The first time I met Erin Jensik was at the University of Wyoming's, “Kaleidoscope Fashion Show” last April. I was backstage “judging” (I have a hard time with this word when it comes to creative endeavors) and I see this elaborate, black ball gown with boning and a lace up back, all of my biggest fears combined into one dress. This looked like a dress far beyond the skill level of any undergraduate design student. I wondered, who was this masochist? And then I saw Erin, smiling coyly as if she hadn't just spent 60 plus hours slaving over this project.
A lot of design these days is heavily influenced by trend: the clothing you see in stores like H&M and Zara come to fruition with little more effort than copying something directly from a luxury designer, then dumbing it down with much cheaper materials and production methods. Erin's dress was not this: not only did it involve impressive technical skill, you could see this garment came from her heart and was not influenced by existing trend. It was a true form of self expression and also appeared to involve a lot of hand work, a meditative process that is disappearing from our fast paced “fashion” industry.
Since Visantine moved West last year, I've been trying to integrate the maker community of Laramie into my production process. Laramie is a small gem of a town in southern Wyoming with an impressive amount of artists and an incredible will to assemble. Many of the new Visantine pieces were sewn by local women, including Erin. She developed the tencel and bamboo patchwork tees utilizing sewing room remnants which, in most sewing rooms would end up in landfill. I've since learned that Erin is not only a badass seamstress, but a yogi and inspiring contortionist- all of which are very body and movement conscious practices, leading me to believe most of Erin's life is subconscious market research for her design process.
A lot of Erin's creative inspiration is drawn from an intangible form, movement; intrinsic to her life and personal style philosophy. Getting dressed in the morning is one of the few choices we get to make every single day and is such an intimate form of self expression. The items we choose to put on our body hint to the world who we are before we speak and should carry the same value as our voices. The pressures of media and celebrity tell us more is more: leading to over consumption and usually a diversion from our true selves. Erin's design principals impress me because she knows who she is, what she is comfortable in, and invests in pieces that truly reflect her.
The rising urgency for the fashion industry to change it's practices is alarming for small designers like Erin and I, and we want to do something to shift the industry without sounding all doom and gloom. Erin was nice enough to chat with me about some of these issues and offered some great advice as to how we, the consumers, can make a difference.
Have you always known you wanted to be a designer? What influenced/inspired you?
I’ve always had the idea that I wanted to be a designer, but for most of my life I tried to regard it only as a hobby. When I got to college, I chose a major that I thought would let me have a comfortable life. However, I had a difficult time going to class and would often skip so I could go do something creative. I thought of all the careers that I was capable of doing and then I thought of the activities that actually made me happy. Realizing how much of life was spent working, I decided to fully pursue design because loving my job is something I greatly value. It was honestly a difficult decision to make my hobby into a career because I always had this expectation of myself that I would be in a science or math related field and would be creative as a hobby. It ended up being more than a hobby and I still love every moment taking this risk, no matter how frustrating it gets.
As for what initially inspired me to like design, my mother quilted when I was growing up so I always had access to a machine and scrap fabric. Manipulating fabric and figuring out how to make clothes was part of my childhood and has grown to be a passion I enjoy more every day.
You are a clothing designer, yogi, and inspiring contortionist. All things that are very movement and body centric. Are these all subconscious or consciously related (how so)?
I think that all of these are consciously related. Prior to college, I was drawn to pursuing a degree in something math or science related. Even though I still enjoy these subjects, I’m a kinesthetic learner and being able to manipulate fabric and move my body helps me understand, appreciate, and enjoy these activities more. I feel like this awareness allows me to be a better and more creative problem solver. It’s the most effective and comfortable way I have to express myself.
Since these are my main passions, I often find that the designs I want to create fall into more the “athleisure” category of fashion. Most of the time I’m wearing running tights and a tank top or pieces that I can easily move in regardless if I’m actually working out. Being the type of person I want to design for, I want to be able to wear what I create.
You just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design (congrats!) I graduated almost 10 years ago and at the time, “ethical” and “sustainable” were nearly non-existent in our curriculum, but now there are even majors devoted to it like Corporate Social Responsibility. Do you see your peers responding positively to this movement? How are they being proactive to make the industry more conscious (or not)?
I do see my peers responding positively to it! I currently work at a consignment store in town where nearly everyone goes. Even though many may not go there to buy clothes with the intention of recycling (versus just buying cheap clothes), it’s a good start in spreading the word about sustainability in the fashion industry.
