NYLON - THE SERIES IS TURNING THRIFTED TREASURES INTO SUSTAINABLE, WEARABLE COLLAGES
MARCH 11, 2019
ALL OF THE PATCHES!
The world may not be all sunshine and rainbows, but The Series is. Colorful, funky, and entirely unique, the New York-based brand creates seasonless, genderless clothing featuring bright patches and multicolored embroidered designs that designer Ella Wiznia uses to transform vintage denim pieces into works of art.
Describing her work as "collage on denim," Wiznia's creations are a reflection of her effervescent personality. Her custom-made pieces are made from repurposed, vintage, and deadstock materials, with each vibrant thread tailored to the customer's body and taste. The Series' sustainable design model swims against the current of fast fashion brands, and celebrates diversity with its models—or, as Wiznia calls them, "role models"—who vary in age, race, gender, and sexuality.
NYLON spoke to the 24-year-old Wiznia about genderless design, foraging for vintage fabric in rural barns, and making clothing for all bodies. Below, read what it was like for a then-college student to build a brand from the ground up.
How did you first get started in the fashion world?
It was in a very roundabout way. I always loved clothing and [have always had] some kind of relationship with it. I was always cutting up pictures when I was little, collaging, but I never thought that I was going to go into it. Although, 13 Going on 30 was my growing-up movie, so I was like, I have to work at a magazine! [So, clearly, fashion] was always in the back of my mind.
When I was applying to colleges at the end of high school, I got diagnosed with an eating disorder. It affected my body and my relationship with my body, but also with clothing. I became super sensitive to clothing and how things felt on my body. A lot of the stores that I shopped at, I noticed that the models were super unhealthy. I started noticing things with their eyes or their shoulders; things that were health issues, things that you could identify, and I decided that I wasn't going to shop at those stores anymore.
I had to relearn where I could shop, which was basically all second-hand stores. I came across a ton of vintage denim, and it became a staple for me. It didn't have to be a certain size or anything, I could just see something that I liked, put a belt on it, and I didn't have to know what size it was. While I was in treatment, a lot of people will learn how to crochet or knit. I'm not a huge wool person, so I learned how to embroider. It was always something that seemed interesting to me. I started collecting vintage patches that I would find, making things for myself. People started asking me, "Where'd you get that?"
Was that the unofficial start of the brand?
Yeah, this was all around 2015. All of it started with me doing denim and manipulating it in certain ways. It became an expression for me. Then, my friends started asking me, "Can you make me something that says this?" I love doing it, stitching is super therapeutic for me.
As I got into a mode of only shopping second-hand and thrift stores, I started to realize the huge, huge problem that is fashion. Not only is it an attack on our bodies, but it's a huge environmental issue. That was when I decided I wanted to do something that wasn't directly for me and my friends. Going to second hand stores, you see how much exists. There's no need to be making new things. All of the textiles exist. Especially in a way that's not environmentally friendly, not treating workers well, we just need to redo it all.
So, I was like, I'm going to make this brand. That was 2016, and I was a junior at NYU when I started to get some traction. I started doing markets and custom work that I was sending to the Netherlands and stuff. Anyone who wants to model and feels comfortable, the people I look up to, those are the people I want to be wearing it.
Since customers can request custom pieces, what is your process for making those?
I think of [my designs] as collage on denim. Like, my boyfriend got me this Arthur fabric, and I put it on these jeans. I call them my party pants. One thing will inspire something else, or I'll think of something to embroider, or a font, and then just do whatever with it and have the piece ready for someone to purchase.
I love custom pieces, I did one for Desmond is Amazing. He told me his birthdate, his favorite quote, and some other stuff. I looked on his Instagram and website to find things that he liked, and made it into a piece that he can hold on to for a while. I try to make something personal.
It's cool because sometimes people will be like, "I have this pair of jeans and I want this embroidered." Or, someone will say, "I have all of these Girl Scout patches and I don't know what to do with them!" and I'll take them and do something cool with them.
How long does it take you to do a custom piece like that?
For a pair of jeans, it would probably take me about seven hours. If I do an embroidery piece, it would take about 24 hours because everything is hand stitched. Embroidery is always a bit more of a time-intensive process.
Are all of the fabrics you use in your designs repurposed?
Yes. All of the fabric is vintage, all of the patches and the appliques are deadstock vintage. I'll use trimming from furniture or anything. I go to a lot of flea markets, or I'll go to someone's barn in New Hampshire or something to find vintage materials. You can even go into a Salvation Army and look in the drapes or sheets sections. There are beautiful embroidered home linens in thrift stores. I'll find something cool and save it for the future.
One of my favorite things is by one of my all-time role models, Suze Rotolo. She was Bob Dylan's girlfriend on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and she cut a triangle out of his jeans and put in a panel before bell bottoms were a thing so that he could wear them over his cowboy boots. It's all out of function, right?
One intriguing aspect of The Series clothing is that it's all genderless. How do you feel about the rising popularity of sustainable fashion and unisex clothing?
Like any movement and progress, it's important to give it a spotlight. It still does feel like a trend a little bit, though. You can say, "I can shop at H&M because they have a conscious collection," but really, do you know who's making it? When you use the "give back" programs, something like 1 percent is actually reused. You have to be a super-educated consumer, you can't just buy into it. You have to ask who made it, how transparent is the company? Like anything, something could become a marketing tool.
The same thing with "genderless" or "sizeless." With "one size fits most" clothing, if something is supposed to fit all different types of bodies, it's going to look different on all bodies. If you're co-opting this terminology, it's just going to make someone feel bad about themselves. It's because these companies have the finances and the marketing and power, so they're the ones who get credit for the things that really matter. Then, you look underneath, and there are a lot of people doing really good things. It takes a lot more work than finding what's convenient.
What does inclusivity in fashion mean to you?
My thought behind whoever is wearing and showing [clothing] is that anyone with a body deserves to feel happy and feel great about their body. That is theirs. That should not be something that someone is trying to manipulate by putting into a certain piece of clothing. To be inclusive, the clothing needs to be catering to each person's individuality, their body, their personality, and what they want to show to the world. Inclusive fashion, instead of being something that's supposed to confine someone, it has to be tailored for each person. There's not one thing that's going to work for everyone. That's why I really love doing custom work, or finding vintage patches or something. Someone will come in and say, "My grandpa was on this Milwaukee bowling team! I want this because it means something to me." Something can speak to everyone, but doesn't have to be the fit.
With modeling and inclusivity, I call all of my models role models. A lot of them are people on Instagram who reach out to me and ask to model. They're people that are confident and who want to be there, it's not just about finding something that fits.
Do you have any suggestions for people who might not be able to afford to shop from small businesses, but still want to be sustainable or to shop ethically?
I've been shopping second-hand and sustainable for two years. It's a lot cheaper than buying retail and fast fashion. It's a lot of thrifting. Obviously, when you're buying vintage, it's a lot of curation, so just go to the thrift store instead. There are places all over, and you can find something anywhere. If you put in the time, you can walk into anywhere and find something. Clothing swaps are amazing, invite your friends over and tell the story of the clothing. Depop or Etsy have great, cheap things.
How I think about it is if you are a vegetarian, you wouldn't run into a restaurant and get turkey because it's convenient. You'd have to find the alternative, look ahead of time. It's the same thing with clothing, there's just not the word to say that you don't shop a certain way. Thinking about it that way can be a good reminder. I think a word needs to exist.
There needs to be a whole dictionary. That's part of the transparency. Designers and manufacturers don't even know where their materials are coming from. By the time it gets farther down the line, who's to say?