Wes Anderson is probably jealous of Emily Adams Bode.
She constructs clothes from vintage merit badges and sports pennants. She's got a whisper network of antique dealers from Paris to Atlanta. She collects tiny pieces of 1960s furniture. She can discern between the different tribes of High School Art Girl.™ ("I was never a jaded goth girl, never a fun glitter girl. I was more in the vein of preppy vintage," she says, because again: Wes Anderson could never.)
But Bode isn't just a certain classification of cool, or even an arbiter of New York's fashion future—though with a CFDA Award, the 30-year-old is certainly that. But the reason we're obsessed with her is because besides the buzz, the cool factor, and the Moonlight Kingdom vibes, Emily Bode is at the vanguard of a new way to shop.
"It starts with the fact that sustainability doesn't mean what you think it means," she sighs. "People love using that word, but look: sustainability doesn't mean you're making new clothes out of new fabric, even if that fabric is easier on the environment. If you're over-producing clothes you can't sell, even if they're made from eco-friendly fabrics, then guess what? It's not sustainable! And maybe you're not even looking towards the communities you effect with your production. Maybe the fabric is sustainable but the way you treat people or the way you run your facility is toxic. And I know it's complex. I know we still have to sell things."
To prove it, Bode opened a tiny boutique in Chinatown last year, selling bespoke and limited-run pieces in a mix of upcycled, recycled, and natural fabrics. "We have a huge size range, over 20 sizes really," she says, noting that every garment is meant to be unisex. "And the funny thing is, my mentors and teachers would have been so against that. They would be like, 'You can't open a store until you know your customer! Know their size!' But too bad!" she laughs. "We make larger and smaller sizes because larger and smaller people buy our clothes. Because we're a made-to-order business, we only have to make what we know we're selling, which right now is pants. We had no idea people would be so into our pants," which are basically the Dazed and Confused movie flares in fabrics that range from '70s denim to Japanese silk.
But what happens when a sustainable clothing line wins fashion awards, scores Insta-Fame, lands on magazine covers, and suddenly they need to actually buy fabric? "We still do a lot of vintage sourcing from all over the world," Bode says, "But we're really relying on Woolmark. They have opened up doors to the best wool suppliers in the world, who wouldn't have talked to me before," she laughs. "They let me make replicas of my vintage fabric pieces and still feel like it's part of our mission."
"So much of the brand, to me, is creating heirloom garments and preserving these histories and techniques that otherwise would be lost forever," she says. "Woolmark lets us pair with these smaller mills that have traceable and certified sustainable yarns. To have a really clear view of where your materials are coming from and transparency on that, that's sustainable."
This week, Emily competes for the prestigious Woolmark Prize which will provide even more funding and support for the designer should she win (like Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, who are just two of the many success stories to come from the international contest). But unlike those legendary designers, she doesn't feel the same rivalry with her peers, including fellow American cool kid Matthew Adams Dolan.
"Fashion loves to make people compete," she says. "It's just part of the industry, it's part of the way they do design schools… but I refuse to believe my peers, and the people around me who I like and respect, are my actual 'competition,' you know?" She laughs. "I think of it as, 'You’re competing for a thing. You’re not competing in life.' We’re not really similar, me and these other designers."
And to Emily Bode, that's exactly the point.
Faran Krentcil Editor at Large, ELLE.com "Her beauty and her brain go not together." —William Shakespeare