Climate Beneficial Design: with Heidi Iverson, Ashley Eva Brock, and Industry of All Nations

Celebrating the collaborations that transform materials from soil to skin, we set out to visit each designer creating a full look for the Climate Beneficial Fashion Gala. Here we share excerpts from three conversations: read on for inspiration from their design practices and pathways to sustainability, and how each consumer, designer, and the fashion industry as a whole can take part in environmental restoration. 

Written by Erin Walkenshaw and photographed by Paige Green.

Heidi Iverson waves at us from a neat red barn when we arrive to her west Sonoma, California studio space. Within the long-ago remodeled barn, sheltered by tall redwoods and decorated with neon lichens that inspire and delight her daily, Iverson, pictured above right, creates clothing, homewares, and soft-sculptures for both HIJK (she is the ‘HI’) and her h-luv line. During our visit Iverson takes us through her design process and evolution as she learned to look to the local fibers and textiles to inform her designs that are versatile, made to last, and bolster the story of local, sustainable fiber production.

We encounter a world of art in Ashley Eva Brock’s studio space at the top of Inverness ridge in west Marin, California. All corners of her studio yield a glimpse into her wide ranging projects, everything from experimental costumes for virtual reality productions to larger sculptural pieces to her upcoming clothing line: Stone, Ocean, Sky. Brock, pictured above left, is playing the long game, choosing to strike out on her own as a young fashion and textile engineer, she is able to leverage her skills to amplify the discussion around the true cost of textile and clothing production and to highlight the opportunities, and need, for a diversified approach to creating sustainable textiles.

In 2010 brothers Juan, Fernando, and Patricio Gerscovitch created Industry Of All Nations to realize their vision of a culture of restoration through material goods production. We catch up with Juan, or JG, pictured above center, at their Los Angeles headquarters and he explains how Industry Of All Nations is working towards this vision of fashion and product design as a means to bring production back to the regions and people that were the original makers; and in doing so “to restore the culture to the products and give power to people.”

In the studio with Ashley Eva Brock.

Becoming a Material Goods Producer: Is there a moment that stands out as a step toward sustainability in your path as a designer?

HIJK: “For me it was personal, I started buying good, quality shoes… and I would buy one pair a year because it was all I could afford, but now after 15 years I have a collection of them. That was probably the turning point for me, I realized that if you have nicely made clothing and you take good care of them, it is feasible to create a wardrobe that reflects your values- over time. Along the way my involvement with Rebecca Burgess’ first book and creating knitting patterns for her first project helped me bring that perspective into my work as a designer… I envisioned pieces that would encourage others to make a similar evaluation of their wardrobe and their consumption patterns.”

Ashley Eva Brock: “I knew when I went to school for fashion design that incorporating sustainability was important to me and CCA [California College of the Arts] is one of the few fashion design schools that takes sustainability seriously, so that made it very attractive… While there I got to study under Lynda Grose and something that Lynda emphasized was to think about sustainability as a many faceted approach and that no one thing is going to save the world. She encouraged us to continually think of different ways and approaches to bring sustainability into design.”

Industry Of All Nations: “Our parents had a fashion brand in Buenos Aires, so we grew up in this — it’s in our blood. We were always intrigued by where products were made and there came a point when we realized that no matter what we bought, everything was made in one or two countries… We thought, this is just not right — manufacturing needs to be returned back to the regions where the product and materials originate.”

The scenery at Industry of All Nations (left) and Heidi Iverson’s studio (right).

Landscapes of Influence: Is there a landscape that you identify with, and one that informs your designs?

HIJK: “My forest, this is definitely my place. There’s a spot on my neighbor’s property, a beautiful pasture with these two huge fir tree skeletons draped across the pasture. In the wintertime, this landscape is so dripping and juicy, and there are so many great colors- bright and dreary, and then there’s all the mushrooms. This is the landscape I move through in my mind when I need inspiration and I like to design clothes that move easily through this landscape.”

Ashley Eva Brock: “The combination of stone, ocean, and sky — those places where they come together, like the beaches…. I try to erase the hand, that is my design aesthetic. By that I mean the least amount of visible stitching as possible and you know, human touches; so that you are left to experience the piece and maybe it takes you to one of those places.”

Industry Of All Nations: “The actual people who are making things and our partners, the people who join us to create a product, that’s the landscape that I identify with — it’s that relational landscape that inspires us. How to positively effect all the people who trust us. All of these people that are actually making the things; from the crops, to the dyes, all those different types of things… In our company work does not feel like work, it feels like what we are here for. I think we should all be here to help. Our work is to help each other.”

Ingredients in our clothing: Climate Beneficial Cloth in Heidi Iverson’s studio; Natural dyes from the IOAN line.

Design and Fashion as Participants in Environmental Restoration: What role do you think design and fashion can play in ecosystem restoration and strengthening the climate justice movement?

HIJK: “Fashion and design can help start a conversation, it’s an easy way to tell a story and put a little more power behind it. It is a direct way for people to participate in this story of restoration… I am hopeful — there is more demand for these organic textiles, there are more mills coming back online, there is manufacturing in LA, there are projects popping up all over the country. There are more people asking questions about how and where clothes are made and even if they cannot channel all of their purchases that way, they are paying attention.”

