Sublime: Growing up in Tennessee, what was the general opinion towards eco-fashion?
Jeff Garner: They didn’t know the terminology so much, but now they do. They’re really supportive, very prideful of where they come from and who they are. They take care of the land, and once they got to understand what eco-fashion is about, they connected it with the crops that are growing in Tennessee. But they’re like any other state in Middle America; they’ve been programmed to go and buy their stuff at Target and Walmart and at the malls.
S: What made you so connected to nature?
JG: I grew up on a horse farm, and instead of watching TV as a young boy I would run out into the woods. Whether it was with my dog, playing with the horses or riding them, that’s what I would do all day long. Sometimes I would be gone for weeks. My family would know I was out there somewhere, surviving. That was my playground. I didn’t really have boundaries, and there was a lot of land. It was a great way to go out and learn about nature, and just watch it. Nature really has all the answers. I’ve studied the design of nature as well, and it’s amazing.
S: You get to see first hand how intricately everything is put together.
JG: Oh, completely. You go into the rainforest and see a flower with one petal down, and you think, why is there one petal down? It becomes a landing pad for the bee that pollinates it. It has a relationship of synergy. Everything is designed, and everything lives off everything else. I believe that’s how we are, but we lose sight of that, and we try to do it all by ourselves.
S: Was it a big change when you moved to Malibu?
JG: I was supposed to go to West Point, to the military academy. I got a full scholarship and was meant to be an officer, but I decided I didn’t want to shave my head. I thought I had a different calling, so I jumped in my jeep one day in Tennessee and drove to California. I ended up knowing no one except one family friend.
They took me in and got me into university on half a scholarship. A buddy of mine, an actor, said it would be a good way to make money to help pay for school, so I went to my first audition and was booked for a commercial, and that paid for the other half. That’s how I began. When you look back and go through your life, all the different events, you just have to have faith that you’re doing the right thing. You never know how, you have no control over it, you can’t plan it. Even if you’re pursuing your dreams, it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be laid out for you.
S: Do you think there’s a growing acceptance of ethical fashion?
JG: Definitely. Instead of people seeing me as some hippy trying to have a political agenda, they see it as having a heart and soul for sustainable fashion. There’s a deeper meaning as to why you want to do it, and a reason for it. Then people connect on a design level, too, because when you’re doing a show it’s about fashion, so the design element has to be there.
We may or may not get there, but people will be educated enough to make their own decisions and know what to choose. After that, they’ll decide, but first there needs to be an even playing field. We need transparency.
S: Are the celebrities that you dress becoming more aware of ethical fashion?
JG: They’re using their star power and popularity to make a difference. They may not know everything about it, but their heart is there. They want to support artists like ourselves, who are striving to make sustainable fashion. Then again, if I put them in an ugly-duckling dress, they won’t wear it on my behalf. The design has to line up for them, and then they love the fact that it’s sustainable. I remember dressing the Jonas Brothers a few years back, and they were into v-necks and I told them, Everything you’re wearing is made out of hemp, and they were like, No way! But at that time they didn’t perceive that the style they liked could actually be designed and represented in sustainable fashion.
We’re breaking down those barriers. That’s always been the disconnect: people say, I really support that politically, I support the car I drive, I support the way I eat, but I can’t do that for fashion because it’s not what I want to wear. But now I feel we’re catching up to that.
S: How do you think the show went, on the Friday of London Fashion Week?
JG: I was very happy, and proud of the show. This is the first season where I’ve felt that I could honestly let go and allow it to take its natural course. Courtney, my publicist, and I didn’t even meet up before the show – we were arm in arm, trying to figure things out. Usually I have a couple of assistants that come over with me to help out, but I just came by myself, and I had help here from volunteers. It was very natural, the clothes were there, the stylists were there and everybody just understood the vision. You could feel how calm and corresponding and together it was, and the journalists could, too. It all connected, in a very positive way.
S: Do you think we’re still slaves to consumerism?
JG: Speaking in general terms, we are an addictive society, and we tend to like our accountabilities. That’s how the marketing guys understand it, and it’s convenient for us. We’re addicted to cheap prices, to the convenience of going down the street and buying something quickly.
In the States, people go to Target because it’s cheap. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just that the stuff in there is not something I would want to support personally with my own ethos. People may or may not know where that stuff is from, and it’s not something they ever look at because they’re used to going in there to buy things.
I’ve had these hemp riding pants for two years, and there’s not one single hole in them. I’ll buy proper riding gear, equestrian pants that are made of polyester, and within six months they’ll have a hole in them. I try to source the fabrics I use, and they’re completely different to fabrics that are widely used. You can go and buy a t-shirt at H&M that costs you £6 or £7, but after ten washes it has a hole in it. But hemp is very strong – hemp t-shirts don’t lose their shape, and I don’t need to buy a new one.
For the show, I went back in history to the time of Louis XV. I wanted to know when this kind of imitation world began, and that’s when it started – when people who weren’t at court imitated the courtiers. That’s when silver-plated things began to be produced. Cheap imitations appeared, all because they wanted to be like the people they were not. Ordinary people couldn’t be perfectly happy and content with who they were and what they had, so they copied what they didn’t have.
S: What influence did using your grandmother’s quilt have on your collection?
JG: I focused on the idea of people wanting to be comfortable.
I grew up watching my grandmother sew by the fire, and she used to put me to bed in these quilts. I couldn’t think of anything more comfortable than to make a jacket or dress out of quilt. Of course, I can’t wear the dress, but I can wear the jacket, and I remember after I got the sample and put it on – I can’t explain the feeling. To have this quilt that’s been in my family, that I saw my grandmother make, and to put it on was so comfortable yet so empowering, and so connected to the soul. It was like, Wow, I couldn’t spend £2,000 on any jacket to make me feel this way.
It was a personal statement, and that’s what we’ve moved away from: that one point in time where we’d wear the kind of waistcoats that were worn then. It would define your character, who you were, but now we’ve shifted to dress according to seasons and trends, it’s no wonder we’re striving for an identity. We’re always changing and grabbing a trendy item, and instead of living with our families, we’ve moved away. Family homes are sold, or farms, or whatever we grew up in, and we never go back there. And we’re wondering why we’re looking for substance today, for the roots of something.
Now people are hungry for realness and substance, and I want to give them an example of what I know personally from Southern culture; what that substance is, in the form of clothing. To sew with scraps of fabric – I saw my grandmother do it – there was a lot of ripping apart, but it was great. I almost cried when I started cutting the first quilt. But I thought, you know what? You’re going to live a new life now, and be so much more powerful and hopefully make more of an impact.
You never know why things happen. I lost a little sister last year, and I lost a nephew the year before, but both their lives had so much impact. It’s great to allow things to have a new life.
S: What impact do you want to have with this collection?
JG: I want to inspire people to think outside the box, to realise that they don’t have to follow trends, or what other people are doing. I’m sure you hear that a lot, but I want to encourage people to take ownership of their identity and not become a victim of consumerism. I want people to understand, to want to know, where they’re from. Once you know that, you’re really happy, and you’ve found confidence in what you’re wearing and in who you are.
I’ve done studies about how you dress; for example, you dress fashionably when you go for an interview, as it makes you feel good. Or if you’re going out with your mates, you wear your sneakers and your jeans, so you’re more laid-back. It’s nuts. I’m hoping to inspire and provide growth in a culture that does not really accept the idea of being different from what it considers to be the norm. Growing up, I felt differently, and I wanted to be able to wear what I wanted without getting ridiculed and judged. I want people to have that same freedom now, in society.
First published in Sublime Magazine issue 27-2011 buy this issue here