Sustainability-Minded Boutique, The Moon, Reflects CCA

Cory Gunter Brown and Cassidy Hope Wright founded The Moon, a self-described "slow fashion" boutique and design studio in 2007

This is the first installment in a series of artist profiles that depicts CCA's connection to the Oakland Art Murmur -- in particular to 25th Street in downtown Oakland, where in almost any given gallery, shop, or studio, artists from California College of the Arts are making their living in the arts. Collectively, they are changing the cultural landscape of Oakland, elevating its reputation as one of today’s most talked-about art scenes.

Earlier this summer, while walking along 25th Street between Broadway and Telegraph avenues in downtown Oakland, I found myself appreciating a discernible shift in the neighborhood's appearance. It used to be only abandoned warehouses and defunct automotive repair shops comprised the city blocks in this area (the result of 1989's Loma Prieta earthquake, which took its toll on an already economically depressed downtown Oakland).

Yet now, slowly, one by one, this same area seems to be the impetus for an appreciable spate of creative businesses and artist live/work spaces.

About the Oakland Art Murmur

"If you craft it, they will come." That’s the going mantra in downtown Oakland, the heart of the East Bay’s newly exploding art scene. The recent surge in the city’s contribution to the wider Bay Area’s cultural arts scene is attributed, in large part, to the hipster-driven, Dionysian celebration known as the Oakland Art Murmur, a monthly nighttime gathering of art enthusiasts of all ages . . . and those who love them.

Earlier this summer, while walking along 25th Street between Broadway and Telegraph avenues in downtown Oakland, I found myself appreciating a discernible shift in the neighborhood's appearance. It used to be only abandoned warehouses and defunct automotive repair shops comprised the city blocks in this area (the result of 1989's Loma Prieta earthquake, which took its toll on an already economically depressed downtown Oakland).

Yet now, slowly, one by one, this same area seems to be the impetus for an appreciable spate of creative businesses and artist live/work spaces.

One particular building, an unassuming warehouse with a brick-and-mortar facade, hints at something far more magical within. The decorative window bars are the clue; instead of traditional coal-black wrought-iron bars, ornate rusted ironwork has been put in place to repel vandals, while attracting curious passers-by, which in the latter case is exactly my experience.

The Moon: A Slow Fashion Boutique

Cory Gunter Brown and Cassidy Hope Wright, both of whom have roots to California College of the Arts, founded The Moon, a self-described "slow fashion boutique and design studio." (Cory attended the college's Pre-College Program and Cassidy is a Textiles alumna.)

At The Moon, clothing is culture, not just commodity, and it is made artfully and responsibly. Its garments are one of a kind, created from the excess of society and the bounty of the earth by using materials that are scavenged, repurposed, donated, and sustainably produced. Natural plant dyes are used to impart color to the clothes. The proprietors create both ready-to-wear and custom garments and have jewelry and novelties for sale as well.

"Would you like to come in and look around," a woman's voice called out. Boy, did I! The small storefront featured a delightfully expressive and colorful decor. The room was chockful of everything from clothing hung on the brick walls to intricate jewelry uniquely displayed in antique cabinets to ornate decorative objects staged on counters. It seemed like a combination of an antiques store with a vintage clothing shop, with elements of an eclectic art maven's estate sale and leftover findings from a theater manager's garage sale thrown in! Sure, it was The Moon, but I was in Heaven!

Meet the Stars Behind The Moon

Why "The Moon"?

CASSIDY: It's an anagram of our names, including an intended third partner, who we're still good friends with.
CORY: It's also a symbol each of us identifies with. And it makes us laugh.

What's it like living as artists in downtown Oakland?

CORY: We both grew up in Oakland. It’s our home. The people of Oakland are and always have been deeply passionate and creative. It’s beautiful to be in the midst of so much creativity. You can’t ignore the world here; it makes you think that much harder about what you do and why. We wouldn’t want to be any where else.

And you both have backgrounds at CCA. How did the college prepare you to take on a project like this?

CASSIDY: The most important thing I learned at CCA is that I should do what I love. I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but until I got to college, I hadn’t really been faced with the choice of focus. In high school, when I was supposed to be writing a paper, I would procrastinate by drawing. As a result, I applied to CCA as an Illustration major. That first semester, when I was supposed to be working on a drawing, I would procrastinate by sewing. The next semester I took a Textiles class, and fell in love with it. In the Textiles Program, I learned the fascinating history of ancient crafts. And I learned how fulfilling it can be to create things that I could touch, use, and wear.

CCA encourages its students to "make art that matters." Does this resonate with you and your work here at The Moon?

CORY: We believe in making clothing that has physical and emotional durability, and is produced in line with principals of social and environmental responsibility. We want to inspire people to question where their clothing is coming from and who is doing the sewing, dyeing, weaving, and the growing . . . and how.

What's up with recycled wedding gowns?

CORY: We have been focusing on a variety of custom and one-of-a-kind work, a small part of which is wedding gowns, but we are now moving forward and building a line of sustainable/reuse women's wear for spring 2012.

Can you say more?

