Interview With: Hanoux
(Hannah left, Kristin right)
Hanoux is a new fashion company that focuses on creating original garments using natural fabrics and traditional dyeing processes. It was founded by Hannah Ross and Kristin Culmo, both graduates of Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. This past February they were kind enough to take some time and chat with me about how their company got started, their shibori dye process, and how they plan to heal the fashion industry. Also very exciting new is that their fashion show and launch part is scheduled for tomorrow, April 25! You can buy tickets and experience a magical evening of fashion, dance, and celebration here.
Textile Arts Center: Hi Hannah and Kristin! So, let’s start at the beginning. How did Hanoux get started?
Kristin: Well, the way we started working together was just for fun at first. Hannah in fashion and I was in graphic design and then for one of my senior projects everyone was doing these fake products or brands. I was like “I don’t really want to do that. I want to do something real.” So I had a little meeting with Hannah at Falafel House and I was like “Hannah, I want to brand you as a fashion designer and do all of this graphic stuff for you. Let’s do it.” And that was how Hanoux came about. So for one of my projects I focused on Hannah as a fashion designer and made a look book and a logo and tried to visualize it all from a branding perspective. Then after school was over we were like “Hanoux, this is a thing we started together.”
Hannah: From there we thought “We need to define this word Hanoux. Like what does it mean.” We are aiming to heal the wearer because we are making everything stretchy. Everything is activewear, stretch cotton. We’re only using natural fibers and hand dyeing everything. So we’re healing the Earth, healing the wearer, healing the fashion industry.
K: And what we’re doing now by focusing on this stretchy, active stuff, it’s all basically an extension of Hannah’s senior thesis. Like a wearable, everyday version of her senior collection.
TAC: So what do you mean by “healing the earth” and “healing the fashion industry”?
H: We want the clothes we make to be liberating to the wearer. Like super freedom and flexibility. Freedom in sizes like we want our sizes to be small or big and a lot of our clothes are unisex. Like our yoga shorts or leggings or tunics can be worn by any shape or size because they are stretchy and free flowing. Also, the activewear industry is full of polyester and these plastic fabrics that make you sweat and they hold sweat and make you smell. And I think cotton jersey is really underutilized, it’s easy to wash and is super breathable. So we want to use more of that in the market.
TAC: What are your main fabrics?
H: Well we’re going to have our first small collection for this spring and summer coming out in April and we’re only going to use two fabrics: a thick cotton jersey and a thin cotton jersey. So basically it’s one fabric in two different weights. We might introduce a thin non-stretch cotton for drawstring shorts or loose fitting shirts.
TAC: Can you explain your dye process?
H: So we do shibori. Which is the ancient Japanese art of folding and twisting and tying and dunking the fabric. We have all of these different methods but we’re still testing everything. For the scrunch method we accordion fold the fabric and then scrunch it onto these little tubes. Traditionally there would be these rigid, wooden poles and then they would stick into the huge dye vat. But we use Home Depot buckets. So we scrunch and then tie it up. That’s the funnest part. I love getting the fabric prepared.
K: The past several months we’ve been doing color and pattern tests. Trying different things to see what we like. We’ve pretty much narrowed down our color palette and the dyes we’re going to use.
TAC: What are your colors?
K: It ranges from orange to brown to grey to blue to a brighter blue.
TAC: Very earthy.
H: Yes, earth tones. All earth tones.
K: Fire and water, like these opposites.
H: The colors are very simple and natural. We’re also going to have a dark almost black. But so far it’s been coming out closer to blue. What do you know about dyeing?
TAC: I’ve tie dyed mens underwear. Haha. And that’s about it.
H: Ok! We also want to do some underwear. We want to do socks and underwear.
K: Some long johns.
TAC: Yeah, I took like Fruit of the Loom, mens briefs and dyed those. They turned out pretty well. I wear them all the time.
H: We’re using these dyes where you need to add a little soda ash and a little salt to make them active but traditionally you soak the fabric in salt and soda ash and then you add the dye. But we’re adding it all at once so it shocks the fabric so we get this weird coloration. We get all of the color variations of the dye instead of just the solid color.
TAC: Where is the dye coming from?
H: They’re coming from Dharma Trading in California.
K: They have all different kind of dyes and they sell fabric too. They’re pretty solid, they know what they’re doing.
H: They have a huge variety of colors. They’re sweet, they always send us cute reminders. I feel like we have a relationship with them already.
TAC: So you guys graduated from Pratt last May. What was going through your head? You just graduated and you’re like “Let’s start a fashion design company.” That’s a big step.
K: I think it was pretty natural since we had started this in school. I didn’t realize it was going to be this collaborative fashion collection but then it just grew and it was very natural.
H: Ever since sophomore year I would call Kristin to take photos of my collections or she’d be my model.
K: And I would call Hannah if I needed something sewn up or if I needed to borrow some fabric or advice.
H: And I hate all activewear but I’m a very active person and I really like to wear stretch clothing and I think it should also be fashionable; really beautiful, fashionable, well curated activewear. Just like there is really beautiful business wear and women’s street wear. There’s all this street wear that’s beautifully designed but you go to the activewear market and it’s all hideous, uninspired prints. Like these neon colors, polyester. It’s a whole other wardrobe, it’s not fashion anymore, it’s all utility. I really want to bridge the gap between that with our small company.
TAC: Especially living in an urban area where you’re constantly on the go but because of that you’re also on the grind and battling the elements of the city. You really need something that’s going to work with you, not something that you have to work against to get you from A to B. It totally determines how you dress.
H: Also, I want a reminder everyday of what the natural world looks like. I think there’s no reminders in the city, it’s so sterile and concrete. If someone is wearing a beautiful garment that looks like the ocean. Someone will look at it and be like “Wow!” And they feel better inside and it’s great.