And it doesn’t end there! Many of my friends are vegetarian or vegan for either ethical or health reasons. There’s so many areas to be passionately sustainable about, and I’ve always found it interesting when they do cross over and how easily they cross over. I believe that the focus in sustainability shouldn’t be limited to just one sector. For me, at least, it’s growing to positively change my entire lifestyle. The world’s growing focus on banning plastic products like straws is increasing awareness in how things we buy are harming the planet. Hopefully, this realization will put the negative parts of fast fashion into the spotlight and create a change there.
So, I do see my peers responding positively to sustainability. Although it’s not in the way I initially came to focus on this movement, having different areas we all focus on helps facilitate this cross over and helps all of us learn easy ways we can be better to our earth.
You won the Kaleidoscope Fashion Show at the University of Wyoming last year with a VERY labor-intensive ball gown. You take on a lot of couture and handmade projects that require a lot of skill, patience and time. Some would call you a masochist in such a fast-paced industry. Can you tell us more about your calling to hand work?
I really enjoy the technical aspect of couture projects. I’m a sucker for hand-beading because I find it soothing and I enjoy seeing a project slowly come together. With these labor intensive projects, there’s such a freedom of expression that I don’t feel as much with ready-to-wear pieces. For most types of clothing, I enjoy more of a minimalist design concept, but with bridal or costume garments, it can be crazy, since I’m only making one.
Ultimately, I think I like knowing of what I’m capable of. I always want to be improving, and making detailed pieces allows me to keep learning and keep challenging myself, rather than becoming content with where my skills are now.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about clothing as self-expression. The way we dress hints to the world who we are before we speak. We have this opportunity to be completely unique individuals depending on how we present ourselves. Currently, trends and advertising are super influential toward the way people dress, and I wonder if that might stifle them internally. Do you have any opinion/insight on this?
Personally, I don’t focus on trends when I buy or make clothes. Trends change so frequently that it takes a lot of money to keep up the appearance of being fashionable, or in-style. I have no issue with being inspired by current trends, but I feel like the advertisements have been effective in speaking for people rather than simply influencing people. A lot of it ties into promoting fast fashion, which makes it difficult for me to see these advertisements about self-expression without immediately thinking about their motive to make money. I do end up buying things because I feel like they fit into my style, but I also know my style and usually what I’m specifically looking for. Rarely do I go to clothing stores without an intention.
With the plethora of “fast fashion” options, I find a lot of consumers have shopper’s remorse after a purchase, realizing the garment isn’t really “their style” but just a fleeting trend. I am a believer that over consumption (and inevitably more waste) is the biggest issue in the industry. Do you have any advice as to how to navigate the noise? More specifically, being conscious of trends while staying true to your individual style philosophy?
I feel that knowing what you want when you’re shopping, as well as knowing your personal style, can help navigate the noise. Inevitably, there will be impulse buys because “new is always better”. Putting garments on hold until the next day, or stepping back and asking questions like “why do I want/need this?” Or “what would I wear this with” may be able to help determine whether you’re buying an item because it’s part of the trend versus if it’s actually something that suits you.
You are starting your own line! Tell us about it. Why did you decide to start your own clothing line straight out of college rather than working for someone else? How will your company be different and what issues are you looking to address in the current fashion industry?
A couple of months before I graduated I was touching up my resume and applying for jobs. However, I wasn’t excited about any of them and the ones I thought I’d have a shot at getting were at companies that I didn’t want to work for because they were big fast-fashion companies. Applying for these jobs made me feel like I was compromising my ethics, and even though I’d be finally making money, I knew I wouldn’t be happy. It took me a while to figure out what path I want to go down, but I’m glad that I’ll be doing something I love and can feel good about.
Progress is currently slow with Jensik Designs as I learn more about becoming an entrepreneur, but my ideas will be centered around sustainability and minimalism. I’m currently trying to stay with this narrowed scope. I keep thinking of ways I can also tell people about sustainability in body, kitchen, and home products and part of me is ready to make another business before getting this one up and running. My business idea is similar to a lot of other sustainable clothing companies in that we want to combat fast-fashion with slow-fashion and the idea that people should know what their clothing is made of, where it comes from, and who makes it.
I have a hard time with the word “fashion” because the literal definition means “a popular trend, especially in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior.” “Trend” indicating it is temporary or throwaway, the exact opposite of what we want in the sustainable fashion community. If you could re-name this crazy industry, what would you call it?
I feel like simply calling this industry “clothing design” would get rid of the implications of “fashion” and “trend”. Interior design still follows what’s popular today in layout, furniture, and color scheme, but it doesn’t shy away from appreciating older ideas. “Clothing design” doesn’t sound nearly as fun as saying “fashion”, but it definitely makes me thing of all types of clothing from different eras rather than only what’s currently on the market.