CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative finalist Marcia Patmos (pictured below) is the founder and designer of her own fashion label, M. PATMOS. We chatted with Marcia about all things M.PATMOS including her experience in the CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative, the story and background of her brand, as well as the sustainable practices she uses within her designs.
Rebecca Vickers: Hi Marcia! How are you doing today?
Marcia Patmos: Hi! Doing well, thanks. It’s turned into a nice day here in New York so I’m enjoying that. Where are you?
RV: I’m in Colorado at the moment, it’s pretty sunny here as well! Thanks for taking the time to chat today, I really appreciate it.
RV: Before we jump in I’d love to just briefly talk about what our Noble Conversations series is.
RV: So it’s full content series that is focused around clean luxury and sustainability so we’re partnering with lots of different brands and designers around the idea of putting great content out in this space that is beautiful and inspirational. We’re beginning to branch out into different areas such as lifestyle and social impact to get a broader scope of what is going on across the board in the luxury and sustainable space. So with all that to say that’s why we reached out to you as we wanted to learn more about M. PATMOS as a brand and you as a designer.
MP: Oh that’s awesome! I’m not sure how you came across me actually so I don’t know if you know this or not but I’m part of this years’ CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative. Do you know about that?
RV: That’s awesome! I didn’t know you were a part of it. Tell me more!
MP: Yeah, so I’m one of the 5 designers in it. The other designers are St. Roche, Studio One Eighty Nine, Cienne, and WHiT… And it’s great, we’re actually in the final push now. They’ve had all these big workshops for us to attend with people coming from organizations like NEST to speak to us. And then we also went to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit which is a big conference about sustainability and fashion and how to move it forward. It’s kind of like three days of TED talk type talks with lots of different people in the space. They also had something new this year called the Innovation Platform, so aside from these great talks they also had all of these people who are doing innovative things within the space through packaging, apps, etc.
RV: Sounds amazing.
MP: And I got to meet Stella McCartney who’s a big spokesperson for sustainability space. She was so lovely and really excited to hear about all we’re doing. It was fun!
RV: Stella is doing amazing things! Awesome that you got to meet her.
MP: It definitely was. Also a part of the program was that we had to apply for a micro grant that had to be something actionable in June so I did a deep dive into our supply chains. I was down in Peru going to every single workshop we work with and then I sent one of my employees to India and Nepal so we tag-teamed it. In Peru, there’s people who do beading, weaving, yarn mills, vegetable dyers… there was a lot of visiting people which was awesome! It was so great to go to every single workshop and meet everyone and be able to work right there in person and figure out what materials are best, etc.
RV: Sounds like quite the trip!
MP: It was, yeah. And then the last thing we have to do is a ‘Blueprint for the Future’ which is a plan that all of the designers have to do to show what we are doing now and what we plan to keep on implementing in terms of sustainability in our brand and also how that relates to the whole economy of everything etcetera. So at the end we all have to present that and there is a bigger prize at the end that one of us will get.
RV: Amazing. So great to hear all of this. Just piggy backing off of all this I’d love to dive into some questions if that’s alright?
MP: Yeah totally!
“Another big thing is that in some of the workshops I work at, they are doing a lot of things to empower both the men and women who operate them to be able run things by themselves. There’s a lot of research that shows that employing women and empowering women really helps the whole world economy.”
RV: So, going back to the beginning, could you tell me a little more about your background in fashion and how it led you to where you are today?
MP: Sure! So I went to Rhode Island School of Design and studied fashion. Then I came to New York right after that and I worked for a combination of some larger companies. I also did a lot of freelance work where I was exploring more of the textile world because I love textiles. I used to work for Barney’s and then I worked for the Gap which is what led me to start my own business. It was a great experience, I learned so much but I got really burnt out by the constant cycle of changing trends. I would go to factories, you know for development, and there would just be a pile of sweaters the size of the building I’m looking at right now which was kind of overwhelming.
RV: Sounds overwhelming!
MP: Yeah so I felt like I needed to do something completely different, either I needed to become a gardener or a bartender or something like that or I needed to start my own line. And then a woman who I had worked with at Barney’s had gone and worked for The Limited and had a similar experience to me, so we decided to start a brand together called Lutz & Patmos. We wanted to create things that were long-lasting and special… Things that you kept in your closet forever. We had that for 10 years and then started my own brand. My philosophy has always been that I want to create clothes that people can keep in their wardrobe for years and things that are seasonless. Everything should be travelable as well as be able to be worn in the morning and then worn later that night with maybe a splash of lipstick, you know? Everything should be a “jeans and a t-shirt” feeling but more elegant.
And it’s really great, actually, there’s a range of women who will wear my brand; professional or not… Some are mothers some are not. I love having things that look great on different stages and sizes.
