Circling around the cobblestone streets of Tribeca on a sunny day in New York, I’m scrambling to hunt down the cafe I’m scheduled to meet the design duo of SVILU- Britt Cosgrove and Marina Polo. As a fledgling brand that started in 2012 offering eco-conscious staples for modern dressing, SVILU embodies the American tomboy spirit with carefree silhouettes borrowed from menswear mixed in with feminine prints and color palette.
Ten minutes later, after an exchange of frazzled hellos and a round of iced lattes, we sit down in the cushy interiors of Fika to discuss the SVILU sustainability model without compromising the aesthetic appeal of fashion. With a slogan that’s both minimal and to the point, Britt and Marina deconstructs the concept behind what ‘Mindfully Made’ means to them:
...the root word in Italian is sviluppo for ‘development’. What we’re doing is sort of developmental work in progress. It’s not something that’s established at this point but we’re working parallel with sustainability, growing and trying new things.
It was a very natural progression of how we live our lives. We both started with eating organic and local, being members of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Fashion is our industry- it’s what we do everyday. Sustainability kind of seeped in to our working life and it just made sense for us to do something we cared about.
...wearable clothes for the office or a date that are sustainable. When we looked at the sustainable market, it was very casual: T-shirts, yoga pants, sweat pants. Everything was kind of work-out related or wear-on-the-weekend. We wanted something that looked great but also made from recycled materials or organic cotton.
It’s having a sense of presentation and wearing something that’s tailored. We wanted to make clothes for women to have a sense of empowerment.
There were so many things! It was interesting to see people’s positive responses to what we were doing. When we started, we didn't know how people would feel about sustainable clothes. We learned that there is a market for it and people do care about it. Production has been pretty straightforward and we’re constantly streamlining and trying to maximize our day.
First and foremost there are certifying bodies, like GOTS, that we definitely do seek out. We also have a lot of trust in our mills in Japan, Italy, and Turkey to name a few. When people are telling us that something is certified organic trust is essential, especially when you’re a small startup.
Manufacturing is a lot more straightforward. All our factories are on the 38th street. In terms of quality control, we are there every day: we know what the conditions are like, we speak to these people all the time and we feel confident about where the clothes are made. That gives us a lot of peace of mind. Supporting the garment district is important, but it’s also really nice for us. It makes the process so much easier. We’re looking at the products firsthand so we can touch and inspect every single unit.
…we want to be able to do Fashion better. Sustainability is all about doing something that’s been done for years and years in a better way - a way that’s going to be more long-term and more effective.
… Relaxed. Effortless. Empowered.
We look at everyone from our moms, who are our biggest supporters, and to our friends. It’s the best feeling to see people you like wearing the clothes and it’s cool because they all wear them in a way that’s so them. We know that they have a sense of ease and they’ve been very true to who they are. The SVILU woman knows who she is and what she wants. She isn’t addicted to trends and always looks comfortable in her clothes without trying too hard.
We did! We took the inspiration from the fauvist movement - Dufy and van Dongen. We re-worked the color palate and collaborated with an artist friend, who executed it. She painted the canvas. It was a fun process. The colors are definitely unexpected. All of our printed silks are digital.
In part it’s about the materials themselves but it’s also about how it’s made; in a kinder way. We know who’s the small-run production that is making our clothing. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s about making the process a little bit nicer. It’s the little steps. Everything we do, from tags to paper products, we try to think of how to do it in a nicer way. We care about it.
No. But we also don't scream it. We let the clothes speak for themselves.
(Britt) I love the Bicolor Crewneck Sweater. I’d probably wear it with a dark, skinny jean. And flats.
(Marina) I love the Flounce Tencel Skirt. I’d wear it with biker boots. Or pair it with knits. We like to dress everything down a bit.
We would like to extend what we offer, the size of the collection. It would still be womenswear, but maybe bring in a resort collection and things that are more varied in price point as well: accessories, a line of organic basics, underwear. It’s important for us to continue down the sustainable road. We would like that people would come to SVILU because they trust in what we do. Sustainability is a bit of a grey area. You have to be comfortable with the decisions you make and we want to make steps in the right direction and figure it out along the way. If we feel comfortable with our suppliers and fabrics that we use, it’s all we can do – to try to do our best.