Items: Is Fashion Modern? An Abecedarium.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) created a two day event, to begin the countdown for the exhibition Items, which will open at MoMA at the end of 2017.

I was honored to participate as a speaker, sharing the podium with NY designer Mary Ping from Slowandsteady Winstherace, as part of the ‪#‎ItemsMoMa‬‪ #‎Abecederium‬ ‬ answering Is Fashion Modern? and address the letter R = Rana Plaza. Curated by Paola Antonelli, Alexandra Midal and Michelle Fisher.

“MoMA first tackled this area of applied creativity seven decades ago. The salon on Sunday night will reprise the question that entitled Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 MoMA exhibition Are Clothes Modern? This first MoMA exhibition on the subject will be the paragon for a contemporary appreciation of the universe of fashion and garments, both in the May event and in the exhibition. Recalibrating the question for our present moment–Is fashion modern?–we will consider the way in which items are designed, manufactured and distributed, and we will ponder the multivalent relationships between clothing and functionality, cultural etiquettes, aesthetics, politics, labor, economy, and technology as they are experienced in the immediate present.”

You can find the video on MoMA’s YouTube channel (each speaker is timestamped for ease of access):


Here is my view on the subject:

The Rana Plaza disaster is a wound that hasn’t healed, but this tragedy was not in vain…

It immediately sparked controversy and turned the spotlight onto cheap fast-fashion brands, where price trumps quality. And the general public was able to witness “who” is really paying the price. It certainly provoked a call to action around the issues that were being discussed in the Ethical Fashion circles for years.

The apparel industry is archaic, complex, inefficient, polluting and is currently undergoing major changes.

The manufacturing model in Bangladesh is low tech, labor intensive, highly un-regulated, suffering from labor exploitation and environmental issues.

In my opinion, educating a new generation of fashion designers has to become a dialog. It is necessary to openly share the facts and address the blind spots in order to tackle the challenges ahead. It is also an invitation for the students to develop solutions around the issues of resource scarcity, responsible sourcing, lean manufacturing, transparency in the supply chain and much more.

We are also experiencing moments of consciousness. The Linear Economy Model of “take, make, waste” failed.  Today, we need to step into the Circular Economy business model, where we eliminate waste at the conception phase and apply Design for Disassembly and repurpose those materials.

Our language also needs to evolve. I believe “responsibility and accountability”, will redefine the future for a resilient fashion industry. Another objective should include a shift from a hyper-consumption experience towards mindful consumption, and it simply means that we are aware our decisions have an impact.


Below are some thought provoking images from Paola Antonelli’s introduction to the topic.




Q&A discussion moderated by Paola Antonelli


The infographics for our presentation R = Rana Plaza, were created by WinnieWan from Studio Lin.



Finally relaxed, with my friends Marco Antonio Castro, Evyenia Gennadiou and Tina Schenk🙂


Is ethical fashion a political issue?

When I posted on my FB page Ethical Fashion NY, about the Bernie Sanders speech that was interrupted by a bird, I received a relevant comment:

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 9.50.58 AM.png

I felt it was necessary to respond and explain to community the reason I posted the Bernie Sanders video…

“I’m sorry to disappoint some of the audience… but Ethical Fashion IS a political issue and that is the reason I dedicated 15+ years to start the conversation and generate this movement. The US trade policies eroded the once thriving textile and apparel manufacturing industries in America, generating massive unemployment and loss of skills. Thus allowing a shift to manufacture to the cheapest destinations, which have little regard for working conditions and the environment. This platform IS a moral movement and I stand for what I feel is right. To raise awareness and develop a moral compass. We have less that a decade to clean up our act. It’s not about fashion, it’s our human duty to do the right thing. The act of a bird flying into a political podium gives me hope.”  ‪#‎thebird‬


I don’t HOPE for change… I BELIEVE in creating change!



It’s an honor and a pleasure to be part of this amazing lineup of colleagues and friends at Ecouterre’s annual fashion predictions.