CASSIDY: Cory and I are thrilled about designing a 2012 seasonal line with Hiroko Kurihara's 25th Street Collective, a "Bay Area sustainable business incubator and sewing collective," and chief creative of hiroko kurihara designs). The partnership means the 25th Street Collective will handle the production side while upholding a commitment to responsible business practice (i.e., fair working wages, fixed hours, use of organic dyes). We're the first nonresident members of the 25th Street Collective. (See current members.)

So what's your philosophy regarding organic dyes: the process, the benefits, the challenges, etc.

CORY: We’re focused on using plant dyes, recycled materials, sustainable textiles, and ethical labor because it seems like the right thing to do.

CASSIDY: Reuse relies on the production of excess and therefore is not ideal, but it serves as a good interim measure, while we work toward a renewable infrastructure.

Plant dyeing is an ancient cultural tradition the world over that has only recently in the last 100 years been overshadowed by industrial synthetic dyeing. When we use plant dyes, we are beholden to the seasonal rhythms of the plants themselves. We learn what colors are actually created by each season. Spring brings fennel and oxalis (sour grass), which give us yellows and greens.

Fall brings maple leaves and blackberry (fruit and leaves), which give us silvers and gray-blues. Plants like eucalyptus and ivy are available year round and are invasive, so pick as you please! The kitchen gives onionskins, carrot tops, and coffee grounds, which would otherwise go straight to the compost pile. This process connects us to the color of the plants we use and, by extension, to the clothing in our everyday lives.

The benefits of natural dyes are many: They are nontoxic to the wearer, gentle on the fibers being dyed, and are without the chemical waste of synthetic dye processes. Also, some plant dyes -- indigo for example -- have properties that are actually beneficial to the wearer such as being antibacterial, odor eliminating, and a natural bug repellent. When you combine this with the fact plant dyes work best on natural fibers (silk, wool, cotton, hemp) you get clothing that allows the body to breathe . . . and as a result requires fewer washings.

CORY: The challenges faced by plant dyers have less to do with the dyes and more to do with industry expectations. It’s very difficult to achieve measurable consistency with plant dye, because the color can be affected by anything from the pH balance of the plant’s soil to the differences in weather patterns from one season to the next. This natural so-called imperfection is something we celebrate as beautiful, a reminder that we are a part of a living system.

Is the use of plant dyes and natural fibers becoming the industry norm?

CORY: We do hope that someday soon all clothing will again be plant dyed. It is also important to acknowledge that we need to rethink our current scale of production in order for that to be a sustainable reality.

CASSIDY: We recently read the average consumer in the United States buys 60 items of clothing a year. We would love to see that number drop. The average woman in the 1930s had nine outfits in her closet! We’d like to encourage people to buy clothing because it fits their style, not because it’s in style that season.

Where do you see The Moon taking you 10 years down the road?

CORY: We tend to follow a natural evolution that likes to take us where we need and want to be. If you’d asked us five years ago where we thought The Moon would be now, we could never have imagined . . . but we are elated with where we are now.

Who inspired you when you attended CCA?

CASSIDY: (Printmaking chair) Nance O’Banion, because of her wild imagination and openness; associate professor in Visual Studies and the graduate programs in Fine Arts and [Visual and Critical Studies)[/academics/graduate/visual-critical-studies]) Tina Takemoto, because of her ability to make any subject fascinating and hilarious; Textiles adjunct professor Anne Wolf, because of her love of textiles and her ability to see their full potential; and Textiles lecturer *Sasha Duerr has also been an inspiration and mentor to us. It was during a course with her in 2010 that inspired us to dive into plant dyeing. Since then we've done fashion shows together, and we've picked her brain on several occasions. She's a true pioneer in her field, and we aspire to be her contemporaries.

What advice would you give to an undergraduate at CCA today?

CASSIDY: Don’t overbook yourself. If you’re too busy to do your work fully and get something out of it, what’s the point? Also, don’t take your teachers (or their lectures) for granted. What you can learn from them can be invaluable -- and it's not easily found after you graduate.

Learn More About "Slow" Fashion

According to Dr. Kate Fletcher in her article "Slow Fashion" in Ecologist: "Fast fashion isn’t really about speed, but greed: selling more, making more money. Time is just one factor of production, along with labour, capital and natural resources that get juggled and squeezed in the pursuit of maximum profits. But fast is not free. Short lead times and cheap clothes are only made possible by exploitation of labour and natural resources."

(Fletcher is coauthor of the book Sustainable Fashion Design Incubator (Laurence King Publishing Co., United Kingdom, 2011) with CCA Fashion Design associate professor Lynda Grose. The book connects ecological theory to fashion practice and showcases a new aesthetic that emerges when sustainability values are embraced as a core design directive.)

The following sites provide additional information that addresses slow fashion:

About CCA's Commitment to Sustainability

See Sustainability at CCA to learn in what other ways the college is committed to its initiative to broaden the ways in which we think, teach, design, and practice sustainable solutions.

Related

California College of the Arts Earns Placement in Princeton Review's Guide to Greenest Colleges in the United States
Read CCA's Inspired Annual Fashion Show a Trailblazer for Sustainable, Interdisciplinary Design
Soil to Studio: Rediscovering the Oakland Campus with Sasha Duerr
More images of The Moon at Flickr
Visit The Moon on Facebook
Shop The Moon on Etsy