Beauty Will Save the World: Sustainability’s Top Makers on What Compels Them to Create

EcoSalon’s favorite fashion designers, jewelry makers and artisans on the nature of creativity. 

“Beauty will save the world,” remarked Dostoevsky in the 19th century. If ever there was a time to believe in the possibility of that statement, it is now. When our public discourse is reduced to ideological political posturing, the impact of beauty and creativity in our everyday lives offers both a vital opportunity for connection and a prospect for cultural renewal.

Over the years at EcoSalon, we’ve delighted in sharing the stories of the fashion designers, jewelry makers and artisans who are dedicated to creating true objects of beauty while choosing ethically responsible methods and practices that upend the customary business models in fashion, jewelry and art. Why do they do it? We asked them the question, “What compels you to create?” Here’s what they had to say:

Xing-Zhen Chung-Hilyard and Melissa Kirgan, Eko-Lab

“Creativity is a deep unconscious force. A process that reveals the unseen see-able and dreams reality. There’s a peace that comes from designing that in some small way we’re making the every-day more beautiful.”

Joy Opfer, Kyler by Joy O

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of  Eat, Pray, Love, has said that she believes there are currents of creativity and ideas circulating around the planet, looking for people to bring them into physical form. This idea is a lovely way of explaining the process of creativity – I often feel that I do not so much create, as synthesize ideas. When we work hard to be there, to be open and prepared for the muse when she arrives, to welcome her through sweat and tears, ready to manifest the boldest visions, a blend of the hive and our own minds – this is a gift.

Fashion is one of the biggest industries on the planet. To act as though it is frivolous is, at this point, a waste of time. Each person, through their choices can inspire change and awareness – and creating one more choice that supports handcrafted and carefully made goods is one that I am proud to be a part of.

Meghan Sebold, Afia

Life can be nauseatingly tragic with many things feeling out of our control. People can be corrupt, dishonest and disloyal – and often times it seems that those people win out. I see only two ways of dealing with the dark side of life: you can respond to corruption with conniving strategies, dishonesty with lies, attacks with counter attacks – or you can reject it and a attempt to create light and beauty in dark situations.

I’m certainly no hero to the women who produce my line – most of them are suspicious of my intentions. They think I’m there to use them for cheap labor – why else would I cross the world to be there? We stand in a room together across a table, having difficult conversations. Trying to trust each other. Trying to create a product together.

Shannon South, reMade USA

So many of us have the innate desire to create. It is what makes us human and what keeps our species going. It’s what fuels innovation. Those of us who are informed and concerned try to do so in the most thoughtful and sustainable way – a path that is not easiest or the most profitable, yet one that gives meaning and integrity to our vision.

Sasha Duerr, Permacouture Institute

I am a plant dyer because it immediately connects me to time and place, to my environment, to my community, and to indescribable depths of beauty. Plant color can ONLY be created – like an amazing meal you toast  to and savor with friends, or an heirloom peach that came to ripen in the sweetness of a perfect growing season – in that time with those conditions. It is a depth of experience that is often not repeatable – and therefore difficult to commodify.

I am consciously grateful to have chosen to make it my work – beyond promise of financial gain or security. This is why I started Permacouture – experimentation and knowledge needs to be shared if it is ever to be sustainable or regenerative to last beyond our own generation. This love for the wonder of the bigger picture has fueled my passion as both an artist and advocate for slower ways of being and creating. I am always awed by how much there is to learn.

Davora Lindner, Prairie Underground

The idea that “Creativity is it’s own reward” seems like such a universal truism. As designers and manufacturers our role isn’t entirely creative but we feel fortunate to work in an industry that demands this engagement. It has introduced us to the writers at EcoSalon and to like-minded women all over the world. That level of aesthetic communication is startling – it’s this connection that is the inspiration behind Prairie and remains the central theme of our work.

The photo (above) is from when Prairie Underground was still based in our homes.  We had received a large volume of orders for the Hard Times Dress that featured a hand painted print.  I needed to figure out a way to execute this in my studio apartment.  The solution was to paint the textile and feed it out my window to dry, then repeat.  Our passion to create is something that end users don’t often see.  The memories of this time are some of the fondest in my life.

Elizabeth Bruner, Piece x Piece

When you  start to seek out original and handcrafted crafted clothing, it feels like an important revelation. Handcrafted means respecting the time it takes to actually create something. There is meaning in the fact that someone has thought and carried out all the little steps it takes to make a truly unique item.

It’s never been about money for me. I know I’m not going to be a rich woman working with scrap fabrics but what compelled me to start Piece x Piece was the fact that I simply could not ignore what in my heart I knew I could change, if even on the smallest scale.

Alice Wu + Moriah Carlson, Feral Childe, 

When we started Feral Childe, we were young artists trying to make it in the New York art world, trying to fill the emptiness in our own closets, and striving to provide an antidote to fashion’s obsessions with brands, logos and over-consumption. We felt a responsibility to make things that were thoughtfully made, using available materials such as off-cuts and fabric remnants so gnarly and unloved in their raw state, but full of potential beauty in our hands. We believe in the power of the handcrafted to affect one profoundly. When something we have made touches an individual in a way that makes them think differently about the world we live in, we are inspired to continue our work.

Maria Moyer

It’s submission to the process. From inspiration to execution, I have to get out of the way and let my hands and my understanding of material attempt to catch up to some idea of what is possible. The result is always a surprise and that is a delight, sometimes a disappointment and always there’s something to learn. The whole thing is a miraculous privilege.

Kirsten Muenster, Kirsten Muenster Jewelry

I’ve always felt a need to create with my hands. My father helped me make my first ring in our basement when I was a kid. The feeling I had then (and still get today) from translating an abstract or conceptual idea into a tangible object with my hands is indescribably addictive.

Nature, unusual materials, ancient artifacts and crafting techniques inspire my work and process. Creating handcrafted objects is vital because they have the power to tell a story, carry on a tradition and remind us of the connection between every set of hands involved in the process or supply chain. I hope to influence others with my work to keep the cycle going. That’s why it is so important for me to know where my materials come from and whose lives they impact. We’re all connected.

Howard Brown, Stewart+Brown

At Stewart+Brown, the reason we do what we do is because we MUST have a sense of both passion and purpose in our work. And we must have beauty in our lives and not at the expense of the environment or supply chain stakeholders. We could not find that collision of ideals in the corporate world even when working at great companies, so we created it ourselves with our own company. It has been the greatest adventure of our lives. In a world of mass production and consumption there still needs to be value, integrity, humanity, and yes, great design without compromise. That is the goal we work towards every day.

Gretchen Jones, Gretchen Jones NYC

I believe it is our responsibility (the creative’s of the world) to be an instrument for the greater whole. We were given a gift, but in that gift is responsibility. Responsibility to be a communicator for humanity and the world, as we know it. We transmit cultural movements and the direction life is taking. Without us, we are collectively nothing.

Art in itself is about translating what cannot be translated in words. I take responsibility for that job. My “job” is to learn how to use my gift to better our lives. To open us ALL up to new ways of thinking and enable us all to live more enriched existences. I may need money to survive, but making money from my work is there by default. The passion to create is about the greater whole, not the ego or bank account… and that, is what the life of an artist is all about.

Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.