Designers Who Work It: Melissa Baswell of Mountains of the Moon Works Style into Sustainability. Sustainability Weekend Series Kick-Off

by Rachel Yeomans | January 22nd, 2010   

This week we offer the readers of TheWorkingWardrobe a little treat. As part of our weekly Designers Who Work It series, we are proud to bring you an interview with not only one of the leading Windy City designers, but also on the forefront of sustainability design. So we are so excited to have our interview with Melissa Baswell of Mountains of the Moon kick off our special weekend Sustainability Series! All weekend we will be featuring posts and write-ups on only sustainable and eco-friendly designs and styles. So without much ado, let us enter into this weekend by hearing how one of Chicago’s own feels about clothing’s carbon footprint.

MCB2 Designers Who Work It: Melissa Baswell of Mountains of the Moon Works Style into Sustainability. Sustainability Weekend Series Kick Off

TheWorkingWardrobe
Why did you decide to design sustainable clothing? What is your background with sustainability?

Melissa Baswell – Mountains of the Moon
I was interested in both art and clothing from a very young age, and started sewing with my mom when I was a child. I was also raised by environmentalist parents who taught me the importance of respecting the earth, and I was involved in eco-preservation activities and clubs throughout my childhood and teen years. In college (University of Wisconsin-Madison), I studied Acting/Theatre, but also interned with WISPIRG’s Environmental Education program, and continued to design clothing for myself and my friends. It was during a required costume design class that I had an epiphany of sorts, where I realized I wanted to design rather than act. It seemed natural to find a way to combine my passion for sustainability with a career as a designer.

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TheWorkingWardrobe
You mentioned during a previous conversation that you wanted to change the world in college – what did you end up changing and what is your viewpoint now?

Melissa Baswell – Mountains of the Moon
Although I was, admittedly, very idealistic in college and without much real world experience, I still had a clear vision of ways I could make a difference through my career. I wouldn’t say I’ve changed the world by any means, but I do believe that collectively, those of us who have committed ourselves to sustainable design have certainly made a difference. The fashion industry as a whole is incredibly wasteful, and many of us have worked to prove that style doesn’t have to be sacrificed to produce a garment from eco-friendly materials without excessive waste. Today, the whole “eco-fashion doesn’t have to mean shapeless burlap sacks” statement is almost a cliché, but in the past, it took a lot of work to convince people of this. We have a long way to go, but a shift in fashion’s paradigm has already begun, and I’d like to think that the work of eco-fashion designers over the past ten years was a huge part of this shift.

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TheWorkingWardrobe
What is your response to the statement, “All ‘green’ clothes are ugly”?

Melissa Baswell – Mountains of the Moon
Honestly, I think that it is (finally!) apparent to most that this is no longer the case. In the past, the majority of “green” clothing was, although not necessarily “ugly,” stereotypically granola, with an emphasis on simple garments in traditionally earthy colors. Today, there is so much more sustainable fabric available to designers, and so many designers have adopted an eco- and socially-friendly approach to design and production. This has allowed for eco-fashion to encompass everything from the casual yoga-inspired lines to couture pieces.

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TheWorkingWardrobe
Who are your customers?

Melissa Baswell – Mountains of the Moon
The line features both casual designs and more high-end contemporary womens wear. Most of our customers are young, urban women, but I focus on creating pieces that aren’t overly trendy and can be worn in a number of different settings, which allows us to have a customer based that isn’t defined by age or income. My design aesthetic stems from combining nature with urban environments, and although the pieces are clearly feminine and slightly romantic, I try to create collections that have a little something for everyone.

TheWorkingWardrobe
What is the one thing every working woman needs?

Melissa Baswell – Mountains of the Moon
A simple but elegant dress made from solid fabrics. There is nothing like a dress to make a woman embrace her femininity, and if the dress is classically understated and effortless, it allows for infinite possibly. I think more than anyone, the working woman can truly appreciate the ability to take an outfit from day to night or to dress it up or down with accessories, and this kind of dress is built for these options. This is also a very sustainable way to dress. Focusing on understated key pieces that can be easily transformed rather than filling a closet with overly trendy, disposable clothing creates considerably less waste.

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TheWorkingWardrobe
You also work with fashions for several music groups? How did you get into that and how is that different from your collections?

Melissa Baswell – Mountains of the Moon
Music has always been a huge part of my life, and when I started my design career, my focus was on creating one-of-a-kind pieces that I sold at music events. So in that sense, my beginnings were actually in the music industry rather than the fashion industry. As my company grew and I started producing full collections and selling to stores, I began to follow standard fashion industry schedules. Although I no longer sold at music events, I continued to attend them, and was fortunate to get to know a lot of wonderful people in the music industry over the years (including my boyfriend, a Stage Manager for a touring band).

I was initially approached several years ago to do styling for a band’s photo shoot . This led to more music-related styling jobs, which in turn led to other projects, like designing t-shirts for bands’ tours and music events, and producing eco-fashion shows at music festivals. Music and fashion are related on so many levels, and finding ways to combine the two feels very natural to me. So many bands and music industry events are working to become more eco-conscious too, so the concept of bringing sustainable fashion into the projects I’m hired to do is met with open arms. It’s a completely different line of work than fashion design, and I absolutely love it. In fact, my work with so music-related projects over the past couple of years has inspired me to devote more of my career to this industry, and I’m actually in the process of launching a separate company based on this work.

TheWorkingWardrobe
Since you design clothes for many music groups, why don’t you design more commercial men’s clothing?

Melissa Baswell – Mountains of the Moon
I do design a few men’s t-shirts, but as any designer will tell you, producing a collection involves investing a lot of time and money, and neither sustainable materials nor local production are cheap. The state of economy coupled with a lack of ample time simply doesn’t allow for me to create everything I’d like to, including full men’s and children’s lines. I’m pretty open to new opportunities though, and I’m certainly not opposed to the idea in the future.

MMP2bla lg Designers Who Work It: Melissa Baswell of Mountains of the Moon Works Style into Sustainability. Sustainability Weekend Series Kick Off

TheWorkingWardrobe
What do you think the future is for sustainable fashion?

Melissa Baswell – Mountains of the Moon
The whole concept of sustainable fashion has changed in some pretty profound ways over the last few years, which is both exciting and important.

Incorporating eco-conscious materials into clothing marked the first phase of sustainable fashion. Now, those of us committed to sustainable design realize that we have a much greater obligation than just the materials, and must consider how every single aspect of the design process, from the design itself to production to marketing, affects the earth (and its inhabitants).
Creating workable solutions can be challenging, especially in a recession that has changed the face of retail as we know it.

But in an industry that in the past has centered on a model based on extreme competition, the challenges that sustainable designers collectively face now seem to be fueling a desire to work together, with a new model based on sharing ideas and resources, and collaborating on projects and events. This is allowing for what once was a very small and limited part of the industry to expand, re-define, and even revolutionize fashion as we know it.

Building on this, consumers and the fashion industry itself are venturing toward a new place, where a real appreciation for the necessity of sustainable clothing exists, both from an environmental/social standpoint, and a monetary standpoint. The idea of cautiously purchased, well-made garments designed to be timeless and versatile is beginning to, and will continue to, replace the concept of frivolous spending on disposable, fad-driven clothing.

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Check out some of Melissa’s lovely clothing items at her site, HERE!

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