My predictions:

We’ll start addressing toxicity in the textile and apparel sector through green- chemistry initiatives that seek to regulate or eliminate the use and generation of hazardous substances and processes.

Eventually consumers will learn to identify and avoid certain fabrics and chemicals when selecting clothing.

Cultural appropriation will continue be a hot topic and the public will be less tolerant toward designers that copy other cultures.

On the other hand, we’ll see an increase in traditional textile production methods and ancient designs will be revived and reintroduced to village artisans by contemporary entrepreneurs.

Emotional brands will increase their presence and distinguish themselves by their karmic business principles and sensitizing the audience to their sourcing and manufacturing processes.

PS, This small book rests by my bedside… Gerald Heard, a great philosopher… he had some of the most eye-opening views on sensory evolution.

“Humans can -and must – accelerate their own evolutionary development by advancing in consciousness if they are to survive.” – Gerald Heard, The Ascent of Humanity.






Designers might not be aware that their decisions have a huge impact on the environment, workers wellbeing and animal welfare. Here is a list of relevant questions, that I shared with my students when I was teaching Ethical Fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY. Keep in mind TRACEABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY when you interview supplier:


  • What are the fibers (i.e. natural plant fibers, natural animal fibers, synthetic fibers from oil or natural gas, or cellulous plant fibers)?
  • What makes them eco-friendly (i.e. organic, highly renewable, drought resistant, etc.)?
  • What is the geographic origin of the fiber? Asking for this information you can help you to assess the ethical and environmental concerns in that specific area.
  • Are sustainable practices used in the cultivation of this crop (i.e. wastewater, recycling, crop rotation)?
  • Are ethical practices of animal husbandry followed?
  • Is the viscose process highly toxic? Are the chemicals recyclable? Is water conserved (i.e. Lenzing viscose, Tencel, Modal, Cupro)?
  • Is the fabric recycled?
  • Can the fabric be recycled or is it biodegradable?
  • What amount of care (i.e. washing) does this fabric require?


  • How is the fabric and/or garment dyed and finished?
  • Does the finishing possess qualities that will reduce the garment’s impact after purchase (i.e. antimicrobial properties or stain resistance that will lower its need for washing)?
  • Is the finish free of hazardous chemicals (i.e. formaldehyde)?
  • Are the dyeing, printing or tanning methods involved sustainable? To what degree (i.e. water reuse, free of harmful chemicals, etc.)?


  • To what region does the fiber, fabric or garment certification apply?
  • Does the certification cover only the fiber, fabric or garment, or does it apply to the fiber, fabric and garment, or all three?
  • What is/are the focus area(s) of the certification (i.e. organic agriculture, labor practices, chemical residues, animal welfare)?


  • How will the fabric wastage be discarded? Does your factory participate in a textile recycling program that will pick up this wastage for use in insulation, batting, yarn, etc?
  • How will the end product be disposed of? Can it be recycled or reused? Is it biodegradable?
  • What are your total greenhouse emissions? Has the company taken steps to reduce emissions (i.e. optimizing processing to compensate for air shipping)?
  • Do you know the location of all of your producers (including outsourced sewing, dyeing, printing, etc.)?
  • Is your product being responsibly and ethically produced (i.e. how much are workers paid, do they benefit from incentives such as a pay-by-piece program, are child labor laws being respected)?
  • Do you invest in community development in the areas in which you produce? (i.e. Donating some of your employee’s time to non-profits supporting development or the environment where you produce)?

