Collina Strada, the environment’s biggest fashion champ

Creative director Hillary Taymour is designing artistic, eco-conscious fashion steeped in meaning.

Collina Strada has become synonymous with new age, flower child daywear. The label’s LA-born, NYC-based founder Hillary Taymour crafts eco-conscious collections suffused with urban bohemia. It’s that grunge-luxe aesthetic you might associate with Manhattan’s Dimes Square set, much like those in the 32-year-old designer’s whirling orbit, from supermodel Ruby Aldridge to singer Zsela Thompson, who performed at her SS20 show and featured in her previous season’s campaign.

The brand’s 2008 debut included slouchy leather handbags – discontinued for ethical reasons, but with plans of a vegan relaunch – and by 2012, she had launched genderless ready-to-wear. Since then, Taymour has established an evergreen brand ethos, and was nominated recently by Anna Wintour as a 2019 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Finalist for creativity, community, and sustainability”.

Collina Strada’s wearable collections are predominantly made from upcycled and eco-friendly materials, with everything produced in NYC to reduce its carbon footprint. Yet Taymour is boldly transparent about her areas for improvement, always striving to find ways to design even more sustainably.

Aside from promoting sustainability, Collina Strada’s NYFW shows are equally well known for encouraging self-reflection. Taymour seamlessly marries humanity and art. The SS18 show was based on Social Media Anxiety Disorder, with Taiwanese creative John Yuyi, a post-internet artist who focuses on anxiety and bipolar disorder, closing the runway. Another of Taymour’s shows featured a Tibetan sound bath used to balance chakras with healing music (SS19) and AW19 opened with a mini TED-talk from environmental activist and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.

The latest show, SS20’s Thank You For Helping Me”, replicated a floral NYC farmers market with fruit and veg donated by Misfits Market, a company which sells misshapen produce that isn’t deemed attractive enough for stores. After the show, attendees were invited to fill recyclable bags with the donated goods. It was the antithesis of Chanel’s AW14 supermarket sweep, where the greedy audience ran amok post-show to raid excessive heaps of Chanel-branded, plastic-packaged produce: a gross, capitalistic mall grab. Taymour’s show promoted sustainable consumerism, perhaps illustrating a progressive shift in fashion’s consciousness.

Showgoers were not only gifted fruit and veg at Collina Strada SS20, the show notes also detailed ways in which they could make their daily consumption greener, like eating homegrown veg or cutting down on meat. Taymour acts as more of an environmental weather vane than just your average bottom-line focused fashion designer; she plays agony aunt to all of her friends off-duty, too.

The desperation felt from Collina Strada is very real, stemming from a sincere concern for the planet. But Taymour’s protest is never aggressive, it’s more like guidance full of optimism, implying that the future can be as bright and exciting as her clothes.

Have you always been one to contemplate life?

Yeah, I’ve always been spiritual and awakened. I feel that being an example and helping other people on their journey is the most important thing you can do in this society.

How do you know that the message you convey with your collections is being understood?

People have told me that they take my show notes and hang them on their refrigerator until the next season, where they get new show notes and do it all over again. I feel like that’s so symbolic and beautiful. The latest said things like eat less meat and more plants”, shop local” and support your farmers”. It’s like their guide or mantra on how to be a better person. Also, a lot of my friends are big in the industry yet they still want to put their Starbucks cups outside before entering my studio, they’re always like, I know, I feel totally guilty, I should go buy a reusable coffee cup right now!” It’s funny, I never try to make them feel bad, though.

How do you get people to care about what you’re saying?

My way is not about preaching. I don’t want to shove anything down your throat. This is more about uplifting people with an energy to help people love more and do things in a better way. Our show notes had little cartoon characters on them, like little kids eating an apple and carrot emojis waving, with advice like support your farmers, know where your food is coming from, start a garden and grow your own food. I want to make you feel better and show you how to help.

You don’t want to be labelled as a sustainable fashion designer, is that because it’s impossible?

If you want to tell me that you can make a thousand units of a dress from all recycled, organic materials, you’re making it all in one place and then the customer is coming straight there, then fine. That’s amazing. I highly doubt it though. A lot of people don’t really get what sustainability means, how to make their products better or what their other options actually are.

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What about food waste, why was that the theme of your SS20 show?

Everything is connected. We’re all on this one planet and all of our resources are coming from somewhere. Think about what you buy in one day, what you consume. At the show, there were loads of fruit and vegetables donated which never make it to the grocery store. Funnily enough, at another runway show that our florist was working on, they didn’t like the colour orange in their displays so they were throwing away 2000 oranges and my florist took them for us. We had a homeless shelter lined up to take all of the vegetables when the show was over, but there were actually only six onions left afterwards. It was crazy.

I agree that the state of the world is depressing, but your SS20 collection didn’t reflect that mood.

I don’t want to make boring basics because there are so many brands doing that! You don’t need to wear beige to be in a sustainable garment. I’m only making clothes that I can say something with to express myself and have fun with fashion. I want you to talk about [sustainability], be bold and the best version of yourself.

Why did you choose to include babies in your runway?

That’s who we’re building this planet for, so I wanted people to be aware of that and do something to make it better for them. I also included older generations, we’re all in this together.

What are your future plans?

I just really want to help other designers and focus on the fashion industry as a whole. I’d like to partner with bigger brands and help them figure out how to do things correctly and improve their sustainability, to give everyone as much knowledge as possible because the climate crisis isn’t going away. This shouldn’t be a marketing ploy, we need to create a company standard.

Photography assistant Michael Wolever, Styling assistant Amber Nicole Alston, Hair Tsuki at Streeters, Make-up Allie Smith at Bridge Artists using Tom Ford, Models Sasha Melynchuk, Michelle Phanh and DeVonn Francis, Special thanks SMC Stone International.


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