TAC: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Bringing nature back into the city.
H: Originally, I had all these plans to screen print a manifesto of natural existence and order inside every garment or put facts about how much water was used [in the process]. Eventually, I want more of a statement about the Earth, transfer information through the clothes and have actual text and information about healing the Earth.
TAC: I’ve noticed that in general some companies are going for total transparency regarding their process. People are buying luxury items but as conscious consumers. Now I feel like there’s a desire for customers to have this consciousness raising come from the company’s products.
H: Some people don’t get that. Even in my classes at Pratt they were stuck on pure, high fashion and I felt separated from them. I was like “I think there’s more to it now.” I think the consumer wants garments in their life that either emanate to the world that they are thinking green or actually say it on there. Even if it’s not the most eco-friendly product. Like organic cotton is not more friendly to the Earth. Most people don’t know that. It uses twice as much water to grow it and it has a 1/3 of the shelf life. So in the long run it’s not more eco-friendly but people will buy organic cotton because they think they are helping the Earth. Information needs to be spread about this sort of stuff.
TAC: Wow, I definitely did not know that about organic cotton.
H: I know, I didn’t either until I researched it a little. Because I was thinking about using organic cotton [for Hanoux] but it just doesn’t withstand the way that normal cotton does. The way that [Hanoux] is sustainable too is that we are only using one fabric and we’re making our dyes and colors, trims, and designs all with this one process. Where a normal, more traditional fashion company would use five or six different fabrics in one collection and all of these different colors that they don’t know where they were dyed. We know where our colors came from and we have control over it.
TAC: It sounds similar to the way things worked 100 years ago where you were really good at one thing and you mastered a certain, specific skill.
K: Because it’s a craft and I think there’s a lot of beauty in the process and working from start to finish. Not this crazy, mass produced, made in China products that get bought and sold so quickly. Where people don’t want to wear it a couple months later.
TAC: I think there’s this resurgence back to buying things that last and not having to constantly update.
H: No more fast fashion. Fast fashion is out.
TAC: Customers want things that are going to last. I think there’s a market that’s just so much more aware of what they’re buying and these customers want their consumerism to mean something more. Stand for something.
K: I think this whole hand made in Brooklyn thing that we’re seeing so much of now is kind of funny in a sense but it also awesome. I’m glad that we’re a part of it and I appreciate all these people who are concentrating on their craft and refining their skills. You know made in the USA, made locally. Supporting the Garment District.
H: Hopefully we’ll be able to get our stuff made in a small factory and support the Garment District. Maybe next year.
TAC: Being entrepreneurs and a start up, what are you finding to be the best and hardest things about getting it up and running?
K: Well, I think we’re still very much in the creative process right now.
H: Back to the timeless idea. That’s why we’ve been making our colors and prints for so long now because we do want our garment to be timeless and we’re like “Okay we need the classic, best dye methods.”
K: I think we will run into more difficult things once the collection is done and we try to present and try to sell it. That is where we will run into unexpected things. You know the business side of it. One of our goals is to sell at the Brooklyn Flea Market this summer. That’s what we’re working towards and if we can accomplish that and start out there in a small marketplace it’ll prepare us.
H: Talk to each customer, get some exposure, and talk to other vendors. We are also having a fashion show in April. We have the venue set, we’re gonna have it at Free Candy, and we’re gonna transform the space and have a little launch party and fashion show. And not just have a traditional fashion show, have the models come out head to toe in the fabric and do some sort of tribal dance. Tied fabric everywhere. Then by the end of the year we will focus on a Kickstarter and some funding. The hardest part is everyday working on the collection. Because we want to work everyday, striving everyday.
TAC: It’s hard. I’ve seen so many art school graduates trying to balance it all and you really have to stay motivated. And that’s hard to do in New York, it’s harder than you’d imagine.
H: I feel so lucky to live in a house with all of these people who graduated from Pratt who are doing these small projects and I have a [work]space. A lot of people don’t have a space and keeping it all around me keeps me really motivated. Another hard thing it staying focused on one thing and completing one thing fully before moving onto the next thing. Because this one fabric collection is a lot different than my senior collection where I had like 20 fabrics. I just have to focus on one thing and just do it.
TAC: I haven’t graduated yet but I can feel it’s a whole new life. Because school is not real life.
H: Yeah being out of school is very calming. But you need time to figure it out.
TAC: I’ve noticed that a lot of people jump into a company or onto someone else’s project right after graduation and I’ve watched people scramble for a job because they’re scared and have a lot of fear about failing with their own projects and ideas. Although, I never think it’s too late to start your own thing but eventually time does go by so I think it’s important to start off trying to do what you want to and your own projects and see where that leads you. You have to try.
H: Yeah I totally agree. We’ve already gotten some great response, we had our first pop up shop with the Sacred Water Project. It’s a group of people who are trying to raise awareness of fracking and issues with clean water. They are based out of New York. It’s a bunch of artists, singers, and dancers who are putting together performances and art shows that inform you about fracking. Bringing awareness to fracking through a beautiful ceremony.
K: And focusing on the water, instead of focusing on “fracking is bad”, focusing on “water is beautiful.”
H: They teamed up with this group of drummers out of Greenpoint called the Golden Drum and they did this drumming ceremony and we sold some of our garments there. We sold a lot of stuff and people were really happy to have a garment that represented something to them. It made me really happy that we could link with them.
TAC: Sounds like a wonderful group and great place to start planting the seeds of your company. Alright, thanks for chatting with me and good luck with your fashion show!
Check out the details and ticket information for the Hanoux Fashion Show and Launch Party here!