Almanac of Contemporary Aesthetics
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COLLINASTRADAWordsbyCarlottaManeschi

Extending sustainability into their driving force, New York-based brand Collina Strada has created a vibrant community through their creative and informative approach to upcycling.

When talking about Collina Strada, “weird” is a word used often and proudly by its Los Angeles-native founder, Hillary Taymour. Her constant search for quirkiness is reflected in the collections she designs for the New York-based brand, yet their unpretentiousness makes them extremely wearable and approachable. (As she puts it, they’re “clothes made with love and good intentions.”) Over the past few seasons, Collina Strada has established its unique identity through a prism of unhinged creativity and community-based experiences. What is particularly noteworthy about the brand’s ethos is its commitment to creating new, exciting, progressive designs while using all the tools at their disposal to recycle, upcycle, and repurpose while not marketing itself as a “sustainable” brand. In 2020, putting a green tag on a t-shirt or adding a cheeky “conscious” label in as a sub-brand, has become a hugely widespread and trendy marketing tool. As the conversation around sustainability is increasingly highjacked by big retailers and trend hoppers, however, Collina Strada stands apart: from the beginning, the brand has put in the effort to maintain ecological integrity without having to shout it in anyone’s face about it.

Even during this spring’s lockdown, Taymour kept busy by collaborating with longtime collaborator and photographer Charlie Engman and wig designer Tomihiro Kono on a special collection whose profits were entirely donated to charities. The fourty-four-piece Quarantine Collection featured face masks, tie-dye t-shirts and hoodies, and graphic trousers, all made entirely from deadstock and leftover fabrics.

This ethos isn’t limited to the team’s design practice, but rather extends to the way they run the whole business. Taymour uses a factory in midtown New York, allowing Collina’s production to be personally overseen while providing more work for local residents and drastically containing the label’s carbon footprint. Her mantra is “shop locally, grow your own food, don’t use plastic”—a set of values she explored literally in Collina’s SS20 show last September, wherein they staged a meta farmer’s market in the middle of the East Village, the stalls that formed the runway overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables that guests later took home.

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A few months ago, Engman spotted the avatar influencer Lil Miquela sporting a t-shirt from a Collina Strada look. His response, outlining the journey that the garment had traveled to get to the fashionista avatar’s closet, became an opportunity to bring awareness to the poorly handled afterlife of clothes. The shirt—a Venom band tee—was first given away somewhere in the USA, only to then be exported to a secondhand clothing market in Ghana, where a merchant tie-dyed it to then resell for roughly $2 USD. The secondhand clothing trade is a deeply rooted problem in today’s consumeristic dynamics, and Collina Strada tries to shine some extra light by supporting organizations like The OR Foundation. Dead White Man’s Clothes, a research project by The OR that works in Ghana, aims to decolonize the fashion ecology, unpacking the secondhand market’s influence on internal production and lessening its economic and environmental impact. Collina teamed up with them for their FW20 collection “Garden Ho” by using several t-shirts re-imported from Ghana and redesigning them into brand-new funky tie-dye dresses.

This season, Collina Strada navigated unprecedented circumstances by offering a virtual sea of phygital presentations. The label’s SS21 show “Change Is Cute” was a very trippy and galvanizing commotion. Taymour worked with artists Sean-Kierre Lyons and Alicia Mersy to create a 3D world populated by surreal animations. From there, using a psychedelia-injected green screen, they incorporated models dancing and jumping around waterfalls and cornfields to a synthy, bouncy soundtrack from Angel Emoji—“We care a lot, we wear Collina Strada”—which is still stuck in my head. Bringing together their community of collaborators, the show came from a consequential feeling of the state of the world: the belief that in these uncertain and unpredictable times, “we are forced to hold ourselves.”

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Photo credit: Charlie Engman. Illustration by Sean-Kierre Lyons

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