So, through the label, you want to expand opportunities for artisans and designers in the industry?
Silverstein: Absolutely. When I graduated from FIT in 2010, I was in the top 10 of my class with honors. I went on interview after interview and could not find a job. It was through that process—and seeing hundreds of other eager, talented people like me struggle—that I realized how broken the fashion industry is. From not having opportunities for people who want to work, to not valuing the craft, to not educating the consumer, there are so many areas that need improvement.
We are even in the early stages of creating a program with at-risk high school youth who are interested in working in fashion, and that is going to be exciting.
You’re dressing some of the most influential people in the eco-fashion movement right now: Amber Valletta, for instance. And your star is continually rising. Do you think you’re going to be able to maintain this commitment to zero waste as the label grows?
Silverstein: I took one key opportunity in my career to compromise my belief system, and it was for the greater good. On Fashion Star, I didn’t do a single zero-waste piece because I had very little control over the production and significant time constraints were placed on contestants.
I am very confident in saying that that is the last instance where I will do any sizable production that is not zero waste. I really believe in this. I don’t think it makes any sense for a young person in the industry who feels like they can affect change to compromise their beliefs just so they can have a nicer apartment or whatever.
Anderson: We’ve had many opportunities over the past four years to compromise our commitment to make things faster, easier, more profitable. And we haven’t done those things. Zero waste is the thing that we keep black and white. It’s what we stand on. It’s immovable. It’s our North Star.
Silverstein: Exactly. We’ve said no to those proposals and I think saying no will just keep getting easier as we evolve as a brand.
What inspires you to hold fast to the ideal of zero waste?
Silverstein: I saw this interesting episode of Ellen where Diane Keaton was promoting a book she’d just written. She was telling a story of how she used to date Steve Jobs in the ’70s and how every time she’d see him, he would go on and on like a crazy person about how computers are the future, how everyone is going to have a computer in their home. And she thought he was nuts. And then she said, “And I wrote the entire book I’m promoting on one of his computers.”
I just turned 25 and I feel like I’m this weird, young designer holed up in his NYC studio saying, “One day, everything we make will be zero waste!” And the nay sayers will roll their eyes at me. And then, someday in the future, everything really will be zero waste.
So, you’re making your dream a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s pretty revolutionary.
Silverstein: Totally. You have clothes in this room that we’re sitting in that you can wear to every aspect of your life. A cocktail dress. Shorts. A wedding dress. Pants. It’s all made responsibly, and you can have it all this way.
Anderson: And I feel like the trend is our friend, too. There are some more established companies who are starting to make moves toward sustainability and it’s becoming more acceptable.
Silverstein: We have the privilege of working with Amber Valletta who is majorly successful and she’s even said that what we’re doing is revolutionary. Sometimes it takes, not a young mind, but fresh goals. My goals are not to be Versace, my goal is to change the way people make clothes. I don’t want to work in an industry that is poisoning the world.
Let’s talk about this most recent collection you presented at Launch NYC. What was the inspiration?
Silverstein: We were so fortunate to partner with Manufacture New York and Launch NYC for this presentation. One of the anchoring prints in the collection is from one of my sketches and it turned out great. There’s much of my signature draping and embellishment. And there’s a piece for every aspect of a woman’s life. I always aim to create designs that women can wear for every occasion and feel confident and comfortable in.
What are your goals for the label 10 years from now?
Silverstein: Obviously, I would love to have this brand explode. I’d love to have people appreciate my designs and also feel good about the ethics of the product. I also really want to collaborate with one of the exclusive, luxury, high-profile labels that is way above the price point that I’m working in and show them that they can still have their audience and aesthetic while making a zero-waste product. Because you can have this at H&M or Chanel. It’s a philosophy. It’s a way of pattern-making and cutting and thinking. It’s not a price point. It’s not a look. Any designer could do this.
Anderson: People just need the suggestion. And once they ruminate on it, their thinking starts to change. More than anything, people fear that you’re being pedantic and you’re saying, “You have to live this way.” What we’re doing is showing people that there’s an alternative and it’s not only zero waste, it’s zero sacrifice.
Any closing thoughts?
Silverstein: People will eventually have to care about making garments sustainably because of the environmental toll of fashion. So whether fashion houses actively embrace or have to comply with zero waste, I want to be there to show them how zero waste can work. For anyone who wants to listen: Here I am; I want to talk.