Written by Sarah Lillegard and photographed by Paige Green
Among the garments displayed at the 2019 Fibershed Gala was a loungesuit with an open v neckline and wide pant legs that tapered to a tie at the waist. Made out of undyed Climate Beneficial™ wool, it was a sophisticated but cozy look. Titled the Coastal Cream Loungesuit, this garment has become the catalyst for Italia Hannaway’s clothing line, Italia A Collection, and its commitment to “making fashion sense.”
Italia received her formal design education in San Francisco, California, and abroad in Milan, Italy. While attending the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing (FIDM) in San Francisco, a Zero Waste Design Challenge by Fibershed was introduced in one of her final classes. Intrigued by the idea of patterning clothes without wasting material, Italia researched the process and presented her own design: the Coastal Cream Loungesuit. It ended up winning the challenge, and Italia was awarded four yards of Lani’s Lana Climate Beneficial Wool to make her loungesuit. This introduction to Fibershed and the concept of zero-waste pattern design became the cornerstone of the Italia A Collection. “It opened a huge window for me into sustainable fashion. By learning about sustainability at FIDM and being introduced to Fibershed’s perspective— that’s really grown my design philosophy. Since then, I have been making zero-waste products made only with sustainable materials,” reflects Italia.
Taking on zero-waste pattern making is pretty unconventional in contemporary clothing design. Prior to the industrialization of the textile industry, fabric was precious. Garments were cut to maximize the fabric and minimize the waste. As fabric became cheaper and more accessible, the concern about unused material decreased. Now, most patterns are cut with little regard for what gets discarded. Zero-waste is about designing patterns that use all of the fabric. As Italia describes it, “Pattern making and design is my strength. I know it from the ground up. Having that hands-on experience drives the pattern making, and with zero-waste design, it is really a series of geometric shapes. Using those geometric shapes, you have to think about your design and construct it visually while you are making the pattern. It’s almost like pieces of a puzzle that have to fit together.”
Italia’s interlocking approach extends beyond just pattern making. Her designs consider the multiplicity of elements influencing our relationship with clothing. The cut, the materials, the durability, and the function of a garment all inform how it will be worn. “From the start of the production to the end, I want it to be fluid, for it to have the same concept of sustainability all of the way through.” One component of this is the materials. Italia’s warm season garments are made with plant-based textiles like linen and organic cotton to maximize breathability. For the cool season looks, she uses Climate Beneficial Wool. Intentionally using these natural materials goes hand in hand with the pattern making process. Because the fabric is precious, it makes zero-waste design crucial. Utilizing all of the material honors its value as well as the labor that goes into producing it. The person wearing the garment may not recognize the extra effort that goes into patterning, but they can intuit how the material feels different. This sensory experience is hard to pin down, but as Italia describes it, “Once you wear it, then you’ll know.”
Another component Italia considers with her sustainable designs is longevity. This goes back to the fabric quality and extends into the look of the garment. Italia strives to create looks that are seasonless and fashion-forward. This means clothes that will hold up to years of wear and passing trends. Some of the cuts she favors are simple, minimalistic forms and geometric shapes. Her current collections feature a combination of jumpsuits, tee dresses, pull-over tops, and zero-waste pants. One of her favorite garments is the wrap skirt. With a little laugh of enthusiasm, Italia says, “I just love the wrap skirt from the ’70s. That’s always a winner for me.” With these minimal forms, there is versatility. This is the other aspect of designing for longevity: that the garment can be worn for a variety of occasions. Throughout her collections, all of the looks can be dressed up or dressed down. They are not limited to the specific function of “business casual” or “formal wear.”
One more piece in the sustainability puzzle is production. Living in Santa Clara County, Italia’s studio is a part of her home. This arrangement is convenient, allowing her to balance being a wife, mother, designer, and business owner all in the same space. Especially with the COVID-19 restriction in place, Italia emphasizes that “having my studio here is good for me. This is an extension of my work/life balance.” Over the past years, this home studio is where she has conceptualized, designed, patterned, cut, and sewed her collections. When Italia was ready to outsource some of this work, she looked for close resources. “I really wanted to make sure my clothing line was also locally manufactured, so I manufacture in San Francisco. “ The manufacturer she works with understands zero-waste design, so they are able to facilitate both the cutting and the sewing of her collections.
Since Italia A Collection is a young line, this year’s pandemic has made outreach and expansion difficult. Markets have been cancelled, and boutiques are struggling. Most companies have turned to online sales, but it is hard for fledgling businesses to reach new customers on that platform. Italia’s response has been to continue to foster collaborations and focus on select pieces. “It has to be more contained and simplified right now. I feel that everything going on right now is pushing things to be minimalistic.” So as she prepares to release her winter collection, the emphasis will be the Climate Beneficial Wool and her Lounge Tee Dresses made from bamboo and organic cotton.
Beyond pivoting her collections, Italia has been envisioning what is to come. One goal is to expand the sizes offered so her clothing can better encompass a diverse range of body types. For Italia, this is another crucial step in closing the loop of ethical and sustainable fashion. She is also looking forward to working with materials from more of Fibershed’s producer members. This “community that has a sense of gratefulness about it” has not only sparked Italia’s passion for sustainable design but will continue to be an inspiration in her considerate approach to slowing down fashion.
Learn more about fabric and material choices in Fibershed’s free Clothing Guide, which can be downloaded here.