Ashley Eva Brock: “Food, clothing and shelter. We all know these are the basics. Understanding where our food comes from has made a major shift in people and people are going that direction with textiles… It’s all in the education and increasing people’s awareness around what it actually takes to produce clothing. Awareness itself can bring so much change. Even just understanding that these things come from a plant that was grown by a person, and these come from an animal that lived on a ranch could cause a shift away from the disposable culture of fast fashion and clothing… One thing I think about a lot is that clothing is very artificially cheap. It is not supposed to be this cheap. If a garment costs $5, you know the environment paid for it and the workers paid for it.”

Industry Of All Nations: “We have the opportunity to create the culture of restoration. Fashion employs so much raw and non-raw material and workforce. If we can create a culture to be as thoughtful as possible around production and consumption we will change the world…How do you see the change happening? I can see everyday that we are not alone in this, everyday we attract so many people that are on the same journey. People come into our shops and ask questions that we never would have heard before. How people listen, and how they get intrigued — they are willing to learn and to change.”

IOAN’s store shows material goods and the people and processes behind them; HIJK knit designs in process.

On Mentors & Motivators:

HIJK: “My grandmother taught me how to sew and could make anything out of nothing. She was of the depression era, she had four kids and an acre of land that they grew all their food on… I hate garbage clothes. I design clothing to be functional and repairable. Something you can wear everyday- so that you can seamlessly go from walking, napping, and with a little lipstick it becomes your evening outfit. With that in mind, I tend to focus on simple, layerable pieces that customers can easily add to their wardrobe.”

Ashley Eva Brock: “The process of creating something new and seeing it come to fruition is very exciting for me. That’s what motivates me… I try to go within and build from an abstract concept to get closer to creating something that is truly unique… I first learned natural dye from Sasha Duerr, she’s awesome and doing great things. Lynda Grose had a huge influence on me and I definitely want to give a shout out to Marlie de Swart and Brittany Cole Bush.”

Industry Of All Nations: “This work keeps me in a very deep state of reality. It keeps me present, very connected to everything that’s going on in a broader sense of the world. It can be both inspiring and very heart-breaking. If we have this opportunity to address this reality, we have to seize it. We’re not doing this just for us, we’re doing this for everybody.”

Catching up with HIJK (left), the IOAN team (center), and Ashley Eva Brock (right).

Try this on for size: What first steps can consumers take toward sustainable fashion?

HIJK: “The main thing is to not think you have to do everything all at once. If lots of people start with small changes, that will create a huge impact… Start with one item, maybe a very well made pair of shoes that you will have for many years, or a great little slip dress that you will wear for years down the road, and if you want, tell the story behind those pieces.”

Ashley Eva Brock: “I make my own clothes and every once in awhile I buy a special piece that is timeless, more of an heirloom piece. And that is an investment in both the environment and the people who are making that piece… It’s a change of mindset. Having just a few good things that you cherish and you take care of, rather than just getting a new outfit whenever it suits you… A good coat can last you a long time. A warmer coat is not worn year round, so you get a break from it in the summer, which can be refreshing when it gets cool out and you get to wear it again.”

Industry Of All Nations: “Go to a shop and ask. Usually the people you ask will not know how to answer your questions, but that does not matter. If they get enough questions, eventually they start realizing that change is necessary… At the end of the day, the consumers have the power.”

Inspiration at IOAN; Brock in her creative element.

Try this on for size: What first steps can designers take toward sustainable fashion?

HIJK: “Ask where stuff is made and understand that there are gradients of sustainability, and learn to be comfortable with things not being perfect. Don’t beat yourself up about it. If something is not your perfect version of sustainable, decide where you are comfortable making compromises, and work to get closer to that larger goal overtime… I tend to start with: ‘I love this material, what can I make out of it?’ From there I try to figure out what the fabric is most suitable for, rather than forcing the fabric into a design I’ve come up with.”

Ashley Eva Brock: “The longer I work in this the more I realize that it takes a community and a team. You just can’t be good at everything and trying to be so is exhausting and not efficient. Collaborating and using other people’s strengths and lending out your strengths — that act of exchange builds community.”

Industry Of All Nations: “Do not be scared of changes. To change something is always hard. To change the way you make stuff is hard, but if you believe in it and it’s not just a marketing tool that difficulty becomes the adrenaline.  If it’s easy it means it’s wrongly made– it’s probably not good. Difficult is what moves us.”

Heidi Iverson’s concepts for Climate Beneficial Fashion.

Gut Reactions: What was your initial response to the Climate Beneficial Wool Community Supported Cloth?

HIJK: “I am really excited about having another very thoughtfully produced woven textile to work with — it opens up so many possibilities. I feel like there’s so many different types of pieces that this wool wants to be.”

Ashley Eva Brock: “It takes me to the ocean for sure — as a layer piece that you wrap yourself up in so when the fog rolls in you stay warm.”

Industry Of All Nations: “I think it’s awesome, it’s very good quality and we love the fact that it has no extra ingredients besides the pure raw material — no dye, just the pure fiber, and nothing else. In manufacturing, like in food, we feel that the less added ingredients that we can pass along, the better.”

On September 23rd, Climate Beneficial Fashion created by Heidi Iverson, Ashley Eva Brock, and Industry of All Nations, will be presented on the runway at Big Mesa Farm. The event offers an opportunity to connect with the Fibershed community as we explore value chains that ameliorate the causes of climate change, by investing in carbon farming and regional manufacturing. The evening includes farm-to-table fare, locally crafted beverages, live demonstrations to learn about natural dyeing and fiber processing, and a Marketplace to directly support regional goods and producers.