31 August 2012

Feature Fridays: Himane and its new Coalition!

For our Feature Fridays, reciclaGEM sat down with Catherine, creator and designer of upcycled fashion clothing and accessories line Himane and founder of the International Sustainable Women’s Coalition.
(Photo Source: onemillionentrepreneurs.com)

 Many of you are probably familiar with her amazingly, tailored designs created from reclaimed umbrellas and tents, business cards cut from recycled cereal boxes and flier cardstock, and have seen her work showcased on media channels, such as CNN and Oprah, but what is most compelling is her dedication to creating a truly sustainable business, being herself, and striving to make the world a place. Beyond the accolades, Catherine is dedicated to truly sustainable design.

(Photo Source: Himane.com)

The seeds of upcycling were planted in Catherine’s mind 34 years ago in Haiti. Her mother, Catherine’s rock, foundation and the woman after whom the label “Himane” is named, went off to donate a bag load of her families old clothes. Catherine, being the inquisitive young woman that she was, asked her mother if she could take one of her father’s old shirts from the donation bag. Her mother, though reluctant, gave it to her. From there, Catherine taught herself how to sew by deconstructing the shirt’s seams and sewing it back together. She then branched off into converting old oil drums into works of art. After locating to New York City in 1994, this reverse engineering, coupled by her studies at Fashion Institute of Technology, gave her the foundation to become the maverick of sustainability in the fashion industry, which she remains to this day.

Though she originally founded Himane as a custom design company in 1998, her first umbrella designs were created in 2002. And from there, she would move forward to collect hundreds of umbrellas throughout New York on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis. If you’re a New Yorker, you know exactly what the sidewalks look like after a rainy day. Catherine agrees, “After rainy days, my gosh, you’re walking on umbrellas everywhere. For me, it was the right thing. Because umbrellas are what? It’s fabric! It’s material! After washing whatever toxins (if there was) that were in there would have been washed away…” There’s material content all around us; it just takes a refreshed mind to re-envision it.

(Photo Source: Himane.com)

But more than just raising awareness of a designer who is truly and authentically sustainable at her core, we decided to highlight some other topics, including the International Sustainable Women’s Coalition (INSUWOC), a new coalition that Catherine has started to help women. The Coalition was started after a recent trip that Catherine had made leading a sustainable design workshop in Iceland. Having already done work in her native Haiti, this was an opportunity for her to branch out and connect with women across the continents. And connect she did. The workshop, which lasted approximately two weeks, was quite an evolutionary experience for both Catherine and her participants. The women, at first hesitant, walked away from the experience with amazingly reinvented dresses, purses and bags created from their old jeans, curtains, old clothes and a renewed tenacity to “shop their own closets,” as Catherine would say. Catherine walked away with a new commitment reengaged after viewing firsthand the results of global warming through the tragic melting of the polar ice caps in Iceland while being reinspired by the inspirational women who were impacted by her workshop. With this network, the Coalition was born.
(Photo Source: INSUWOC Facebook Page)

More than just bringing sustainable fashion to the forefront, Catherine is dedicated to empowering women with the resource and materials that they already have. For instance, Catherine one day received a letter from Italy from a woman who had simply seen an interview with Catherine on her TV. The woman was unemployed; however, after seeing what Catherine was able to do with simply old umbrellas, she became so inspired that she started her own business. From that moment in front of the television while unemployed, this woman soon had a profitable business converting the old clothes of her fellow villagers into new designs. Catherine never met the woman in person; however, the outreach is unmistakable. “I hope that New York people will appreciate what you’re doing” wrote the woman. And appreciate we do!

And it is by using what we have, where we can make some truly real and measurable change in our communities. Last Friday, for our Feature Fridays, I had the pleasure of speaking to Catherine directly about her vision for the future of this new and much needed coalition:

Tamara of ReciclaGEM: Where do you see the International Sustainable Women’s Coalition in 6 months? In 5 years and in 10 years?

