Designer Michelle Sheppard creates sustainable garments with a connection to cultural traditions.
The fabrics are soft and sumptuous—it’s no wonder that the story of Callina is all about the origins of the fiber. Founder and designer Michelle Sheppard travelled to Peru in search for natural fabrics that are both high quality and sustainably produced.
She works with a vertically integrated yarn producer, whose flocks live high in the Andes. “We had the opportunity to go their farm, which is 16,000 feet up in the Andes,” Sheppard told me. She explained that the traditional way of raising alpacas is sustainable, as neither the animals' hooves nor their grazing harms the environment. The resulting fibers are dyed with certified non-toxic dyes, and could easily biodegrade if mixed with earth.Callina also helps support the local community, by working with their suppliers to donate to The Mirasol Project. Mirasol is a boarding school where the children of remote herding communities can receive an education without traveling long distances every day. The children return home to their families on the weekends.
A small percentage of every sale of Callina garment is donated to the school. As the company grows, Sheppard said she hopes to give more in the future. The school helps provide opportunities to herding families without requiring them to relocate. “It’s really important, because if we loose the shepherds, then we loose the alpaca,” explained Sheppard. “We want to maintain that culture. We’re not there just to take, we’re there to contribute and give.”
High quality fiber is also integral to the Callina’s approach to sustainability, as is creating classic pieces. “Not only is it a timeless style, but it’s also a timeless fiber,” said Sheppard. She chooses alpaca wool because it is hearty, and as opposed to synthetic blends which not only break down more easily but are also difficult to recycle. “Once you start blending these natural fibers with acrylic yarn, that when you start getting these sweaters that pill faster and are going to fall apart. All wool pills, but if you’re using a subpar fiber it pills faster.”
Like many brands striving to be as ethical and sustainable as possible, the end cost of the garments goes up considerably. But there’s a good case to be made for a better cost-per-wear, with garments ranging from $125 to $225. Compared to the fast-fashion brands, that’s definitely a higher price, but looking over the garments at a preview event a few weeks ago, it was clear to me that Callina gives offers luxury goods at a price and quality that’s competitive with designers like J. Crew or Antropologie.
We all may need to re-adjust our ideas about the cost of clothes, as many ethical designers argue. Callina represents true slow fashion, with full traceability and many hand-knit garments made in small batches. She says that working this way, she never has a thousand pieces left over at the end of the season that have to go to a liquidator or be thrown away.
“Sustainability is not just an independent bubble over here,” said Sheppard. “It has to be at the heart, and everything else connects with it.”