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CONVERSATION / Dolores Haze

In order to be considered a “sustainable” fashion brand, you need to be environmentally conscious in your sampling, production and how you’re sourcing fabric. You need to think about your carbon footprint and the way that you are affecting the ocean with your dyes. It’s a loaded term.

Born-and-bred New Yorker and founder of Dolores Haze  Samantha Giordano – on the meaning behind her label, her unexpected source of inspiration and what she loves about vintage fabrics.

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Describe yourself in 10 words or less.

Let’s see – assertive, creative, smart, sassy and a little neurotic. I hope that doesn’t sound cocky.

Not cocky, just confident. Was being a fashion designer always in the cards?

My first love was always Visual Arts. It wasn’t until a high school internship in fashion design and reading Lolita that same summer, that I realized I wanted to be a designer and one day have a label called Dolores Haze. I actually bought the domain 10 years ago.

How did you land on the name?

I got the name from the novel, Lolita. The book’s dark and tragic, and I immediately thought Dolores Haze would be a badass name for a fashion line. She ultimately dies at the end of the novel, and this is completely devoid in representations and discussions around Lolita in pop-culture. I was and continue to be inspired by the juxtaposition of the darkness that envelops Dolores Haze in the novel with the hyper-feminine coquettish portrayal in pop-culture. What ultimately drew me to the name, is the notion of the character appearing naive and flirty yet possessing a subversive, dark undercurrent.

You cut your teeth in corporate fashion houses. At what point in your career did you decide that it was time to go out on your own?

I had moved out of NYC for my dream job, and shortly after was hit with the sudden realization that my career had become akin to a bad relationship. I was in it, just to be in it, but I knew it was never going to be what I wanted to be. I missed NYC terribly, it’s such a part of who I am, and admitted to myself that dream wasn’t to climb up the corporate ladder but launch Dolores Haze. I had the mantra of a middle school football coach in my head saying “go big or go home, you can’t be all talk and no game.”

Did you simply wake up one day and quit?

Not at all. After countless sleepless nights traveling after work at my studio till the AM and then back to my apartment. At one point I was up for a promotion and realized it wasn’t feasible to truly pursue both paths. Plus, everyone knew my ultimate goal wasn’t to continue designing there.

When you’re working all the time at a full-time job, you start making little mistakes or failing to flush out ideas as much as you should with your own project – there’s just not enough time in the day. Even devoting all of my time to the line now, there still isn’t enough time in a day!

What differences have you noticed between working for someone else and being your own boss?

When working for yourself, it’s always good to step back and do self-assessments. How are you as a boss? Interpersonally? As a leader? I try to be self-critical in a way that manifests real awareness of self and situations.

Are there any skills that you’ve learned along the way that help you run Dolores Haze?

Countless! The companies I worked for had intense production calendar deadlines. I learned the importance of not being a perfectionist. One cannot hone in to perfect every single detail, because there’re too many details – you’ll never execute all the tasks. I learned that to get things done, you need to see the bigger picture, and know when to move on.

How do you stay organized?

Lists!!! I have an analog weakness for really pretty journals, and take pleasure in creating to-do lists. In fashion, you’re always managing multiple projects, you’re designing, selling, and producing simultaneously, in addition to all the aspects of running your own business. I break it down into list of the main projects, define the objectives and tasks to complete within each of them. Next I go into my calendar and mark deadlines, and attempt to give myself a two-week cushion period. What can go wrong, will go wrong. Lastly, I go back and prioritize what to delegate to my assistant, and our agenda for the week. At that point, I realize I need to actually type it up.

What is the most helpful piece of advice you have ever been given?

I’ve gotten two pieces of advice that have truly shaped me. Firstly, “to never think you know everything.” It’s so true, one should always be striving for improvement. Secondly, and this may seem a bit odd, the excerpts on leadership self-assessment in the Army Ranger handbook, a detailed outline of how to be an elite soldier, are amazing. It discusses how it’s essential that those you lead feel challenged and confident. You need to show that you trust them while also offering guidance. This is all for the end result of instilling excite about their work and wanting to take on more responsibility. Leadership skills aren’t really taught at design or liberal arts school. Not surprisingly, the Army is pretty on point with this subject.

When it comes to the fashion industry, what does “sustainability” mean to you?

From my perspective, in order to be considered a “sustainable” fashion brand, you need to be environmentally conscious in your sampling, production and how you’re sourcing fabric. There are many components that go into that. You need to think about your carbon footprint and the way that you are affecting the ocean with your dyes. It’s a loaded term and some brands decided to opt out of some essentials parts – either way any attempt to be more sustainable is positive.

