Mandy Kordal of Kordal Knitwear
Working for a fashion designer after graduating from college kindled designer Mandy Kordal's love of knitwear, inspiring her to buy her own knitting machine. Soon after, Kordal Knitwear was born. Kordal's production is located primarily in Brooklyn and each sweater is knit on a handloom, producing zero waste. In this interview, Mandy and I talked about voting with your dollar and the problems of consumerism.
With regards to your own work, how do you define sustainability?
Being aware of your environment and resources. Making conscious efforts to work with materials that have less of an environmental impact, through using 100% natural and organic fibers. Working to create garments that are long lasting and utilize zero-waste methods. Ensuring that your employee's and contract workers are paid a fair wage and are working regular hours.
Can you describe how you started your company and how you became interested in sustainable design?
My company started after I launched a kickstarter project to create a small knitwear collection. I noticed that it was very difficult to find knitwear made in the United States and was able to connect with some local handloom knitters in Queens NY. Since then we have expanded to also work with other cooperatives and have incorporated work in the whole-garment knitting machines. I became more interested in sustainable design as my business grew and I began to meet more like-minded designers in my community. The current state of the fashion industry and the amount of waste that is being produced is absolutely staggering, I wanted to make sure I provided an alternative option for people and also help to bring awareness to this incredible problem.
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of owning a sustainable business?
The most rewarding is when you see someone pick up or try on one of your pieces and they can tell that there is a tactile and quality difference right away. The most challenging would be the fashion calendar and the expectation to constantly produce new ideas, which is especially difficult if you are putting a lot of time an effort into sourcing local and organic fabric/yarn qualities. Those materials take much longer to develop and there are days where I do wish it was a bit easier, but you know that it's much better in the long run.
Where do you see the fashion industry moving in terms of ethics and sustainability?
That's a difficult question. Here's the thing, I would love to say that I see it moving forward in a positive way and that slowly people will begin to realize that we cannot continue down this path, textile waste is already the #2 pollutant, the first being oil. I hope that it will become mandatory to design sustainably and not optional. But, to be completely transparent, I'm very concerned. Our society is so focused on consumerism and prices have gotten so low that many don't understand how that is affecting our environment and the people making our clothing. The larger fashion companies, with the exception of a few, are completely driven by profit. Until we as consumers prove that we will not stand for child labor, or are willing to pay more for an organic cotton t-shirt will there by real change. It's so incredibly important to vote with your dollar because that is truly where you can make a difference. I hope that watching a documentary like "The True Cost" is mandatory for classrooms, or that kids at a young age understand what goes into making a garment, so then they are able to question why a pair of jeans costing less than ten dollars is wrong.
How can we encourage consumers to buy ethically & sustainably?
I think through discussion with friends and family. Talking with other about the importance of voting with your dollar and how much that is impacting the world and environment we will live in for years to come. I think it's also up to the designers to problem solve ways we can make sustainable fashion more affordable for a broader audience and not only available for the higher paid.
Can you describe what you hope your company will look like five years from now? In other words, what are your long term goals for your company?
That is another tough question! I would hope that I would have a bit more of a staff in five years, right now it is still a one woman show. Perhaps open up a brick & mortar location where we could offer workshops or teach others how to care and mend for their garments.
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
It's so different each day! A mix of shipping, emails, sketching, more emails, meetings with vendors, overseeing production takes up a huge portion of every day. It really depends on the time of year. Right now we are doing a lot of pop-up's for the holidays, in February we'll have our market week for wholesale so we will be shooting the new collection and preparing to meet with buyers. You end up wearing a lot of hats! :)
Tell me about your design process.
It varies so much depending on the time of year. But in general when I'm approaching a new collection I start by being inspired by an overall feeling or mood, a lot of times I'm inspired by films or historical textiles. After collecting some inspiration images to keep me grounde begin working on the textural elements. Being a knitwear focused brand I work a lot with our knitters to come up with new stitch techniques. After that I begin sketching. I sketch flat garments by hand and pin everything up on a board. I usually take a few weeks of staring at the board and e-arrange some things before passing of technical packages to our production room. Then it's a waiting game, the sample process can take up to 6 weeks at times. The best part is when the samples being to arrive and you are finally able to see the collection in its entirety, it's really exciting!