sell stuff, they want to sell large quantities. With mill-ends you can buy a roll, it doesn't matter. A loom sometimes requires buying 5000 yards. For the custom prints, the suppliers at this point have come down to people that are easy to work and communicate with. And you do trust that this is an organic good. We have a half a dozen companies we work with. Once you find within their selection the textiles that are durable and have good finish, you stay with that group. Printing is a bit more difficult as there are a lot of different printers. What we like about the print group in India we’re working with is that digital printing is less harmful to the environment. Most of the silk prints we use come from India. There’s another portion that comes from a company in Korea. They’re like a family business that has been going on for 20 or 30 years. You get comfortable with the suppliers that essentially do good business. You really have to build and maintain these relationships.
As artists, prints are like a canvas for your work right?
What is interesting about prints is the issue of personality. How do you make a print seem not mechanical? It has to be tactile- in a way it has to 'touch' the memory yet repeat itself every 46 inches. I feel like Liberty of London, their prints operate on a vintage level. A lot of their floral prints and those that are wackier in terms of a picture like this little map of London that kept repeating. They definitely have sweetness to them that are personal.
Sustainability is our priority because…
I can’t really imagine doing it another way. I think because of so much personal history behind the garments, it would be hard to produce them in a way that didn't also carry that care forward from start to finish. We even recycle the cuttings we take from sampling. We try to think about each aspect of our company to reflect that initial purpose and intention.
How would you describe your brand in three words?
Personality. Care. Ingenuity.
Being a young brand in New York City is best because…
There are so many options. If you want to do anything – you can do it here. If you want to make a screen, there’s a place down the street, or if you want to print your own fabric – just go and do that. Somebody will tell you how to do it and you can go back to your studio. There’s something about New York City that does lend itself to accessibility, to sharing ideas. I don't know if it’s exclusive to this city… Somebody was saying that a skunk is not the smelliest animal but with the most smell. New York is the like the MOST city. It’s just a lot. If you want to do something, you don't have to place an order from a catalogue, but just go to Toho Shoji and pick up the beads. It’s pretty accessible which is great for us. It isn’t terrible for Alice to be in Oakland. Once you get a certain distance into your careers as designers, you can do it from other places because you know with whom to work with. You don't always have to have that new input. But starting out with all the choices in the Garment District, it’s pretty exciting.