RV: Right, right. Very cool! Okay so you talked a little bit about sourcing earlier but you obviously have a desire to use sustainable and socially conscious practices throughout your sourcing and production, what are some of the tangible ways you implement this into your brand?
MP: A large part of my production is hand-made in Peru and Nepal. Either hand-weaving, or hand-knitting or some crochet. Having hand-made items are preserving ancient craft, for one. All of these people in Peru, which a lot of them are men by the way, have learned these skills from their father/grandfather or mother/grandmother. When you go to the museums in Peru and you see the pre-Columbian textiles and people are still doing the same thing now, it’s incredible. Hand-made means that it’s also very low impact, such as no electricity use. I’m also using all-natural fibers that are local to the source of where I’m producing. In Peru, I use cotton that is grown there as well as alpaca. In Nepal, it’s also hand-weaving and hand-knitting.
Another big thing is that in some of the workshops I work they are doing a lot of things to empower both the men and women who run them to be able run things themselves. There’s a lot of research that shows that employing women and empowering women really helps the whole world economy.
RV: Awesome. Love women empowerment!
MP: Me too!
“I would hope that a woman feels beautiful and comfortable wearing my clothes. I really think the best thing that happens when I see people try things on is when I see them stand up straight and smile. When someone tries on the right thing, you can see them light up and become more confident.”
RV: Okay so through this journey of pursuing responsible design, what have been some of the most edifying as well as the most challenging moments?
MP: The best part of my job is meeting my customers! When I do trunk shows and pop-ups I get to meet the women who are wearing my clothes. I love to see the cool women who gravitate towards my product.
And then the challenge is essentially creating a small business in general. It’s really different because so much has changed within the last 5 years like Everlane didn’t exist and Amazon existed but they weren’t taking over the world like they are now. So it’s trying to stay agile and make the right decisions trying to navigate this huge world.
What I’m trying to do is continue to do what I’m doing and tell a better story about it. And just figure out ways to make things that are different and special that aren’t made in other places because we can’t compete with these huge consumer brands.
RV: Right, right. So I’ve been looking at your website and through your lookbook on vogue.com and I absolutely love your designs! I would love to know, what are some of the inspirations behind your designs? And how do you hope a woman feels when she wears your clothes?
MP: In terms of my inspiration, essentially the world around me is my inspiration. I’m obsessed with how things are made like I love looking at construction sites or things that are under construction. The process of how things are made and all the different layers and how things are put together always gives me different ideas.
And I would hope that a woman feels beautiful and comfortable wearing my clothes. I really think the best thing that happens when I see people try things on is when I see them stand up straight and smile. When someone tries on the right thing, you can see them light up and become more confident. I have a friend and customer who is an ad executive and she always tell me that when she has to do a presentation she wears something of mine and she says it’s her ‘strength outfit’. Which is so flattering, I love that!
RV: Love how you use construction for design inspiration, how unique!
RV: So as you are a designer of this incredibly sustainable brand, what are some elements that consumers should look for in a brand that is claiming socially-conscious, eco-friendly design?
MP: I mean, there’s so many elements that go into everything which is what makes it extremely challenging. In terms of large brands, for example Nike or Levi’s, if they’re claiming to do be doing something then they’ll usually spell it out really clearly what it is they’re doing. Because as you mentioned earlier in our conversation, there’s a lot of scrutiny around the PR of all of this stuff.
Smaller brands, especially if that is their entire focus, are also usually extremely transparent on their website. You can read their stories in their ‘about’ section. I would read about what they’re doing and how they describe their company mission and product. The biggest thing is when a brand is really transparent they’re usually doing what they say!
RV: Very true. Also in regards to the bigger brands, hopefully they are becoming aware that people are caring more nowadays about how their clothes are being made in which case they are starting to move the needle within the industry into becoming more socially conscious.
MP: Yes! And I guess one thing that came out in the Copenhagen Fashion Summit is something that all brands have an issue with which is bigger than all of us, big or small companies, is government regulations. For example, the EU has had much stricter rules on materials than we have in the U.S. So let’s say if the U.S. government, or any government, made stricter regulations that everyone would have to follow then that would change things.
RV: I totally agree. Well, I feel like I have gained a wealth of knowledge from you, Marcia. That’s all the questions I have for you but you’ve been so great to talk to and learning more about your story and what you’re doing with M.PATMOS has been awesome! As well as gaining even more insight into the CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative which I wish you the best of luck in!
MP: Thank you! It’s been great to chat.
RV: I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day!
MP: You as well!
P.S. Here are some clean, eco-friendly brands Marcia wears and recommends:
Of course, M.PATMOS
Interview conducted by Rebecca Vickers
FOR MORE VISIT: M.PATMOS
Images courtesy M.PATMOS, photographers Daniel McMahon Photography (Marcia image) & Fredrika Starjne (all other images)
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