Power Dressing: J Cavallo on Making Couture Earth-Friendly
Read how US -based designer Jeannine Cavallo has honed her craft and how her eponymous label is built around respect…
TELL US A BIT ABOUT HOW YOU GOT INTO FASHION DESIGN?
I grew up surrounded by fashion. My mom, grandmother and great-grandmother were seamstresses and watching these amazing women in my life design and sew beautiful clothing inspired me to want to do the same. I started designing and sewing clothing for friends and family when I was younger, but it wasn’t until my mom died in October of 2010 that I decided to turn my hobby into a business.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START J. CAVALLO?
I was also looking for a way to disrupt the way fashion is produced in this country by applying a more sustainable approach to doing business. We firmly believe beauty and responsibility are not mutually exclusive. That’s why we built J. Cavallo on three core values:
- Respect for the artisans we collaborate with is a core tenet of the J. Cavallo brand. We want our artisans to work in a safe and pleasant environment. It’s also important to us that the artisans we collaborate with are paid a living wage. When people receive a living wage, it provides them with dignity as well as the ability to contribute to the positive growth and development of their communities.
- Respect for the planet comes directly from our sustainability mindset. We use certified organic materials as well as natural fibers in our collections. We design with timelessness in mind, not trend, to create clothes we hope will remain in our buyers’ wardrobes for years to come. We also only produce on a made-to-order basis. This helps us limit waste by not holding on to inventory, and reduces our carbon footprint because we’re not storing huge amounts of materials or finished clothing.
- J. Cavallo espouses the idea of circular design, which means our design thinking extends beyond the consumer, and includes where and how our products might be used or recycled after the consumer is no longer wearing the pieces. We have a program in place to redesign pieces that have been purchased from us as well as a resale program. Our goal is always to keep our pieces out of landfills, but because we utilize only natural fibers in our construction if our pieces were to end up in a landfill they would breakdown and return organically to nature.
HOW DO YOU SOURCE YOUR FABRICS?
We understand that it is our responsibility to do what we can to become a more sustainable company. We are responsible for the resources that we use and the impact that we have. We take responsibility for operating a business and maintaining a supply chain that respects the planet as well as the people and animals on it. That’s why we work with a small number of hand picked fabric suppliers that share our same values.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOUR DESIGNS?
I take inspiration from the past but always add a twist to it. I’m also inspired by the women artisans I work with in developing countries. These women, who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice, are given a voice through our collaboration and our designs. That’s something that inspires me daily, and that I’m honored to enable through J. Cavallo.
IN TERMS OF CRAFTSMANSHIP, HOW LONG DO YOUR DESIGNS TYPICALLY TAKE?
Hours of passionate work go into each of our designs. From sketching to draping, developing prints and embroideries to developing the first sample, everything’s done in house. Our meticulous work is the perfect mix of imagination and passion. It can take up to 72 hours to complete one of our dresses.
IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE A FAVORITE PIECE WHICH WOULD IT BE?
It would be our black fitted blouson back dress. It’s both elegant and timeless.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO STARTING THE BRAND?
Historically men and women of color have been overlooked in fashion – on the runway as well as behind the scenes as stylist and designers. Blackness, until recently, was seen as an unmarketable quality especially when it comes to selling expensive clothing. We are discounted, in a multitude of ways, simply because of the color of our skin. This is a tough industry for anyone to enter, but even more so if you are a person of color. It’s important for me as a woman of color to speak up and show that we are powerful influencers in fashion, and that our ideas and dollars matter.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST WOW MOMENT FOR THE BRAND?
Connecting and collaborating with like-minded people through organizations like Positive Luxury, Global Fashion Exchange and The Sustainable Fashion Alliance. It’s not easy to set new standards for one of the most powerful industries in the world and you certainly cannot do it alone.
IF YOU COULD SEE ANYONE WEARING YOUR DESIGNS WHO WOULD IT BE?
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex