“Slow fashion is about returning to a personal relationship with fashion. One where trends and seasons don’t matter, but where your ethics and aesthetics seamlessly unite, and you can escape the stress of constant consumption, focusing on the style that truly appeals to you.” — Emilia Wik
Lisa Hackwith is the woman behind Hackwith Design House, a slow fashion brand that incorporates sustainability principles like vertically integrated production and circular design in its operating model. With a background in studio art, it was the gift of a sewing machine from her mother that led Lisa to discover that her ideal medium was designing and making clothing. Each item is designed and produced in St. Paul, Minnesota by Lisa and her small team of seamstresses.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
Can you share a little bit about how Hackwith Design House came to be?
Lisa: I started HDH in 2010 on Etsy, and I actually was selling menswear! I transitioned in the fall of 2013 to selling directly on our website. Inspired by my background in studio art, I started with our limited edition pieces, so I didn’t make more than 25 of each piece. At the time, it was a one-woman operation, so I would photograph the pieces, post them on the site, make them, package them up, ship them out, and then start over the next week. People really responded to them, so I was able to hire my business partner, Erin, and our first sewer, Elsie (who is still with us!) in early 2014.
What spurred you to apply slow fashion and sustainable design ideas to your business?
Lisa: Because I was HDH’s first sewer, I knew how much work went into the creation of a garment. I always wanted to be close to the production process, just like I was at the beginning. Not only does it allow us to be more nimble in responding to customer feedback on designs and fit, but it also ensures that we don’t exploit anyone in the process. Vertical integration can help us close the loop on what we create by giving us greater control over the lifecycle, from beginning to end, and even to reuse in new forms.
What role do you think fashion and supply chains should play in adapting and responding to the climate crisis?
Lisa: We would love to have a more hands on approach with our fabric suppliers. We don’t have the capacity right now to visit any of their facilities, but we hope to be able to do that in future. Just like how consumers can demand change with their purchases, we hope to do the same when it comes to who we buy our fabric from.
The image below shows the current status of HDH’s production model.
Are there any learnings or “mistakes” you’ve made along the way that inform the way you show up now?
Lisa: Always! We are constantly striving to improve the fit of our clothing. Because we can’t be in the fabric manufacturing business, we are always looking for better and more ethical fabric suppliers. There is always room for improvement.
What tactics do you use to influence others, build coalitions or otherwise drive change?
Lisa: I really see my ability to drive change through my work. I believe that making all of our clothing in our own studio instead of hiring it out to other factories allows us to put our money where our mouth is. We know our sewers are treated fairly and well because we know all of them personally!
What lesson from your life “before” took you the longest to unlearn?
Lisa: It’s hard to unlearn the idea that we always need something “new” to be fashionable.
Why is fashion at the core of how you deliver your message?
Lisa: Fashion and style are what we do. Without it, we don’t have a business. People have to want to wear the clothes you’re making, or it doesn’t matter how ethically you’re making them.
What systemic and structural challenges do you see impacting the fashion industry broadly?
Lisa: It does appear that our fashion “calendar” is becoming unsustainable. With the climate changing, we can’t have outerwear as a new design coming out in August and then already on sale in November when it hasn’t even gotten cold in many places. Many of HDH’s pieces are seasonless, and we are seeing that happen in other places as well. It’d be nice if the fashion and retail calendar (and sales like “black Friday”) would start acknowledging that and shifting.
What do you see as the role of the individual in responding to waste, fast fashion, and climate change?
Lisa: Do what you can! Make the changes that you can make in your life. You don’t have to be a zero waster to actually affect positive change. I think people can be intimidated — like, “well I can’t do it perfectly, so I just can’t do it.” Don’t let perfect get in the way of good!
Your designs have been noted for being size-inclusive. Do you see a connection between inclusion and sustainability?
Lisa Yes, we think being size inclusive is related to sustainability. As women, our bodies go through so many changes in our lifetime. We hope that HDH can be a brand present for those changes for our customers. And that they can use our circular apparel project, The Sustain Shop, when they outgrow or move on from a piece.
Who is your core audience?
Lisa: We hope to see more and more customers who understand the true cost of making clothing and are willing to pay for beautiful, quality items — meaning we probably have to buy less, but we know it’ll last.
I’m curious what might be your favorite piece of your own to wear?
Lisa: Personally, I love all of our swimsuits [laughs]. I love swimming a lot, so HDH Swim has always been a favorite for me.
Hackwith Design House’s website is hackwithdesignhouse.com & on Instagram is @HackwithDesign. Information about their circular apparel venture, The Sustain Shop, can be found here and on Instagram here.
About Cri de Cœur: The Cri de Cœur Interview Series focuses on how advocacy manifests at the intersection of community, business, policy, finance, academia and the arts in order to explore tactics and approaches that will help build a more sustainable future. Cri de Cœur aims to demonstrate how a layer of climate advocacy can and must be a part of everything we do as a society in order to reach our goals.