Photo credit Carmen Artigas – Certified organic cotton at The Colours of Nature, Tamil Nadu, India


Alexander McQueen’s letter after Romeo Gigli

I recently moved back to California and amongst my belongings that were in storage for 25 years, I found a letter from a friend I made in 1990 while working at Romeo Gigli in Milan. That friend, was a very shy guy from London, but he clarified during our first lunch together that he was from South London. I could barely understand his accent, because I had my own Mexican accent. What brought us together was his tooth ache. I was sitting in my desk on a sunny Milanese day ( the Italians are so good at making work environments beautiful, but I remember the sun because Milan is overly grey during the year), this guy was shown a desk in the middle of the studio to work on a pattern, and he kept holding his cheek in what I thought was pain… I introduced myself and asked if he was ok, he immediately said that he had a tooth ache, so I offered to find an aspirin, and our friendship was born… I would manage to check on him if he understood instructions and explain how the office worked, but pretty soon we were gossiping about the office big wigs. I though he was adorably shy and funny. He would explode into laughter at the stupidest things, and he was contagious!
My friend Lee was chubby with loose clothing and always had a sweet smile with a wink included. But he always wanted to promote the idea that he was tough and made references to South London (which I had no clue, because I had never been to the UK) but he made it sound really cut-throat and tough.
Just reading his letter made me think of how often he shared his vulnerable side… financially and shelter-wise (it was cheaper to live with his parents) while going for his masters degree at Saint Martins… not even imagining that his big leap was just a year away. Even mustering that he wasn’t sure that he wanted to continue in the path of fashion, but instead wanted to travel to North and South America!
This letter fills a huge gap in the perception that he was a rebel. I see instead, a designer making ends meet while holding his vision of a type of beauty and developing the skills to attain it.
On our last hang out he mentioned that he didn’t know where he was going, but that I could always contact his mum. The one person that he could count on unconditionally!
This is my friend, a beautiful soul that left a void in my heart.
I share this letter with the intent that those of you that hit a wall, remember that even Alexander McQueen thought about quitting fashion.

Carmen Artigas

PS, to read the letter below, click and enlarge with command +


Carta Lee


Assistant Designers ElementsLee & Norio, Romeo Gigli showroom



Let’s campaign against digitized indigenous textiles.

ST. FRANK is a global, sourcing textile company based in San Francisco, CA. They source from low and middle-income countries… and they describe themselves as ETHICAL LUXURY, which I find really upsetting. Their markup is outrageous, by far exceeding what they paid the original author.

The new era of digital printing needs to be examined. The current system of textile production supports the mass consumption of cheap goods and if this trend continues, it will inevitably lead to the abuse and misuse of original traditional textiles to be reproduced with little or no transformation applied to them. The problem is global and we need to establish ethical parameters for the application of such technology. The problem emerges again when traditional embroideries e.g. Mexican or Guatemalan are send abroad and reinterpreted in countries such as India or China.

Digital Technology is changing the face of textile design. The development of digital printing onto fabric is changing printing methods and removing restrictions, allowing designers to work with thousands of colors and create designs with high level of detail at faster print timescales. This technique is currently being employed in fashion, interior design and home furnishings industries.

There is a misconception that traditional cultural expressions are part of the public domain, they are not, they are specialized forms of knowledge that have not been protected by intellectual property rights only because Intellectual Property was not conceptualized to cover knowledge that belonged to communities and was transmitted orally.

Traditional Cultural Expressions are very much linked to place and historical context and people of the place, and the custodians of TCEs need to be fully acknowledged. TCEs are intellectual property and need to be treated as such by all those using them.

Through the use of digital technologies, profitable fashion brands, patent, copyright, and trademark something which has served them as an inspiration for a number of currently protected intellectual property works.

Such is the case of PINEDA COVALIN, a high end Mexican brand, has been digitizing traditional textiles since 1995 and registering them as trademarks. The textiles are printed in silk via China, basically hijacking Mexican artisans patrimony.

The vast majority of designers are basically unaware of this and we need to develop an ethical fashion criteria and responsible standards to work with cultural archetypes.

The quest is to REGULATE AND RESTRICT the FASHION AND TEXTILE industry from digitizing ethnic textiles. If you care about the future of traditional textiles, crafts and artisans livelihoods, please, do not support this kind of businesses.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 4.08.32 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 3.44.05 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 4.00.27 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 4.00.13 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 3.59.56 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 4.26.04 PM643