Photos by Amanda Coen
Located in New York City’s Brooklyn Navy Yard, Eko-Lab is equal parts ethical apparel company and experimental art house. Combining the talents of Melissa Kirgan, Xing-Zhen Chung-Hilyard, and Jennifer Wen Ma, the label transforms organic fabrics and vegetable-based dyes into wearable conversation pieces. Eko-Lab was once a cornerstone of Ekovaruhuset, a fashion collective that included Johanna Hofring, Mika Machida, and Meiling Chen. Since the group disbanded, however, the trio have found a home among the dozen startups supported by the Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation, an initiative founded in 2002 to launch and grow social and environmental enterprises. Ecouterre hopped on the L train to Eko-Lab’s studio to learn more about its unique brand of alchemy.
A PERFECT FIT
How did Eko-Lab get its start?
Kirgan: We first met when we were taking classes at [the Fashion Institute of Technology], but we also had mutual friends. Ekovaruhuset really inspired us to get involved in the sustainable clothing industry and we learned a lot.Working with Ekovaruhuset, we really got to meet the customer, understand what they were looking for, and understand shapes and sizes. Everybody is different—even us—and we still like to wear the same thing. So it provided a great understanding of fit and what people wanted.
As Eko-Lab, we strive to create designs that adapt well to many sizes.
Chung-Hilyard: As Eko-Lab, our theme builds on what we learned as we strive to create designs that adapt well to many sizes.
Kirgan: Our mission has definitely evolved from wanting to be more of an easy fit, so we can both wear something.
What roles do you each of you play?
Chung-Hilyard: We have very different angles due to our backgrounds and personalities. Initially, we overlapped a lot as we were just learning what we are good at, what each of our strengths are. Eventually, we wove those together.
We have very different angles due to our backgrounds and personalities.
Now, I do a lot of [two-dimensional] work because that’s how I think and see. Melissa is very [three-dimensional]. I’ve learned a lot from her. She’ll also tell me, “I never thought of clothing in that way.” Working together brings a lot of surprises and excitement into growth and learning, and we enjoy the collaboration very much.