Autumn has arrived! It’s time to pack up your cut-offs and silk dresses and trade them for jackets and cozy sweaters. Need to revamp your wardrobe with new knits? Skip the synthetic materials [that are prone to itch and suffocate your pores] and opt for knitwear made from soft, luxurious fibers that are made to last… not to mention keep you warm this winter! One ethical knitwear line currently on our radar is San Francisco-based Callina – a fair trade fashion company working to preserve traditional artisanal skills in Peru that have been passed down for many generations. We caught up with the company’s founder and lead designer, Michelle Sheppard, to get the scoop on the latest Fall collection and dig deeper into the day-to-day of this luxury brand.
EH: How did Callina begin?
MS: I had been working in the textile design industry for many years and really grew to appreciate artisanal craftmanship. There is a certain distinctiveness and quality that can only be achieved when producing by hand. While on a trip to Peru, I noticed women and men creating amazing pieces form the softest, silkiest yarns which I found out to be baby alpaca. Their heritage and culture went into every piece they made. As I continued to learn about the history of Peruvian weaving and the luxury of alpaca yarns, I was introduced to a local knitting organization and group of talented artisans in Arequipa and decided to launch a collection of sustainable, fair trade knitwear.
EH: What, in particular, inspired you to work with this group of artisans and weavers in Peru?
MS: They have a tradition of weaving that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. Maintaining traditional skills helps artisans become economically self-sustaining and that’s something that is important to me. For example, we started our production early this year so the women could buy books for their children at school. I find this very rewarding. There is human-centeredness in every part of our business.
EH Why was it important for you to utilize alpaca in your designs?
MS: Baby Alpaca fiber is considered a luxury fiber. I was particularly drawn to its extreme soft and silkiness. The “baby” means the smallest diameter and longest fiber length, not the age of the alpaca. It’s a fiber that has been treasured since the Inca civilization. Again, most people who cannot wear a wool garment can wear these pieces.
EH: What do you have in mind when you design?
MS: I think about the person who will be wearing the garment; What they would like and how they want to feel when wearing the product. Fashion is how you express yourself creatively and for the design it is all in the details being carefully thought out. For example those who love texture, there are certain knit stitches that really make a statement and communicate a sense of warmth and uniqueness. I try to give a bit of personality to each individual look. I pay close attention to choose quality fabrics and yarns that are soft and comfortable on the body. People who generally cannot wear wool can wear these pieces.
EH: What other sustainable materials do you like working with?
MS: In our summer collections we use Pima cotton and baby alpaca/silk blends.
EH: What does a typical day consist of for you?
MS: I find I am most creative first thing in the morning. First, I grab a much needed cup of Peet’s Coffee. Then, I typically sit on my sofa and take a look at the Golden Gate bridge from my bay window. I turn on music and start to design– gaining inspiration while sketching and contemplating colors and textures. Much of my afternoon is spent on the business and strategy side of my business. I reserve this time for meetings, catching up on emails, etc.
EH: You previously designed seasonal bedding collections for Design Within Reach. How did that role prepare you for launching Callina?
MS: I was in charge of product development at DWR. There I developed the season bedding collections and visited textile mills all over the world. After our prototypes were approved I worked with merchandising, Inventory planning, creative, everything it takes to get a product to market. I use many of these skills in my business today.
EH: A portion of the proceeds of your product goes to the Mirasol Project. Why did you choose this organization to support?
MS: The Mirasol Project is a school for the shepherd’s children. It supports local communities in Peru. Without them we would not have this beautiful yarn. Supporting the shepherds and their families ensures the continuation of this tradition.
EH: Why is sustainability important to you and how does this reflect in the ethos of Callina?
MS: With sustainability as our ethos, we strive to reflect this in every aspect of our business. We are growing slowly and we are being mindful in all decision making and make it a point to partner with exceptional and like minded organizations.
EH: What is your favorite piece in the Fall collection?
MS: Trick question! I wear the Ines pullover when I want to feel cozy and warm. It is so soft! When I go out and I want to make a statement, I wear the Cara Vest. For everyday it is so easy to put on the Nadia sweater. They are like my children, I cannot pick a favorite!
EH: If you could only use three adjectives to describe your latest collection, what would they be?
MS: Hand-made. Soft. Effortless.
Photos by zWicker Photography and Andrea Plell
Andrea Plell is EcoHabitude’s Director of Communications and the Editor-in-Chief of the EcoHabitude blog. Since 2007, Andrea has been on a mission to support a paradigm shift in the fashion industry. She currently runs her own PR and ethical fashion production company in San Francisco, CA.
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