Rachel Fernbach of PonyBabe
Rachel Fernbach is the creator of PonyBabe, a newly launched sustainable and ethical clothing line that effortlessly combines comfort and style. The 24-hour outfit, a collection of four beautifully designed pieces, are made with organic cotton & bamboo and sewn in Brooklyn. Focused on total transparency, Rachel shares the details of the PonyBabe supply chain on the PonyBabe website, from shipping labels and packaging to the fabric she uses. Enticed by the simplicity of her line and her commitment to sustainable fabrics, I was eager to talk to Rachel about her design process, running a sustainable business, and where she finds inspiration.
With regards to your work, how do you define sustainability?
In terms of my label, PonyBabe, sustainability means using environmentally friendly fabrics and manufacturing domestically, with respect for the people whose work brings the clothing to life. It also means being realistic about my budget and ability to manage a business as a solo-entrepreneur. Growing slowly, with a multi-year plan, rather than trying to make a huge splash right from the get-go is crucial to maintaining this business as a sustainable facet of my life.
Can you describe how you started your company and how you become interested in sustainable design?
I have a background in Massage Therapy, Expressive Arts Psychotherapy, Yoga, and Meditation. As a professional, I needed clothing that was comfortable for moving, yet also looked smart. I also wanted clothes that I could easily wear to yoga class, without needing to change first. This is what inspired the comfy layers that I design.
My interest in sustainable design has grown over the years in a parallel line to my desire to live a meaningful, healthy, and ethical life. In the beginning, I thought mostly about where my food and beauty products were coming from, and eventually this spread to making more conscious choices about where my clothes come from. I want my choices to be of benefit to the world I live in, and so I am inspired to design in ways that lessen the negative environmental and social impacts of this industry.
What are the most rewarding & challenging aspects of owning a sustainable business?
It's incredibly gratifying to be my own boss, and to choose how I pass my days. The opposite side of this coin is the challenge in earning a living as an independent designer. I am responsible for my own salary, and sometimes that can be a big weight! Because sustainable textiles and domestic manufacturing are quite expensive, it's a real struggle to find money to pay myself for the work I do.
And as a creative person, I can't overstate how meaningful it is to devote my time and energy to a personal creative vision. It's amazing to hold a pair of pants that I conceived of, designed, and had produced. It makes me very happy.
Where do you see the fashion industry moving in terms of ethics and sustainability?
It seems to be moving in a good direction! Awareness is growing, and many consumers are beginning to realize that fast fashion is not a healthy industry. I think that as demand grows, large companies will find ways to give their customers what they want.
How can we encourage consumers to buy ethically & sustainably?
That's a great question. I think that storytelling is so helpful. When customers can make a personal connection and identify with the artisan who made their clothes, it humanizes the experience.
Unfortunately, we live in a capitalistic society, so probably the best mode of changing people's shopping habits is to make it financially enticing. Finding ways to make ethical goods "affordable" will make them accessible to people who don't necessarily care about sustainability - but if they buy better products, perhaps it doesn't matter what their values are.
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?
I want PonyBabe to grow into a financially sustainable source of meaningful work. That is, I hope to continue working creatively, and to earn money doing it.
At the moment, I'm using pre-dyed non-certified organic cotton/bamboo blend fabric. In the next few years, I aim to grow my customer base to the size that will allow me to move on to GOTS certified organic cotton and vegetable dyes. I'm very excited to get to point when I can develop my own color stories and use some of the amazing sustainable textiles that are coming to market.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Right now I'm running a Kickstarter campaign to fund my first production run, so my days are spent at the computer - pitching PonyBabe's story to the media, managing my social media channels, and connecting with people to spread the word. My health is the most important thing to me, so I swim laps each day, do some yoga and meditate, and spend time cooking and resting.
Tell me about your design process.
I'm a very visual person, and I take in a lot of information from seeing the world around me. Gathering inspiration from nature, from traveling and looking at street style, from going to museums... is a big part of the process... eventually ideas crystallize and form into clearer intentions. For my first collection, the 24 Hour Outfit, I was inspired by my experiences as a dancer and yogi to create clothing that allows for easy movement and breathing. I love the ocean, and wanted a color palette that felt soothing and cool like sea water. Often, I find that I own a piece of clothing that "isn't quite right" and I use it as a jumping off point to create the garment I wish it could be. I tend to think about things for a long while - when the idea is ready to come into the world, it announces itself.
Do you have a motto or saying that particularly inspires you?
Three actually: 1. Focus on the positive, 2. Begin again, 3. What could be easier?
Photos courtesy of Rachel Fernbach