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The Slow Fashion Seamstress: Cassandra Evanow Talks Self-Made Success, Social Media & Sustainability.

Cassandra Evanow’s novel career-path proves testament that there is no rule-book to success. The founder of Evanow Design, Cassandra has spent her twenties building her brand using a method of trial-and-error. A self-taught seamstress with a passionate creative prowess – she’s had the privilege of dressing the likes of Bella Hadid, SZA and Kehlani in her colorful, sportswear-inspired creations over the years. Armed with an unparalleled approach towards designing sustainable and ethical re-purposed garments, Evanow is not one to waste a single thread; the result is always clean-cut, contemporary and endearingly fashion-forward.

 

Below, NBGA got the chance to chat with the unstoppable woman behind the viral Instagram posts of Victorian-inspired corsets re-structured using vintage baseball jerseys; to talk academics, fast-fashion vs slow-fashion, NIKE collaborations and of course about those legendary ‘Lauryn Hill Pants’. Hold onto your hats – and your denim scraps – all you amateur designers out there, Evanow is here with all the top tips on finding success; and on your own terms nonetheless!

Where did you grow up?  

I’m originally from Crescent City in Northern California. 

Have you always been into making your own clothes? Also, did your hometown influence your career choice in any way? 

Growing up in Crescent City definitely had an impact on my career choice as a fashion designer. It’s such a small town, and when I was growing up there weren’t very many mall’s or clothing stores to shop at – outside of the local K-Mart and Wal-Mart. So, naturally, I took matters into my own hands and would reconstruct my older siblings’ hand-me-downs whenever I wanted some fly new looks. Aside from that, my mom was a big influence. Once I began showing an interest in reconstructing clothes, she started to buy me fabric and sewing patterns from Wal-Mart and we’d make easy things – like halter tops. 

Who taught you how to sew?  

Initially, my mother taught me to sew. Although, I was always eager to try new techniques on my own – so most of the skills I use now are the result of many years of trial and error.  

What ultimately dissuaded you from pursuing a traditional fashion degree at FIDM and forging your own path in fashion design? 

I think what dissuaded me from pursuing my education at FIDM was simply the cost. It was 2008, and my family was not immune to the effects of the nationwide housing market crash. After my high school graduation, I moved out on my own to LA in pursuit of a place at FIDM; but once I got there I decided to hold off for a bit whilst I was getting settled in. As it turns out, I still had to work full-time to support myself, and this took away from my ability – and overall motivation – towards taking the extra steps needed to gain financial aid or grants at the time. 

I worked full-time until I was 24, and therefore when I was ready to pursue my education again, I was able to reap some more benefits with regards to the state’s educational funding. That’s when I decided to study fashion design at the LA community college “LA Trade Tech”; which was an opportunity I got for free. Ultimately, I ended up dropping out of LA Trade Tech before I completed the fashion design program – it ended up that trying to juggle homework and a full-time restaurant job was quite taxing on my creativity. Of course, I wish I’d have finished – but I haven’t closed the book on my education yet and who knows, maybe I’ll go back someday. 

It’s clear that there’s a meticulous detail that goes into every piece you make. Tell me a little more about your process?  

I think my process is quite random and sporadic – it all depends on my mood. Sometimes, I sketch the design out beforehand and I’ll know roughly how I want to arrange the contrasting colors and fabrics. Other times, I’ll just have a pile of fabrics in front of me and a combination for color-blocking will just jump out at me. It’s all about using what I already have and challenging myself to be creative with what’s available. On the other hand, when I take a custom order, I usually ask the client to show me a photo of a design they want from my Instagram or my website (evanowdesign.com). However, I rarely duplicate any garment as most of my designs are one-of-one. I like to offer each client a choice of similar material options; based on what I have of course.

Your denim often has a mosaic-like structure, as you collage different hues together to create picturesque pieces that accentuate the body. This must be a grueling process – where did you first get the idea to do this? 