What responsibility do you believe companies and brands have to encourage sustainability?

I don’t think brands have a moral imperative to encourage sustainability, rather a responsibility to take part in sustainable practices. The goal is for sustainability to become the standard. I think brands do have a responsibility for transparency. Consumers have the right to know how what they are purchasing was made. 

Did your brief stint in corporate, fast-fashion give you any insight into that process?

Definitely. Working in fast-fashion made me more aware than ever about the realities of fashion’s carbon footprint. Think of a pair of embroidered shorts. The fabric is from Hong Kong, then you send the fabric to India to be embroidered, and then back to Hong Kong to be sewn, then they’re sent to the warehouse and finally shipped to the shop. This one pair of shorts is going on so, SO many plane rides before it hits the racks in the store. It’s crazy.

It’s even crazier to think that even after all of the transport, fast-fashion pieces are still so insanely cheap. And then you have to think, who made them?

For sure, Bolivia legalized child labor. Consider all the laws we have in place due to the fashion industry rallying against counterfeit bags. That same industry entices you to walk into a Forever 21… I mean, where do you think those pieces are coming from?

When I watched The True Cost some of the interviewees were trying to defend child labor by saying that the jobs they were “providing” were the best that those children were every going to have.

In my eyes, this is exploitation.

In Hebrew School we learned about the Triangle Fire in Manhattan. All of these Jewish immigrant garment workers died. After the fire, there were rallies and protests held right outside of where my first studio was. Actually, my great-grandmother used to live on that same street. Every time I walked outside there were physical landmarks that reminded me of worker’s rights. Even as a middle-schooler, the importance of human rights was ingrained in me.

When the fire in Bangladesh occurred, the fight for garment workers rights received mainstream attention. It’s insane a fire of that magnitude had to occur to shed light on these conditions, but they have existed for hundreds of years.

I’m generalizing but I feel like a lot of people, given the current state of the economy, think the American Dream doesn’t exist. But I work with a lot of small factory owners – the owner of the factory I work with came here from Hong Kong with a middle school education, got laid off and then started her own company. It’s so amazing to watch people be able to start their own companies in America and know that I help to support it.

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How do you source your materials for Dolores Haze?

We primarily use dead-stock vintage fabric from the 90s and early 2000s.

Where do you find the vintage fabric?

I first got into vintage fabric when I was living in Chinatown in college. On Division Street – before it was lined with restaurants – there was this little hole in the wall, health violation fabric store where all of this fabric had been sitting untouched since the 70s. Completely untouched. There was cardboard on the ground and this guy who spoke no English sat in the corner watching a small TV. The fabric smelled so bad that you had to wash it immediately but they were the coolest prints.

I’ve always had a passion for vintage clothing and now I can use vintage fabric to create limited edition styles. I now get some fabric from the garment district and the majority from LA. They have warehouses that hold rolls upon rolls of discarded fabrics from big fashion label’s older runs. The have rolls upon rolls of vintage gems just waiting to be uncovered.

How has e-commerce changed the way that consumers learn about products before making a purchase?

Now, with online shopping, it’s incredibly easy to educate yourself on sustainable brands or find sustainable boutiques. Usually, if a company is committed to sustainable practices, the information is front and center; they’ll let you know whether an item they’re selling is vegan, where and who made the fabric, along with info on sustainable components of the fabric the use. The product description will actually say that. If you’re interested, you can go on and read the materials. We, as a culture, have a responsibility to take it upon ourselves to look into the environmental and social impact of what we buy. There’s a lot of good content on the Internet.

What do you personally expect from a brand before you hand over your money?

Above everything else, the product needs to be well designed. That’s number one. Secondly, I need to know where the product came from and its story. I wear my own clothes or vintage but I did recently buy a dress from a small, local designer I know. Even though the dress was expensive, I knew that it was hand-dyed, organic and that she sewed it here in New York. It justified the price and the cut was perfect.

Where do you see your company in the next five years?

I want to have a strong e-commerce presence and really focus on original content. I’d like to continue our zine, the Female Gaze, – a printed catalogue with interviews and polaroids of the bad ass girls that inspire the brand.

Most importantly, I hope to continue collaborating with different types of female artists with photoshoots and events. It’s such an amazing feeling collaborating with empowering and inspiring women who are pursuing their creative dreams.

Finding sick people to collaborate with is like finding a unicorn. No, but seriously, when you find people that are excited and really understand your brand… it’s priceless. This one film director’s treatment used the same verbiage that I use to describe the brand, and that’s part of why our project turned out so well.

You were on the same wavelength.

That’s what it’s all about.

MOVERS + MAKERS / conversations that fuel our vision.

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