Interview with Prophetik's, Jeff Garner.
We were thrilled to see an event – Green Show Room – being held in Berlin for the promotion of fair trade high fashion. A green fashion week essentially, with conscious purchasing in big flashing lights.
A few years ago, Our Journal's editor had the pleasure of meeting a fashion designer with a true passion for ethical design. From his nature-inspired designs, to his experiments with natural dyes and ‘upcycling’ of his grandmother’s quilt. Prophetik’s Jeff Garner has long been in the spotlight of green design, with Lydia Firth wearing his garments and consistently successful runway shows. While he’s not at Berlin, I thought it would be nice for journal readers to get an insight into the life of a high fashion green designer.
Let’s start with the shows. Jeff Garner’s shows are really quite incredible. From the violinist at the beginning, to the lights down and powerful beat. The fabrics, strutting models on the white runway, the theatre – a vision coming alive in a high-ceilinged hall, seeped in history. The models are silent artists, adorned in naturally dyed fabric, history and the sense of hot Texan earth. Walking with purpose and moving to the ranch, to the forest, to the ball. Each piece tells a story, one usually of romance, the land, the earth and trees. Some of the structures induce gasps with their bold beauty, others make the models look like adventurers on pursuit of discovery – waistcoats, slim trousers, a swift scarf and jackets with pockets aplenty.
Your designs are soaringly romantic, nostalgic and fantastical; what are your influences?
Jeff Garner: Nature, horses, traditions and the culture of England, France, and the Southern United States.
Could you describe your journey to becoming a designer?
It began at my family farm in Tennessee when I was a young boy of six-years-old, stealing my sister’s Barbie sketchpad. This progressed to designing for my music artist friends in Nashville and feeling a call to break out of the Southern traditional mould. I followed my heart no matter the consequences, leaving my family support and planned career path behind. I moved to California to study at Pepperdine University, leading to my role as Creative Director at Stiletto Entertainment. There I worked with Barry Manilow, Fleetwood Mac, and Donna Summer, learning the concept of business and design. In the entertainment world, I met Calvin Klein, J Lindenberg, and others who helped educate and inspire my move into Prophetik. I always had a passion and eye for design, yet not limited to fashion. Nature taught me a lot about the synergy of design in all aspects of life.
What was it like growing up in Tennessee - the sounds, smells, activities and spirit of the place?
Honeysuckle on a summer's day while picking blackberries with my grandmother at the lake in order to make jam later that day. Running through the woods with my Chinese bulldog ‘Chow’, being chased by a pack of wolves, galloping through the pastures with my horse ‘Pretty Boy’ on a cold winter day, with deer all around. Jumping on my motorbike and meandering down the windy back roads, back to the farm for suppertime after feeding the horses. Tennessee gives me a strong place to stand. I live at the same farm I grew up on, thus my spirit is connected with the land, it is my roots and culture. I believe I am able to walk boldly in this fashion world, against all odds and with purpose, by having the support of my homeland.
Have you always been adamant about the ethical aspect of Prophetik?
I have learned more and more along the way but yes, a strong conviction taught me that I either had to figure out a more sustainable, ethical approach to fashion production, or stop doing what I loved. When my first sample maker became sick from all the chemical fibres she was cutting getting into her lungs, I knew it was time for change.
How do you go about dying and producing your fabrics ethically?
I set out to discover the best solutions to dying fabric based on GOTs certification, which is the highest European standard. This basically states that harmful chemical dye ingredients have been weeded out, leaving only the non-harmful chemicals. I started reading more about the old ways of dying with natural dyes and began using natural ingredients such as; yerba matte teas, bark and flowers with vinegar. This worked, but I wasn’t getting the bright colours I wanted as a designer. Then I met my new team and after three years of trial and error, we have now discovered the right plants and flowers to grow in Tennessee, in order to get those bright blues with the Japanese Indigo. Fabric wise a similar journey of discovery, knocking around at the old mill houses in North Carolina finding specialty fabric mills that were not afraid to use the natural fabrics or PET fabrics in creative weaves and fashion forward mixes.
You also believe in ‘upcycling’, re-using fabrics from the past. What did it mean to you to have your childhood quilt as part of the patchworks in your A/W 2011 Collection?
I don’t believe I will ever forget that feeling of putting on the quilted trench coat made from my grandmother’s quilt. There is so much love and substance in that quilt that to wear such an item grounds one’s very soul to the core of existence.
Do you believe that ethical fashion is becoming more mainstream? Who would you credit for this?
I believe mainstream defines itself as fast, cheap fashion. Most designers still in charge of their design house will guide their castle according to ethical principles. It is when the garment or money guys get involved that ethical practices tend to go out the window, simply in order to shave off a few cents for a better bottom line. I just got back from China where I experienced first hand, factories approved by a certain large American company for production, still dumping their dye waste water into the Pearl River. Through this practice the river becomes toxic with coal and sulphuric acid, both ingredients for synthetic chemical dyes. These textile companies could charge an average of 13 cents more per garment to implement a water treatment facility, yet the larger retailers press mainstream fashion companies for every cent, thus creating this cycle of textile pollution. If a garment is cheap, there is always a reason and someone else is paying for it.
Where else in the world would you consider as special and particularly inspiring?
London is inspiring to my soul with the long history and being where my family originally came from. They hailed from Buckinghamshire before receiving a land grant from Lord Fairfax for tobacco farming in the new American colony of Virginia.
What do you like to have around you when you design - e.g. music, trees, animals?
Currently I am designing in Malibu on the beach with the power of the ocean, which is the one thing man cannot tame. I also design in Tennessee at the farmhouse on the floor next to a wood fire. My peace is found riding my horses in Tennessee or surfing in Malibu at the beach shack with the chickens and vegetable garden.
What are your personal must haves – both material possessions and other?
A draft horse, Acai and granola, a 9’2 woody long board for surfing, a ‘79 Bonneville Triumph motorbike, chickens, a vegetable garden and romance.
How can we all be ethical in our minds and actions?
Knowledge with wisdom is the key to ethical decisions and action. Discover the truth in what you’re supporting in your purchases. True character is shown when no one is watching.
Images from A/W2011 show by Christopher Dadey prophetik.com