I first got the idea to use patchwork with intricate mosaic-style patterns after I had begun saving even the tiniest of scraps of material from previous projects. As you can imagine, they started steadily piling up and eventually my containers were overflowing. I didn’t always save solely small scraps, however, and after a long project, I’d sometimes have enough to fill half a trash bag. I naturally began to feel a bit ‘icky’ about throwing materials away – so I decided to put them all aside. Once my collection was big enough, I began sorting through it all and separating materials by color or denim shade. Ultimately, that’s how the design idea came to life. Nowadays, I even save my thread trimmings, because why not go all out, right?

Cut-outs are also characteristic of your designs. Is there any particular reason you decided to use cut-outs so frequently across your work?

I gravitated towards cut-outs after a lucky accident. I was working on a geometric pattern with some scraps of denim, and when I struggled to find the perfect accent shade to fill in the blanks, I just decided to leave it out altogether. I ended up loving how the garment turned out and continued with the concept moving forward. I feel like using this technique creates a perfect balance between tomboy and sexy – which is always the goal for me when designing.

Within your work, you place much focus on up-cycling and re-purposing pre-loved materials – which is an intrinsically sustainable process. Is this a conscious decision? 

I’d say more recently I have made the decision to create with a focus on sustainability. I felt it was important, especially since with social media fast fashion has been booming at an uncontrollable rate. I’d like to say my brand is quite ethical, and that I take pride in refusing to have any part in fast-fashion.

However, I began reconstructing my garments on a creative whim. I’d have so many scraps leftover from past projects, in an effort to make the most of my budget I decided to piece them together instead of forking out on new fabrics. The whole process turned out to be quite therapeutic for me, and I quickly discovered I had a knack for it. Now, I solely use thrifted materials; well…I at least try my best to. Obviously, there are occasions where I need to source fabrics or other materials in order to create a complete look.

In a world plagued with fast fashion brands, I think it’s so special that you focus on curating one-of-a-kind pieces. Fashion trends are cyclical, and by approaching your work this way, you’re rebelliously breaking the cycle. Is this a sentimental aspect of your work for you?

Yes. I’d say my approach has some personal sentiment behind it. I’ve always seen fashion as an art, one that is easily overlooked as fine art because it’s not often categorized correctly; there’s fast fashion, sweatshop fashion, slow fashion, high fashion, couture and so much more. Often, people consume fast fashion over slow fashion because the only factor they give weight to is the price tag. There’s still a lot of people that think “If I can get a similar look for half the price, why wouldn’t I?” – and it’s a valid question.

However, I think more people are becoming conscious about doing their own research behind clothing distributors, which naturally is resulting in more people choosing to stop supporting fast fashion brands. In the same way that people in our generation are becoming more likely to buy organic food products over processed – because they’ve taken the time to find out where it comes from.

When I generate buzz over the designs I post online, I’m not by any means doing it for attention or simply for the praise – but rather, to cultivate a respect for the art of fashion as opposed to the marketing of fashion. I cringe every time I get a comment that asks, “How much?” – as my mission is to continue carving out an entirely new lane for my brand, in which slow and ethical fashion won’t ever have to compete with fast, corporate fashion.

In terms of generating buzz – you curated a central piece for the 2017 NIKE x Bella Hadid collaboration. How did it feel to see a supermodel wearing your work? Also, are there any other artists/creatives you would like to see in your clothes? 

I remember the stylist for the campaign reached out to me and asked if I could create a custom look out of archival T-shirts she’d sourced for the shoot. I ticked off a lot of boxes on my bucket-list that year, and I felt it was a massive personal achievement to have worked with one of the hottest supermodels of our generation.

I don’t have my sights set on any one artist that I want to work with next. I think right now, what’s most important to me, is to just keep digging deeper with regards to my creativity, in amongst gaining control of my self-discipline and productivity. I get excited to work with artists who are excited to work with me; I don’t ever want an artist to feel as if they’re doing me a favor by wearing my clothing. I’d rather engage in a creative partnership, and for artist collaborations to feel as if there’s a seed being planted that will blossom into a lasting artistic relationship.

