For over ten years Vanessa Devaki Andrew has been devoted to her art, aesthetic, and message. Her brand, Madam Chino, takes used materials and reclaims them. She reinvents them into wearable, beautiful and well made fashion. Madam Chino took some time to answer a few questions about sustainability, art, and perfecting the process.
Maker Market- When was Madam Chino born?
Madam Chino- In 2003 I started working on Madam Chino in anticipation of collaborating with a marketing collective we called Fasten. Fasten was a wearable art collective that supported tiny clothing labels. None of us had enough inventory to fill our own space and together we could pool our energy and finances to break even on marketing costs. As we all grew individually, so did the space. I broke out on my own in 2009 with the Look Nook and continue individually with sales events and a traveling showcase at various pop-ups.
MM- What kind of creative background do you come from?
MC- My family are artists. My grandmother was a painter at Layton School of Arts which is now MIAD. I am also a painter and drawer, who got into clothing and applied arts through screen printing my drawings onto fabric. I view clothing sculpturally. Currently I develop clothing patterns with recycled T-shirts and found fabrics utilizing as much of the scrap as possible into new designs. I also create textile surface patterns using my drawings. I author/illustrate how-to zines in comic book format and have been instructing community education regularly for over 10 years.
MM- What were some of your first products? How has your line grown and changed?
MC- I've always been drawn to utilitarian items. As a low income youth, necessity mothered invention but I couldn't grasp frivolity. I wanted to create things people needed. My first product was "earplug earrings" which I fashioned by stringing earplugs onto beaded strands attached to ear hooks. Today I continue to create wearables however I wanted to streamline the variation of reuse materials by constructing a made-to-order site with patterns using all recycled T-shirts so they are available in volume and multiple sizes rather than one-offs.
MM- Can you describe your creative process? How are the ideas formed and then realized?
MC- Process over product. You can't perfect products just processes. Product will be perfect if you formulate and perfect the process. This necessitates open mindedness to make mistakes, and de-emphasizes perfection in the final which can be paralyzing. I also have a problem with "option paralysis" which I deal with in planning. My planner has days of the week for processes, rather than projects. This way I can work on various projects at once but still not have to constantly transition. I have a different day for photo, graphics, internet, production, and marketing, in which I slot multiple projects over the course of however long it takes.
MM- How and why did you decide to use recycled material as your primary medium?
MC- It makes sense. I the love serendipity of found object art. Fashion is the second leading industry in pollution. It's cost effective to use throw away items and add value to them. To me it's symbolic of a transformation like the saying "rags to riches."
MM- Fashion is a fickle beast. How does your brand remain current while maintaining a dedication to sustainability and quality?
MC- It's seems psychic but I think it just forms from adding and subtracting shapes in a silhouette. Each season hangs on to a few of last seasons ideas so that it's palatable for people, but adds a few new twists to excite. I definitely do research, mostly on sites like vogue which catalogs all major labels by season on the runway. It's fun to look but not feel tied to anything. Sustainable production means doing a run for showcase purposes, but having a made-to-order site to keep overproduction in check. My machines are superb so it's very easy to create quality.
MM- What new items are in the works for Madam Chino 2015?
MC- I'm currently working on a new round of processes to further my zero waste efforts. Tiny scraps are the hardest to use but the world is full of inspiration on responsible use of fashions bi-products. I recently acquired an extra space and am expanding production, purchased some new machinery including loop and cut pile rug tufting guns, and chain stitch embroidery machine, and am sourcing allergen-free fabric to use scraps in pillows. I will be presenting some new made-to-order items but will be adding a specialty goods section to the site to present one-of-a-kind goods as well.
MM- What benefits do you see in selling your wares directly to the customer?
MC- The position of both retailer and manufacturer has a lot of benefits. You get direct feedback and can do custom orders, it's more personal and relationships can be built easier, you don't have to give a cut of your profits because, let's face it, it's expensive enough to be in business. You can choose your sales schedule and use retail to raise money and awareness for good causes, and in general have more control over your goods and marketing.
MM- What inspires/has inspired your designs? Any muses?
MC- I'm inspired a lot by texture and the feeling of the fabric, the power of fast machines, and the idea that luxury is in everything not just for people with a lot of money. I find inspiration in nature and art.
MM- What is currently inspiring you? Artists? Makers? Music? IG feeds?
MC- Currently I am very inspired by Chindi and Boucherouite traditions in rug-making, cutting edge sustainable fashion that doesn't look "hippy," and all types of hand drawn digitally manipulated surface patterns. My favorite IG feeds are @potofrugs for rug-making, @reformation for sustainable luxury and @juliarothman @penelope_dullaghan and @wackywacko for illustrative surface designs.
To learn more about Madam Chino visit www.madamchino.com and see her in person at the Discovery World Theater for the first Maker Market of the season.