D.I.Y. designer threads her way to sustainability

Designer Arielle Crawford in the window of her pop-up store in The Modern Love Club. She is wearing a skirt made from domestic wool, an organic cotton T-shirt and a hemp/vegan silk trench coat. The mannequin is sporting an organic cotton dress and cardigan. Photos by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER | Arielle Crawford is used to doing things herself. Which turns out to be useful, since she just launched her own fashion line — called Arielle — by dealing solo with every detail that she possibly could handle from her apartment in the East Village: design, patterns, sewing, production coordination, marketing, Web site construction, social media, publicity; and the handling of all the vendors who deal with the final patterns and production of the product.

“It’s like being an orchestra leader,” she said.

Crawford had no way of knowing that, as a young girl in West Texas, she was being prepared for this career. Her “fondness for the handmade life,” as she puts it, came from her father, an engineer who hunted deer and doves and kept a garden to put food on the table. Her mother, a nurse, also taught yoga, bringing a spiritual side to the home. But her mom — who was “ not girly at all,” Crawford noted — wasn’t keen on taking her shopping. Instead, she bought 5-year-old Crawford a sewing machine — and paid for lessons — which resulted in her first creation, a dress covered in watermelons.

“I wanted a wide and exciting wardrobe,” she recalled. “And that wasn’t going to happen. So I made my own.”

Sadly, her mother passed away when Crawford was 20, leaving her as a steward for her 8-year-old brother — an unwanted character-building experience.

It was a long time, though, before she realized that making clothes could be an “actual profession.” After studying foreign languages in college (she speaks three), her introduction to the garment industry was a job at her cousin’s textile company in Los Angeles. She then ended up in San Francisco, working as a waitress. Her first major epiphany came when a mentor, a neighbor who heard her cutting cloth in her apartment, took her to see a Jean-Paul Gaultier museum show.

“I called in sick the next day — I had decided to go into fashion,” she said.

After attending fashion classes, she worked a low-level position in design at Gymboree. On the side, she taught kids from ages 6 to 12 the history of fashion at a private school. She then moved on to create her own institution —Arielle’s School of Fashion Design and Life — for kids in her apartment, after leaving the day job.

“It was lucrative and fun!” she recalled. Still making her own clothes, she also created costumes for friends for Burning Man, a favorite excursion. Filling the days between classes were freelance gigs as a tailor, pattern maker, nanny and whatever else she could find.

Revelation No. 2 came on a visit to New York City in 2016. On the way into the city, her cab driver asked her if she would want to live here. “No way !” she replied. On her second day in the city, she found herself meditating in the La Plaza Cultural community garden, at E. Ninth St. and Avenue C. She was suddenly hit with the realization that, as she said, “New York was the place” for her. She returned to Frisco, packed up and became a New Yorker.

Further changes to her lifestyle came as a result of her work with shamanic ritual and sacred plant ceremonies.

“I went from maximilist to minimalist overnight,” she explained. “I realized that you don’t need to rely on clothes to tell people who you are.”

More than 300 pieces of clothing were discarded, leaving 30 items in her closet. The apartment was painted white and a blank slate was ready to be filled. Although she had some jobs within the industry in New York, notably for Rachel Comey and Alexander Wang, she made the decision to design and produce her own line.

“Corporate fashion wasn’t right for me,” she said.

Designer Arielle Crawford, at far right, with a mix of models and friends wearing her designs.

Using money earned from years as a waitress and the discarding of items from a previous life, she set out to produce a fashion line that was aligned with her ideals. With the key principles being minimalism and sustainability, Crawford’s initial pieces are simple, classically stylish and as politically correct as you can get. All items are made in New York City, using materials such as organic cotton and hemp, vegan-produced silk (the silkworms survive this process) and recycled polyester.

“I’m trying to create clothes you can wear for the rest of your life,” she explained, “by blending modern and traditional styles, using minimalism. If you simplify your decision-making process, you free up your mind for greater thinking.”

As for the sustainability issue, she sees her work as the sartorial equivalent of cultivating whole foods.

“Environment should be considered in production — no fumes, dyes or toxins that harm the environment,” she stressed.

Crawford’s minimalist stance, incidentally, is evident in her choice of pets, as well. Growing up, she was surrounded by animals — horses, chickens, hens, iguanas, dogs, a 6-foot-tall emu (raised from an egg!) and a raccoon named Rocky — “of course,” she quipped. The latter would sit on the couch with her dad, watching football while cracking open peanuts and sipping beer. Today her chosen companion is a tiny Chihuahua named Piola, who responds mostly to Spanish.

The Arielle line is currently on sale at her pop-up at 156 First Ave., near E. 10th St., weekends and most evenings through the end of September. For more information, visit shop-arielle.com.

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