You’ve been doing just that – working with amazing women like SZA, Demi Lovato & Kehlani – creating custom outfits for their tours and press appearances respectively. Is there anything different about the process when you’re designing clothes for artists to perform in?  

I have found that when I design outfits for artists to perform in, the process does change; but only slightly. Actually, the pants I designed for SZA were meant for the NIKE campaign she was shooting a couple of years back. However, whilst at the shoot I guess she was intrigued by them and asked to purchase them, and she subsequently wore them to her show the next night. I noticed – as the fan-videos posted online throughout that night poured in – that the pants had become increasingly thrashed as she pranced across the stage and high-kicked her way through the set.

Of course, there were no hard feelings as I was thrilled that she’d decided to wear them not once but twice; I knew they’d surely served their purpose. Still, before that point, I have to say I’d never considered that I’d have to make extra provisions for performance wear. Nowadays, it’s a very rare occurrence when I decide to use vintage denim for garments intended for performance. Therefore, I’d say the main difference comes with the initial selection of materials.

Can you tell me the story behind the Lauryn Hill pants?  

I love Lauryn Hill, her album (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill) was one of the first I’d ever owned, and it’s still one of the only albums I can still listen to from beginning to end without ever getting tired of. I am always struck by her wisdom, her tender spirit and her faith in God; those are the things I admire her for the most. 

The Lauryn Hill pants started with just her face. I got the idea whilst on a Miseducation binge one night when I realized the albums 20th Anniversary was fast-approaching. I guess my first thought was to post a photo of her on my Instagram account in homage – complete with a sappy caption about how much her music had touched me (even back when I was just a 9-year-old white girl living in suburban Northern California). Anyway, there I was in 2018, still listening and continuing to be amazed by how good the album is and suddenly it struck me how much time had gone by. I knew at that point I just had to give her some sort of tribute and (after I’d exhausted the sappy-Instagram post idea) the thought popped into my head to try and re-create an iconic image of her using my favorite medium for expressing myself; which just so happens to be patch-working.  

I must admit, I wasn’t really going for an exact replica of the rendering, I almost pictured it turning out to be an abstract resemblance of the original album artwork. However, as I got lost in the process, I couldn’t help but to keep going back and perfecting every little detail. I ended up really applying myself and giving it my best shot. It was my first attempt at working on something so intricate – I even shocked myself when I saw how good it turned out. I’d say the pants are some of my proudest work so far, although I hope I can top them soon. 

It just goes to show that when you’re truly passionate about something, there can be no limits to your creativity! Do you have any tips for girls who want to start making their own clothes or learn to sow?  

I’d say to start by reconstructing an already completed garment. It’s interesting that when you take clothing apart stitch-by-stitch, you’re also subconsciously retaining knowledge about the process that went into constructing them. Also, I’d encourage anyone who wants to learn to sew to utilize what’s available online. YouTube can teach you everything you need to know about actual sewing; I still refer to it all the time. I’d say don’t waste your energy on trying to follow those addicting TV series riddled with cliffhangers. If you don’t have access to many resources – make sure you put aside the time to develop your craft. You’ll never feel better about yourself than when you manage to teach yourself a new skill – trust me! 

Where do you want to take the Evanow Design brand next? I read in Voyage LA Magazine that you would like to start exhibiting your pieces (*outside of Instagram) – is there anything in the works now? 

There’s no blueprint right now. Currently, I’m focusing on my funds, setting up a professional studio and preparing to expand the business. I’m also in research mode – I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but I do have an interest in seeking out other companies who are already proactive in the sustainable fashion sphere. I’d love to gravitate towards that crowd and see where I can fit in. In the meantime, I’m still creating non-stop and hope to keep people entertained and interested in my vision via social media. 

Follow Cassandra on Instagram to keep updated on all things Evanow Design!  

By Tahirah Thomas