For sustainable luxury fashion designer Katrina Langford, snipping the ties to unfurl a new batch of scarves (from which she creates all of her clothing) is equivalent to opening presents on Christmas morning. The young designer, who balances a full time job, a family, and volunteering at a local non-profit on top of sewing one-of-a-kind pieces, sits on the floor and spreads out each new batch of scarves, which are a mishmash of finds snagged at thrift shops—either local or on San Francisco’s Haight Street—and gifts from family, friends, and loyal customers who can’t wait to see what she produces next. Then Langford gets to work. She pairs scarves with similar colors and patterns for her dresses and couture line. Scarves that stand-alone will later be transformed into t-shirts or skirts at the tip of Langford’s fingers. Each scarf is hand-washed, hand-stitched, and naturally dried under a brilliant Oahu sun, and each is a recycled from its former use. That’s because Langford is a designer with a conscious—and her work is to make designs as environmentally friendly as they are beautiful. Right now, the Indiana-native-turned surfer girl is looking to make her works her full time job, so she can hire local seamstresses and increase production (so those of us on the Mainland will have access to her incredible works!) Check out her Kickstarter page and give her some love!
BANGSTYLE: What inspired you to start your own fashion line?
Katrina: In college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do [Langford originally went to school for marine biology and later switched her school and her major to fashion]. I always loved collecting vintage clothing. I’ve been in retail since I was 15, and I was going to graduate and open a vintage boutique. When I started collecting vintage clothing, I started finding a lot of these scarves—there are a lot of Asian women, a lot of Japanese women on the island who wear a lot of scarves—and I found a lot of really cool pieces. When I was done with school and I didn’t have any projects, I kept making clothes out of scarves. The first dress I made I put in a fashion show, and my mom’s friend bought it. Then I entered a dress into a local fashion show competition, and it ended up winning, and I thought, ‘Oh wow, people like [my pieces].’ I thought, alright, I’m going to go for it.
BANGSTYLE: Tell me more about “sustainable luxury apparel,”—what it means and why you chose to make your clothes this way.
Katrina: When I was in college, in one of the first intro classes I took, we had to read articles about the fashion industry. I read about the negative effects [the industry] has on the environment, and I’d never thought about it before. When you’re young, you don’t stop to think about where your clothes come from. I’ve always been an environmentalist and an animal lover—I’m a vegetarian; I’m kind of a hippie that way. So it was this internal struggle; I love fashion, but I hate that it’s bad on the environment. I wanted to do my part. I thought, well, why can’t I make beautiful things out of recycled materials so I can feel good about what I’m doing and not ashamed. If we all do something small, we can make a big change.
BANGSTYLE: In what ways is fashion harmful to the environment?
Katrina: There are many different aspects to why the fashion industry is bad. In factories, chemicals get released into streams which disrupts the water and the whole ecosystem … which of course has negative effects on anything around it. For cotton productions, a lot of the chemicals they use were developed in World War 2 as nerve gases. Then there’s child labor law—I have an issue with that as well. Fashion should be a beautiful, happy, positive thing, but it’s an industry, and they’re going to take shortcuts to make more profit. I’d rather pay more and not get cancer, or I’d rather pay more and not have a little girl in China suffering. [See more facts in Katrina’s Kickstarter video, below]
BANGSTYLE: You’re a surfer girl—does this influence your design? What kind of girl wears your pieces?
Katrina: Right now, I have a lot of Japanese women who like my clothes. My clothes are very feminine. I came up with the method of using satin ribbon to edge everything; in the fabrics I work with it’s difficult to finish the edges, and this appeals to them. My clothes are one-of-a-kind, made in Hawaii, and that’s what they’re looking for. My pieces are also really bright and colorful. They’re inspired by the beach, but [my line] is more luxury apparel. It is a bit dressier—some pieces you could wear to the beach, but because of the print, the fabrics, and the fact that they’re one-of-a-kind and therefore have a luxury … that’s why they’re sustainable luxury apparel. It is sustainable, but more [higher end] versus the organic t-shirt or yoga line.
BANGSTYLE: What are your favorite pieces?
Katrina: That’s a really hard question. I have a whole couture collection—I love to make those kinds of clothes. [Couture gowns] are frustrating because they’re challenging, but they turn out so beautiful. But of course the first dress I made is always going to be my favorite—that’s where my whole business started. My mom’s friend wore it so much it started falling apart. Her husband had to tell her to stop wearing it because she wore it so much!
BANGSTYLE: How many scarves are in each piece?
Katrina: I have been trying to come up with more styles that use just one [right now it’s tops and skirts] because that’s easier to find. For a dress, it’s at least two … but for my couture line, which is very elaborate, for those [dresses] I’ve used up to twelve scarves. A lot are very sheer so there’s some scarves underneath, and I’m really into making long trains that come down the back. A lot of girls buy them for pageants, and Lauryn Hill bought two when she was in Hawaii! I started making them for fun, then people wanted to buy them, and of course I’d sell them. It’s hard to part with the couture dresses because I give them so much time and love, and they’re one-of-a-kind and I never get to see them again, but hopefully I get to take a photo.
BANGSTYLE: Where can people purchase your pieces?
Katrina: Right now I sell them in two boutiques in Waikiki. I want to grow and get my stuff on the mainland, but I’m in the middle of re-branding and I want to finish so I can give my customers the whole package, with new garment labels and hang tags. I’m also working with my web guy—my new site, katrinalangord.com, just launched—so the next step is to sell online.
BANGSTYLE: Where did you get the name for your line?
Katrina: It was originally “HI State of Mind”—HI for Hawaii—and it was supposed to mean higher consciousness when it comes to consumerism. But it was hard for me to explain. I got a lot of feedback from my customers saying it sounded like a t-shirt line and didn’t really fit. But as for using my name—I got married two-and-a-half years ago, and for a woman it’s hard to change your name, and I wasn’t comfortable using my name yet. My husband actually coaxed me into embracing my new name when he found out that the sunrise shell, which is a rare shell you find in Hawaii that’s worth hundreds of dollars (people make jewelry out of them and it’s beautiful; they look like the sunrise and are kind of like a rare diamond) well my husband found out that the sunrise shell is also called Langford’s Pecten, like my last name. He bought me a beautiful sunrise shell necklace, and I like the name now. I think the whole symbolism that it’s unique, rare, and one-of-a-kind is really a metaphor for my clothing. I decided, ‘OK, it’s time; I’m going to use my name,’ and my logo is a modern interpretation of the sunrise shell. I’m really happy with it.
BANGSTYLE: How would Kickstarter help your line?
Katrina: Ultimately my dream is to have a store, and I would like to have a workspace in the back where customers would be able to see [me and my seamstresses] working, but I’m waiting for the right time—for the economy to get better. I’m still working on a business plan. In the meantime, I need to increase production and I’m re-branding [with my new name]; that’s why I did Kickstarter. I need to finish the projects I started and once that’s at a level I’m happy with then I want to … start selling in stores on the mainland, mostly in warmer climates. I actually want to open the store so I can go to my own store and dedicate full days of work to my company—that’s definitely my dream.
BANGSTYLE: What’s the most rewarding part of having your own line?
Katrina: It definitely is when people actually purchase it. I just had an event last weekend where two women were kind of fighting over one of my tops. That feels good. It’s like ‘Wow! They really like it.’ This started for me as just a hobby, as something I enjoyed doing. Once I realized people wanted to buy it, it made my hard work pay off. I want to see my clothes on more people. I haven’t yet seen someone walk by me on the street wearing my clothing, but that would be the best—seeing someone wearing my dress. Someday it’s going to happen.