How Growing a Backbone Brought Us to Fashion Week

Last night I attended New York Fashion Week for the first time with my daughter, my VP of All Things. It had been a maddening day: up at 5:45, promptly downed 24oz of coffee, prep lunch, toss too much shit in two bags, and raced out the door for Manhattan. Drop off kiddo, hit a café for wifi and work, then meeting with the brand guru, Helena Sasseron at Caffe Reggio in the Village where yet more caffeine was consumed. Then back to Brooklyn for work with my right hand man, Brooks, throw on a menswear Frederick Douglass tee and slather on some makeup, and head out to Curriculum Night at school. In Manhattan again, get to Curriculum Night late and leave early to grab kiddo again and head to Hell’s Kitchen for a fashion show.

Deep. Breath.

This is not far from an average day. Mixing work, and play, and motherhood into a thick stew that smells really good but can’t seem to stay in the bowl that might actually be a colander.

But here is where this is the most glorious thing: Magdalena Concepts just had its seventh birthday. It’s now less than twice as old as my actual child. I have fought and argued and brawled for my right to build it. It’s been implied that as a woman, I should not take risks. I should not compromise my family to invest in something that could provide much better for them in the future. Paying dues looks different for a woman, I’m told. Ambition is an ugly word when it’s tacked onto a woman, especially a mother. And to those baby boomer men that keep giving me side eye over it I say, I eat ambition for breakfast. It’s the breakfast of champions.

I digress.

Last night, as the Veep and I hit that New York speedwalker pace, I explained where we were going: I said: “We’re going to Fashion Week, baby. It’s your very first Fashion Week, and you’re going to go to a lot more of them. We’re going to see someone that Mommy worked with, and this is a show of her work, and a celebration of her work.” “Like a party?” “Yeah, like a party.”

We were on our way to see the Livari show. I had printed their Backbone t-shirts, and worked closely with designer Tabitha St. Bernard on fine tuning the core print, and so Tabitha invited me and my team to see the result make its debut.

Livari Backbone t-shirts drying in our studio after their very first print run. The original artwork was created by Hodaya Louis. 

Livari Backbone t-shirts drying in our studio after their very first print run. The original artwork was created by Hodaya Louis

The show began, and the first piece out of the gate is the white jacket we printed. Then come shirts. Red, black, white, grey, patterns inked and marbled and polished rounding out the looks. My daughter is watching, fixated. And here comes a curvy model. And here comes one different shade of skin after another. And here comes a model in hijab. And here comes a mother carrying her baby down the runway. And it hit me: I am so damn proud. I am proud that this got to be the VP’s very first fashion show, this incredible display of female power and diversity, this celebration of strength.

It didn’t happen by accident. I haven’t been to Fashion Week before because of the same reason that I usually miss Black Friday or Jean Paul Gaultier at the Met: I’m working. I’ve had my head down working my ass off for most of the last decade, and everybody and their mother has advice for me. The advice usually says I should design something viral. I should print “Fuck Trump” shirts. Who am I to unpack for this individual why Fuck Trump shirts are the antithesis of my brand, or what branding even is? Concerned family members ask, “Are you making any money?” I’ll let you imagine my reply.

I get approached for custom printing jobs weekly. Most of those potential clients want me to do something I'm not willing to; something that in my world feels downright dirty, and that’s to print on the cheapest item possible. You see, the cheapest item possible was made somewhere with no regulations. It was made somewhere where the doors are locked when a deadline is at stake. It was made by someone who was beaten for trying to start a union. Or it was made by a prisoner. I’m not into that. I don’t care if I’m just the printer. I don’t care if my GROSS revenue is what I wish my owner’s salary would be. I won’t do it. I didn’t start my own business to do something that feels like I’m a part of the problem.

So I turn them down. I’ve turned down clients when rent was at stake, and I’ve stopped working with clients who claimed to be concerned with global exploitation but then didn’t want to pay the extra couple of dollars per item for exploitation-free products. And members of my family watch and collectively face-palm.

Yesterday, my stubbornness and obsessiveness was vindicated. It took seven years, but I got to see my work walk down the runway at Fashion Week. It was work printed by hand with the highest eco-grade ink available. It was a work designed by a woman-owned label. It was work sponsored by a carbon reduction non-profit. It was work included in a zero-waste collection, and I saw with my own eyes on the back end how they were not willing to compromise what they preach: Livari wanted the fairest. The most eco. The most sustainable. They would not budge from that regardless of deadline or cost. They wanted transparency and trust. If you’ve had any contact with the fashion world, or even read any slow fashion blogs, you know how rare that is.

I have been curating my clients based on who is aligned with the Magdalena Concepts mission: exploit nowhere. Compromise nowhere. Always try as hard as you can. Always keep people at the center. Who is left is a whole troupe of incredible business owners. Powerhouse women and industrious men who value what Magdalena Concepts brings to the table. It has been a long road, and last night, watching my daughter watch the work that keeps me from lavishing her with attention so often, it was all worth it.

Fierce selfies are obligatory after witnessing the fruits of one's labor.

Fierce selfies are obligatory after witnessing the fruits of one's labor.

And so I say this-

To the business owner hustling: trust.

To the ambitious mother questioning: don’t worry, they’re watching.

To the slow fashion brands: our audacity will be rewarded.

New things aren’t built on boilerplate.

 

-Magdalena

Big thank you to Livari for doing it right. Big thank you to my other beautiful clients: Study NY, X Swimwear, Project Just, Timothy Dark, RunGordoRun, and The Pennington School and many others who work toward a better world, and use ethical printing along the way. .