When it comes to fashion these days, the possibilities are endless in what you can wear. One of my many favorite things to have in my closet are staples and timeless pieces, that go hand-in-hand for any look. Having a good staple, that can be worn time and time again and still look brand new, is something that I’m always searching for. And, let’s be honest, you can never have too many classics! Soluna Collective is the perfect brand if you are looking for just that! All of their pieces are sustainable and designed to last, keeping their customers and the environment happy.
Audrey Merwin is the boss lady behind it all. Ensuring her belief in sustainability is reflected throughout her collections, Audrey experiments with recycled materials and natural dyes, creating unique pieces that are safe for the environment. Soluna Collective is a versatile, artisan-made brand consisting of timeless fashion pieces, while simultaneously matching the items you already own. On May 27, 2020, the newest collection Sets2020 dropped, consisting of the coziest waffle knit items and natural tones, in addition to boho patterns and tons of sets to mix and match. Shop the items here!
Keep reading to hear the story behind how Audrey created Soluna Collective…
Tell us a little bit of your background & how you began Soluna Collective, making it the success it is today?
I have always been drawn to design, whether it be fashion, interior design, architecture, etc. I studied product design at the University of Oregon and fell in love with my classes that focused on textile design and sustainable material development. It wasn’t until we (myself and my partner Michael) traveled to Guatemala in 2016 that the idea for Soluna Collective truly formed. We were in Guatemala with my mom to visit her family and spent most of our time there on my family’s farm exploring the vast farmland of Jalapa. Before leaving, we took a trip to Lake Atitlan where we fell in love with the process of hand-woven textiles. We participated in a class at a women’s weaving collective where they demonstrated the process of making a naturally dyed scarf from start to finish. Experiencing the process of cotton being spun by hand and seeing a backstrap loom in use, planted a seed that we couldn’t ignore. It took several years for the idea to materialize, but it’s where our journey began.
India is where we found our voice and built the foundation that would ultimately form Soluna Collective. Our mission was this: support the traditional craft of artisans, both here and abroad, whose emphasis is on environmental and ethical responsibility. India is where we found that and our collective. We traveled to India to meet our artisans, experience the process and made lifelong friends. In the end, it took us over two years to produce our first clothing line. We worked countless hours formulating and re-formulating every aspect of the business until we felt that it met our own eco and ethical principles. Our clothing line is an embodiment of our style and what we believe in.
With sustainability continuing to make its debut into the fashion world, what makes your brand stand out against other sustainable brands?
We believe it’s our holistic approach to sustainable fashion that makes us unique. We are not committed to (multiple aspects of sustainable fashion) just one aspect of sustainable fashion but the entire circulatory of our garments.
- We developed our first cradle to grave organic cotton fabric. Absolutely no chemicals are used in the production of the fiber. The fabric (fiber) was born in the soil and can return to it without causing harm to the environment.
- All of our fabric waste from the production of our clothes is either recycled or reused.
- We take back all of our garments at the end of their useful life. We repair, reuse, recycle and if needed, dispose of them in the most environmentally responsible way.
- We have traced most of our fibers back to their origin. We know exactly where all of our organic cotton and Tencel were made and every step in the middle.
- Transparency is a big part of who we are. We display all suppliers on our website with certifications and links to learn more. We are proud of our collective, why hide them?
Lastly, we believe that our timeless silhouettes full of texture, pattern and earthy hues allows our garments to be a staple piece in your closet. We want our pieces to be your go to outfit while also being mindful to the environment.
I know that a lot of the inspiration behind your collections is influenced by nature. As a designer myself, I find that nature is one of the most inspiring things in beginning a collection. What is a key factor in all of your collections that showcases your inspiration? Do you tend to lean towards a certain aspect of nature when designing?
Color is an element of nature that inspires me most. Think dramatic sunsets that paint the skyline and act as a backdrop to our most favorite get togethers (yellow, orange, pink, magenta, blue); desert adventures painted with muted tones that can build a palette in itself (red, greens, beige, brown); coastal getaways with the sweet scent of ocean grasses and sea breeze (blue greens, soft yellows, tan). I draw from palettes that I find in nature and build from there. The color palette of our most recent collection draws inspiration from deep blue-green Spruce trees, the varied greens that make up different Fern species, and the Dusty Purple of sweet scented Lilacs.
