I remember when I first met Ivy Thompson. We were at a mutual friend’s Brooklyn loft and we soon realize that we both worked in fashion. Ivy was dreaming about starting her own line, and I was at my first job in the industry and could not fathom going out on my own. Through the years we have become close friends and fashion business confidant. It has been amazing to watch her journey and to see her brand grow. I really admire her ambition and rethinking of what the fashion industry should be. I was so happy to get to sit down and do this interview. Ivy has so many great stories and insights and I wanted to share all these gems with you, my readers. Naturally, I also love her newest collection…
- Tells us what it was like when you first launched Visantine?
It was magical.. and there was definitely a sense of rebellion. I was sick of my current industry fashion job so I ditched it and sold gym memberships (ha!) My side hustle was Visantine with co-founder and artist, Maria Piessis. We made our own rules because we had no idea what we were doing. We spent the summer riding our bikes to the garment district, letting our imaginations run wild. We started selling button down shirts at the Hester Street Fair with locally sourced materials and the collection took off. We treated every customer as a friend and never expected it to become more than a living room operation. By the end of the summer, we had won the Lower East Side Runway “Best in Show” and had our first wholesale order for a shop in SoHo.
- At some point you became more focused on sustainability, can you talk about that time in your life and what was informing those decisions?
The interest really started while I was still at FIT. I remember taking my fabric science class which stirred a lot of questions about the impact of the textile/fashion industry on its workers, the environment, and our health. I think when I was younger I just didn't quite know how to navigate my curiosity. Working in the industry for other brands just always felt so wasteful and hectic, like there was never enough time, and I hated that. Regardless, I still built my brand around those rules and it really took a toll on my psyche. The first go at Visantine in 2012 burnt out quick and it definitely had to do with the unrealistic expectations of the fashion calendar. I left the industry “for good” and volunteered in Peru for an organization called Awamaki. It was while working with weavers in the indigenous communities that I had my “aha” moment. Their lifestyle was so easy: very simple and family oriented but they still made these beautiful, highly coveted handicrafts. I fell in love with slow craft and the romanticism of each piece being slightly unique. I knew I wanted to incorporate these practices into my own business: telling a story while helping preserve a craft.
3. How has your brand changed over time, how has it stayed the same?
The brand has definitely matured as I have. I think the garments are much more simple, but still detail oriented. I'm now making my own batik textiles and am more interested in “slow craft”. I've also decided to ignore the industry calendar and don't necessarily think you need to abide by any rules. I don't believe creativity should ever be forced, so I'm more trying to tap into it as it comes, rather than feeling pressured by “deadlines”.
- You had the chance to live and work in Peru with indigenous artisans, what was that like?
I was originally hired in Peru to teach the seamstresses how to sew on industrial machines with leather, but I think I learned more than they did. I think sometimes collaborations can be challenging because you have to let go of control. Inevitably, miscommunications and “mistakes” would happen but you just go with it, pivot, and make it part of the plan.
It was also incredibly humbling to see the way they live and how happy they are. They don't have much, in one of our communities they didn't even have a mirror, but they are always laughing. Material possessions are of course relative because if you don't have it, you can't miss it, but it was just such a check to the consumption patterns we have as Americans. The communities in the Andes have their family, they have nature, and their craft.
- In your travels to Indonesia you create beautiful batik fabric that is a part of your recent spring collection, tell us what that process was like.
- For young designers interested in working with indigenous artisan collective do you have any advice?
I would say go and live there first. Get to know the people and not just because you want them to work for you. Learn the language, learn their process and become friends. It's SO important to know the process yourself. Especially when working remotely, you need to know how to help problem solve or pivot when an issue arises. I think even if you're not going to incorporate handmade goods into your business, every designer should at least learn and appreciate a craft. It will inspire you in different ways.
- What are some things you would like to see change within the fashion industry?
I get so happy when I look on social media because there are SO many brands trying to make a difference. I think the change in the industry is already happening. I think the bigger challenge lies within the consumer. Large brands taking advantage of labor in developing countries or who disregard their impact on the environment wouldn't exist if we weren't buying their goods. Our consumption patterns are the issue. We need to learn when enough is enough and not let material belongings define who we are. Clothing is very labor and resource intensive to make and should be seen as an investment, not a throwaway trend. Also, it's pretty magical to make memories in your clothing. I love looking in my closet at a sweater I've had forever and getting nostalgia.
We as consumers have the opportunity to make a change: we get the chance to vote every day with our dollar. Smaller brands are extremely accessible so if you find one you connect with, create a relationship and support them.
- You currently live and work in Laramie, Wyoming, what is it like to be a fashion designer there?
There is a small, really talented group of artists in Laramie. It's a university town so the resources are endless. It's also a small population of people who are really good at assembling. There is a sewing guild, a fiber guild, a quilting guild etc. so there are always creative activities going on. I'm currently working out of the Karen Lewis Fiber Arts Studio which, is a collective space for artists of all types to create. We're organizing a kids art camp for next month along with some adult classes and exhibits for the Fall. It seems like anything is possible here because it is such a small community of motivated individuals.
- What has been inspiring you recently?
Quilting. Comfort. Laramie is full of quilters! There are so many techniques and I want to explore all of them and add a modern twist. It's also a good way I can utilize my fabric waste. It's also really cold here in the winter so I'm working on some robes for the fall, with some quilting incorporated. My studio mate is a weaver and incredibly inspiring, so she's showing me how to use the floor loom as well.
- Are there any cool collaborations or project you are working on?
I just did a collaboration for The Secret Catalog, a mail order print catalog that features limited edition goods by small, independent brands. I'm also really into utilizing my fabric scraps so I did a collaboration with Earthen Warrior. She used my excess fabric for her handmade, homeopathic sleep masks. I'm not currently working on any collaborations though I'm always looking for them. Since the move in January, I've just been kind of getting my ducks in a row. But I'm always open! Supra Endura?!?!