Catherine of Himane/INSUWOC: …in 6 months, it is to transform as many women as I possibly can through workshops, taught here in New York from practically whatever (place)…And in 5 years, for me, [it] is just to travel all over. Like I said, if we could just transform each country…if we could just take 5 women, 5 or 10, from each country, and…help them to be sustainable, to be self empower[ed], and to build their self-esteem as well because, when we’re talking about women, sometimes, women don’t believe in themselves…like we need different eyes or a different dress…[they want to look] different, because they just want to look just like everybody else. I think that will be the main thing right now for the International Sustainable Women’s Coalition. Our goal is to reach out to as many women as we can and to have the support of other…organizations run by women.

Tamara: What could the city of New York do to support the efforts of the International Sustainable Women’s Coalition?

Catherine: Well, firstly, we have no money. This was just something that I created to help women to be able to reach out to other women. While, at the same time, I want other women to be able to reach out to us as well to do something positive…If you have enough women, focusing on recycling and upcycling, creating a bridge between us here and the women from across. We would like a place where we could come and do presentation, lecture, training and of course trade show…We could have people…traveling from the Philippines to come here for 6 weeks of workshops, for example. If you have a place like that, we could get in contact with more women from all over and people in New York first…because we need to build the ground here, to plant our seed here, because this is where we are. If we could change the mentality of the people here and have their support and help, then we could go out there and reach out to more women and do some more work.” Women, people from all over the world follow the way we dress so, if we can focus more on teaching women on how “to shop their closet”, reducing on the amount of clothing they throw away or to just bring those close to where we will be located to upcycle them that will be a big plus in our movement. We need to start teaching our community to get rid of that idea of buying something because “it’s just $10.00” piece of clothes idea. Shop your closet first, reduce on buying something because it is the new style or the new trend. As Ms. Coco Chanel did put it so long ago: Fashion fades, only style remains the same.

Tamara: What do you do to recharge?

Catherine: Take a walk in the park, listen to some relaxing music, close my eyes and think about the world that we are living in (laughs). No seriously, I always sit down and think. Sometimes, I take a walk in the park and say ‘What can I do to make things better?’ ‘How do I change things?’ ‘How do I get better at what I do?’” Right there I could close my eyes and ideas will come or same when I’m looking at the trees. I am a very nature person…Right now I’m on a mission and I would like to see if I could do something positive…You see, my mother had this idea about helping women in Haiti who [were] not educate[d] to help them do something with their lives….And since I feel, being so close to her…I have do my part to help as many women as I can before I leave this earth. That’s my focus.

Tamara: I think that’s wonderful in so many ways. Not only do you create beautiful, tailored work out of interesting materials, but you are authentically dedicated to the causes that you represent.

Catherine: And I think you have to. Because if you’re doing something, and you don’t really believe in it, and you don’t really represent it well, then something is wrong and the use of you’re doing it…If you preach something, you have to believe in it.

And with that said, I’d like to end with a few nuggets of truth dropped by Catherine:
  1. Be yourself! 
  2. When you are doing something that you love, money doesn’t matter much and should not be your main focus. 
  3. Anyone who is negative, dump them. 
  4. Maybe for you I don’t dress like a designer, but for me, I feel good inside. 
  5. Keep it simple and don’t lie to yourself.
  6. Be true to yourself, first and foremost. 
And finally, here are some ways that you can support the efforts of the International Sustainable Women’s Coalition:
  • Join the International Sustainable Women’s Coalition’s facebook page, add comments and dialogue. If you are a Women organization contact Catherine, she needs your help for support.
  • Curtail your consumption of new products by shopping your own closet. We are surrounded by tons of clothing, objects, and material culture to last us into the next generations. There is no need to really buy more, but what it does take is looking at what you can do with what you do have, and being conscious of the designs that you do produce and bring into your home. 
So with that, shop your closet, be yourself, take a walk in nature. Collaborate with efforts you believe in and make conscious choice about the additions that you make to the kingdom of your possessions.

Obrigada for being apart of the movement. Let’s continue to build together,

Aside from Facebook, here’s how to get in touch Catherine and the Coalition:
For HIMANE: enfo@himane.com. Phone: 347-469-1721
For INSUWOC: admin@insuwoc.org Phone:646-504-7835

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