Another element I often draw from is the texture and pattern found when studying nature on a more minute scale. I have always been interested in biomimicry; we can learn so much from nature. So looking at the skeleton that makes a leaf, the water repelling quality of a lotus leaf, the geometric and fractal patterns created by a succulent. Living in the PNW, nature plays such an important role in our day-to-day life. I find myself constantly snapping photos of natural forms that inspire me.
Can you elaborate on the types of values Soluna Collective strives for?
We have six essential values that are at the core of Soluna Collective; Ethically Made, Women Led, Better Materials, BIPOC, Handmade and Eco Dyes.
Ethically Made: All suppliers/artisan groups in our collective meet global ethical standards.
Women Led: Not only is Soluna Collective women led, most of our major suppliers are women led as well.
Better Materials: Our focus is on providing the most sustainable materials available. Currently, our material mix includes organic cotton, tencel, linen, alpaca wool and deadstock.
BIPOC: We have developed an action plan to help amplify BIPOC voices. As a BIPOC led company, this topic is and will always be an important part of who we are.
Handmade: We believe in working with hands over machines. All of our fabric is hand woven or hand knitted. This provides more jobs to a wider range of artisans.
Eco Dyes: Often an overlooked area in the sustainable fashion space. At Soluna Collective, we have made it our mission to only use low-impact and GOTS certified dyes. Also, we made a 100% undyed organic cotton that has never been treated with any chemicals. By doing this, it made this organic cotton our first cradle-to-grave fabric.
What is your process when creating a new collection for the upcoming season?
Our process always begins with research and exploration – which is a never-ending ideation dump. We love spending hours in bookstores browsing historical contexts ranging from fashion to textiles to architecture. We also spend countless hours outside, exploring the PNW, where color and pattern inspiration is every where we go. When an idea does arise, it’s almost always captured on the phone first. Our camera reel is full of never-ending inspiration, with the occasional photo on my cat, of course!
Once captured, our apartment or coffee shop is where our ideas come to life. Color comes first. We start by matching the colors in our photos with the colors in a Pantone book. We create an infinite number of color palettes, document them and move on to the next. We call it “wine and color” nights.
Texture and patterns come second and start with a pen and paper. We add our color palettes to the patterns we like and redraw the same pattern a hundred different ways before finding the one we love – sometimes it’s the first set of drawings that we end up coming back to, but we have to exhaust ALL the combinations before picking the one.
Once finished, we take the designs to the computer where we map out the patterns to scale and develop a guide for the weavers to follow. This is followed by 3D rendering of each garment – this step allows us to play with the drape and movement of each piece. After finalizing the details, we create the clothing pattern to send the sewers. They handle the rest!
As most of your fabrics are all natural and recycled textiles, do you find the process of sourcing such sustainable fabrics an easy one?
Initially we had a ton of complications when sourcing sustainable materials. For our clothing line, it took us over 2 years to find the supplier that met all the values discussed above. Part of it had to do with the limitation of being a small business as our MOQ’s are much lower compared to larger brands. However, the number of suppliers (or lack thereof) offering sustainable options is by far the biggest hurdle. For example, organic cotton only makes up roughly 3.5% of all cotton grown in the world. We originally wanted our line to start in Guatemala but due to the lack of certified organic cotton, we decided to expand our travels to India where organic cotton is making a resurgence. That resurgence is fueled by the water and pesticide intensive farming of conventional cotton, and large agribusiness monopolizing and bankrupting small farmers. While the resurgence is strong and ever-growing, the cost of organic cotton is still much higher compared to conventional cotton. For us, it’s around a $4-5 per meter difference.
While sustainable fabrics are tough to find and more costly, we have seen their popularity grow over the years. This has helped with accessibility as more cotton farmers transition to organic or preferred cotton but best of all, it has provided a lower environmental footprint.
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