“I have so many inspirational women in my family,” says Designer and Sustainable Fashion Blogger Zoe Smythe.
Smythe who currently lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, but originally hails from Canada, credit her mother, both grandmothers, and her mother’s sister for inspiring her. “All four of these women embody strength and perseverance. I feel blessed to have grown up with such wonderful female role models.”
As part of our “Herstory” series, ELSA AND ME caught up with Zoe to film a video interview, take some photos, and talk about those who've inspired her and some other stuff.
You credit a few different women in your family with inspiring you, but it seems like your mom was a big part. Can you talk about her and how she inspired you?
My mother has and continues to inspire me daily. She is the smartest, hardest working person I know. She is tenacious in the best sense of the word. Patient, persistent, determined with an indomitable spirit. She has pulled our family though intensely hard times. It is hard for me to put into words all the things I owe to her. She taught me to work hard and not give up. That has served me in all areas of my life.
What do you love about what you do?
What I love about being a sustainable fashion blogger is meeting people who are doing innovative work in the fashion industry. With each interview I strive to highlight the innovative work being done in the fashion industry and tell the story of the person doing it. It’s the story that really fascinates me and I’m always honored and humbled by my interviewees willingness to share their stories.
There are many many ways to approach sustainability in the fashion industry. I have interviewed people whose work approaches sustainability from a variety of perspectives - from organic materials and natural dyes to recycling, reusing, upcycling to creating systems that facilitate a transparent supply chain to tracking DNA of materials to restore trust in a supply chain.
I’m fascinated by the work they do but also what led them to do this work, what was their path, how did the interest in sustainability emerge, what led them to the fashion industry and so on.
In my work as a designer I love the problem solving that comes with creating. I think sometimes people think of creativity, especially creativity in design, as the ability to come up with wild, outlandish, never seen before things. In some cases this is true but in the majority of roles, design thinking starts with empathy - who are you trying to help assist or aid? That, coupled with an often strict set of parameters whether it is cost, timeline, materials, and/or customer needs. It’s a puzzle that needs to be solved and I love working to solve it.
How does your style reflect who you are?
I would describe my fashion style as vintage eclectic and slightly formal. I gravitate towards vintage 50s and 60s shapes.
I have always felt a real relationship between how I visually present myself and my behaviour, self confidence, and ability to navigate social interactions. I think many people can identify with this process of choosing the perfect outfit as an integral part of preparing for any important event. The term “enclothed cognition” describes the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes (how do I properly reference this?). Some studies even show that the relationship with clothes extends past the physical experience to the symbolic meaning of the clothes we wear.
For me this has always been the case. Vintage, second-hand, upcycled and sustainable clothes dominate my wardrobe; this reflects my deep interest in sustainable fashion. It is also one of the important reasons that I think people are really starting to care about sustainable fashion; people want to know the story of their clothes. It gives dressing meaning.
I have this vivid memory of my mom picking me up from school in grade six. I had just transferred to a new school and was in the height of preteen angst. Because this school was not walking distance from our home and not on a bus route my mom would pick me up from school everyday. When I walked out the front doors of the school every afternoon my mom would be waiting for me wearing her “paint clothes,” which consisted of a cotton cargo pant and matching button down shirt combo, of which she had three sets, each died a different color. One was dark blue, one khaki and one taupe. She would wear them as sets. At this time she was working on some large painting and panels and she liked to work on them on the floor so in addition to her “paint clothes” she wore knee pads, yellow rubber clogs and a beret with her long black hair pulled back in the thick braid that hung down her back. She would wait for me in this paint splattered ensemble leaning on her beloved blue Oldsmobile, smoking her pipe, held with her paint encrusted hands.
While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I think this vision of strength and of non-conformity informed my sense of style. I believe great style is based on three things; knowing your body, wearing clothes that fit and above all having a point of view.
Self determination and opportunity. I think it’s easy to feel negative about this country right now. While I agree we are facing some difficult times, I think negativity is a mistake. If you look around, you see people striving and fighting for whatever it is they believe in. To me that is very hopeful. That should not be underestimated. There are many places in the world where people aren’t allowed to hope. Here, people stand up, speak out, agree, disagree, complain, express dissent, organize and make themselves heard.
That, and diversity. Especially in cities like New York where different is the norm - humans of all fur and feather getting along together. That makes for a great place to live.