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Coco Chanel, the renowned fashion designer, once said “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” If there was ever a profession to have mastered this, most would agree, artists have it down. They think, feel, express and breathe for their free-willing art. Painters. Musicians. Sculptors. And yes, fashion designers. Some may argue fashion and art have grown worlds apart thanks to industrial T-shirt institutions like the Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch. And then there’s the other extreme—true artists and fashion designers in one, like Alexander McQueen, Rodarte and the Italian design house, Etro—all famed for committing themselves to their craft like this generation's Monet. From the stroke of a flower petal on a remnant of silk to the small stitch on the side of a coat seam, designers are justifiably artists, and artists are designers.
Nothing makes the case clearer than the handbag collections of EcoArtProductions, created by fashion maven Rebecca Singer. A literal blend of art with fashion, the stories of each piece unfold before the viewer’s (or rather wearer’s) eyes. Inspired as we were, we sat down with Singer to hear her story and take a walk through her company’s gallery of bags (like the one below):
“Girlfriends” clutch designed by the celebrated and whimsical artist Jennifer Garant. “My artwork comes from the spirit of good food, good wine, good music, good laughter and dancing and a good life,” says Garant. “I love what I do and I hope that it shows."
EcoPlum (EP): Your handbags are like pieces of art. What inspired your immediate mergence of fashion within art—in the most literal sense?
Rebecca Singer (RS): I have been a collector of arts and crafts my whole life. My father used to make handbags and small leather goods, as well as jewelry. I had thought about finding a way to take art off the walls and bring it to our everyday lives for a long time. I think art has a wonderful influence on children, on our sense of self and the beauty that surrounds us, and I felt we needed to expose more children and families to art.
EP: Everything in your collection looks like it was created with meaning. In your eyes, what is the meaning?
RS: My goal is to celebrate the arts and the environment by taking the original art work of American artists and screening it onto organic materials, starting with handbags and moving on to shoes, accessories and home décor. [My intention and meaning] is to make the arts as important as sports in this country. And, making the handbags eco and organic is the right thing to do, and it should be automatic. On a very personal level, my hope is to make art training available for free to all children, regardless of their background. This is why we donate a percentage of our sales to Arts to Grow, a nonprofit that provides teachers training in all areas of the arts so they can teach underserved children through after-school and community programs.
Amazon Parrots Body Bag created by Mexican-American artist Raul del Rio, known for his love of vibrant color and passionate design. His work has been commissioned by and affiliated with environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Earth Island, Conservation International, Environmental Defense Club, Humane Farming Association, Animal Voice Magazine and National Wildlife Federation.
EP: You came from a very conventional fashion background. How has that influenced this purposeful endeavor?
RS: I spent my entire career in mainstream fashion, beginning with the family business. I then became a buyer at Joseph Magnin and went on to work at Abraham and Strauss, Bonwit Teller, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue before joining Donna Karan. But retail was changing. I didn’t see an appreciation or respect for unique products and ideas. Just the opposite.
EP: You mentioned that making “eco” handbags is “doing the right thing”. What makes your pieces truly sustainable?
RS: We use organic cotton certified by Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), the highest ranked certifier. We also used water-based dyes for all the screen prints to ensure there are no chemicals. Even the tissue paper and hangtags we use are 100 percent recycled. And, my bank processing firm specializes in green companies. But, it’s also constantly evolving and takes many years to fully get there [to a point of absolute sustainability].
EP: To us, another big sustainable piece of it all is the American artists with whom you partner to design each bag’s artwork. How do you discover the artists?
RS: I am constantly looking, reading, searching. This is my joy in life—to find art I love and share it with everyone. I look for art that touches me and will do the same for my customers. Most of my art is focused around light, life, color, nature and family. I am also thinking about taking incredible ceramic finishes and doing the texture of the finish as art work.
EP: Clearly, this is a labor of love. How do you go from artwork to handbag?
RS: Taking the artwork [designed by select American artists] and screening it on to the organic cotton fabric is an intense process. All of our artwork uses 15-28 screens per image. So getting it just perfect takes a lot of reviews, redos and patience. Despite the amount of detail in our product, I have worked hard to provide the bags at a great value, since part of my goal to bring art to many. And, I love what I do. My bags make customers smile, and that is a real joy.
Just one look at this Bad Hair Day large tote bag, designed by Jennifer Garant, and it’s no wonder why Singer’s artistic creations evoke such glee.
This millennium has been called the one for right-brained creatives, calling on art revivalism in all walks of life. And for a woman’s wardrobe, a handbag is the perfect place to start. Fashion. Art. Timely, and timeless.
Cheers + Love, Organic Girly
Note: Handbags from Eco Art Productions make great eco friendly gifts and are available in EcoPlum's online boutique.
6:00pm - 9:00pm
MIST (at The Kalahari) 46 West 116th
Making Green From Green Event
Food Waste's Shocking Truths: Hunger, Business and YOU
Baruch Performing Arts Center (BPAC)
55 Lexington Ave. enter 25th St, betw Lex + 3rd
April 20-21, 2013
Location: Javits Center North, New York, NY
April 22, 2013