Gretchen Jones on Leaving No Trace in Fashion (Interview)

© Mona Miri. The designer Gretchen Jones, in a dress from her silk and silk-cotton Horses Collection.

Project Runway alum Gretchen Jones has made a tremendous difference in the fashion world by sticking to her guns. Her innovative earth-friendly designs speak volumes about her belief in ethical responsibility.

She offers unique cuts and signature styles, with tribal prints and patterns all her own. Plus, her accessories hit the right note and speak the same language as her motifs and inspiration.

© Mona Miri. Model Raechel Downs in Gretchen Jones' flirty casual wear.

I recently caught up with Gretchen in beautiful Montauk, New York, in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of her work.

Mona Miri (MM): Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for your Spring/Summer 2012 collection?

On Books and Music

Gretchen Jones (GJ): I design each collection around a piece of literature and an album. They choose me, not the other way around... I find that the process of being inspired by what is around me is rather organic in nature.

The Spring/Summer 2012 collection Horses was influenced by the book The Teachings of don Juan: A Yaki Way of Knowledge by Carlos Casteneda. It focuses on an apprenticeship with a Yaki shaman who uses hallucinogenics, mainly peyote, to reach enlightenment.

As for the music, I name each collection after the album I end up listening to the most while designing. Patti Smith's Horses played non-stop while I worked on this one. The kaleidoscope horse stampede print is my way of paying homage to her album and her impact on my own creative process.

Staying True to Yourself

MM: It's wonderful that a sustainable designer like yourself is recognized in the fashion industry. How has that changed you as a designer, or as a person?

GJ: I suppose being embraced as much as I have been...so far anyways, has just inspired me to stay true to myself...both personally and creatively. I'm not trying to be anything other than the type of woman and designer that I have always been and continue to grow into. My identity, both personally and creatively is based on conscientious living, authenticity of experience and comfort within myself...I truly believe that is the 'real' path towards happiness.

Approaching my life and work in that manner is what sets me apart. My ethical choices are truly made not for anyone other than me. I NEED to make work thoughtfully, or my heart would hurt.

My goal is to be a good designer with a good following in both the fashion and consumer worlds, without boxing myself into the eco/green/sustainable community. I think that's where a lot of brands go wrong. Fashion first, quality product, and then thoughtful practices is my approach. I want to make clothing real women want to wear, I want my work to be fun and exciting...but also accessible. Doing that well is my goal and also how I can sustain myself.

I think I'm being embraced as a designer first, not just an ethical one. I pride myself in being fashion-first and I believe that approach is what we need more of in the ethical realm of design. My sustainable practices...be it material, production or economically thoughtful are the icing on the cake...rather than the cake itself.

MM: You are one of the few sustainable designers that show at New York Fashion Week, which is a tremendous step forward for earth conscious artists and designers. What is the motivation behind your work?

GJ: My main goal creatively is to use all the different facets available to designers to create broader work. What's special about fashion, is it allows me to make art, not just clothes. I want to be able to play with the wide array of mediums available to me. I get the opportunity to be creative in so many different ways! And perpetually challenged to make more, better, and grander work.

I approach my presentations as living installations. They are but a broader canvas in which to paint brand identity. I can make films, telling the story behind the essence of the label. I can make jewelry, to further paint the ideal image of my consumer...

© Mona Miri. Model Raechel Downs shows off a dress from Horses.

MM: What should we look for in your fall and winter collections?

GJ: My Fall/Winter 2012 collection -- based on the album Desertshore by Nico -- was dedicated and inspired by my late father's passing last fall. It's darker and richer/deeper than I've ever gone.

I wanted to make something on losing someone -- it left me conflicted, uncomfortable in my new role within my family. The collection is very wearable and playful, but with an undercurrent of self reflection, and questions the stark contrast of life and death, dark and light, and accepts that sometimes you are forced to let go...even when you aren't ready to.

MM: What are some fun light-on-the-earth hobbies you have?

GJ: I love riding my bike, shopping at the farmers markets in my neighborhood, flea marketing for second-hand scores, and, if I ever get outdoor space again -- gardening. I'm a simple girl. When I have down time I just want to be in nature, be it a park, the ocean or the woods. You can take a country girl out of the country...you know the rest!

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to say to your fans?

GJ: A life lived sustainably starts with how you sustain yourself. Invest time and energy on what your heart tells you first -- it will lead to a life of abundance that no dollar sign could ever compete with.

This project was off-set by associations including Sterling Planet and the Arbor Day Foundation. Hair and make-up for this shoot was done by Taylor McFadden.

Tags: Clothing | Green Fashion | Sustainable Fabrics | Sweatshop-Free