Inspired by Harriet Tubman, Audre Lorde and Nina Simon ... This Caribbean Infused Sustainable Fashion Brand Is Transforming Recycled, Natural & Vintage Materials Into Luxe Handmade Goods
When and why did you start Fatra?
I first started FATRA in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was designing shoes for about 5 years prior, when I ran into a wall, a burnout and decided to move and get some much needed vitamin Sun, sea and sand (did i mention sun? ok. lol) As you can anticipate, a drastic change in environment from New york city, the concrete jungle, to a lush little island had changed my perspective in several aspects of my life. My design focus (shoes aren't important in hawaii, if ever worn), my career focus and and being engulfed by nature changed my priority focus. I began to focus on holistic health and that included the environment around me, nature.
I was in fashion design but I had to shift my design style to match the new landscape of my life and that included what I would design and how. Nature became more of a priority in my life than ever before, so I took that passion and merged it with the skill set and talent of hand crafting and FATRA was born! Shout out to my homegirl Gray who didn't let me sleep on myself because I made some designs and sat on the idea for a long time. This is also a testament to keep a good circle of people close to you that see your potential and don't take it for granted because sometimes we can let fear of greatness paralyze us, Im still working on shaking this off daily.
How do you define sustainable? How is your brand specifically "sustainable"?
Sustainability is a new word for some old ish. Old as the damn hills it has also been known to go by "ghetto" or "primitive" but is currently "innovative" and "eco friendly". Sustainability is necessity, its responsibility, its reciprocity. I come from a Caribbean background where you wore the shirt, you became too big/small you gave it to your sister/brother/cousin, if the shirt had a hole you mended the shirt, or you made more holes in the shirt, patched it, cut it into new style, if it had a stain you'd dye it, when it became too worn you used it to wipe the mirrors in your house or the floors till it basically disintegrated lol But we didnt "throw it out" just like that. You used the packaging from pickles to later hold sauces and well we all make fun about the cookie canister filled with sewing trinkets instead of cookies but we/ancestors have been using what we have and making the best out of it necessity and shear creative know how. Sustainability is our responsibility to what nurtures our lives. Why do we feel in debt to our mothers, our parents, those who have raised us? why do we say "never bite the hand that feeds you?"
There is a sense of responsibility that is involved when someone gives you something to care for it, to respect and protect it. Its no different when we talk about nature and how our lifestyles impacts her. Are we helping or destroying? It has to be a give and take and currently the relationship is built on extractivism, taking and never replenishing. Its an un balanced relationship with the planet which spills over into our unbalanced relationships with food, shopping and these unhealthy relationships we have with ourselves.
My product is sustainable in the materials and ethical in its production. I use plastic bottles, which is a forever material but used for a very short period of time, a one time use plastic. I now take that environmental threat and transform it into something that we can keep for a lifetime and start a very , a luxury handbag. These bags act as a bridge creating a very important conversation about "where does trash go when we throw it away?". I also incorporate textiles/leather/fur that were on the way to landfills or textiles handmade from various regions to encourage keeping the artisanal craftmanship alive. Ethically produced with living wages and for the betterment of the lives of marginalized groups (recovering sex trafficked women, young entrepreneurs, post slave shop victims). My product is about creative waste solutions, what can we do with the surplus thats available and how do we put good intention into action that everyone can be apart of.
Where do you source all of your materials from?
The Plastic Bottles come from recycling initiatives or beach clean ups, my friends kitchens and laundry rooms. Plastic is everywhere so that part isn't too hard. I use textiles from Fab Scrap, an amazing organization in NY, that rescues fabrics, leather and notions from being thrown into landfill. Another brand is Queen of Raw, reselling deadstock fabrics. I am known to use textiles from waste bins from interior/ clothing designers, that maybe were "last season" or scraps to small for proper production. As well as, items from your closet. Theres really endless waste, therefore endless possibilities!
I also team with other organizations to facilitate groups that farm and produce cotton. I get to watch the process from the very start, they transform them into weaved textiles, and I into a finished good. FATRA believes in cultural preservation through techniques, such as weaving, dying, beading to keep these arts alive because with cheap labor and machinery, its very easy to lose these skills and once they are gone so are large parts of that culture. FATRA has participated in local cotton/hemp production, in Hawaii, Indonesia, Ghana and the Philippines. I look to do more work directly with producers in the future.
Does being a Black womxn/ WOC (or specifically your cultural heritage) directly impact/influence your brand? If so how?
Of course, for several key reasons! In fact FATRA, is actually a Haitian creole word for "trash". Firstly, POC collectively have huge purchasing power (I believe over a trillion dollars annually) that gives us a responsibility to demand the types of products that is going to benefit us and the environment. If your favorite brands packaging is plastic or contains harmful chemicals we need to voice our desires and/or become makers ourselves.
Secondly, my parents are from Haiti and Guyana which are considered "the global south" and people from these areas contribute the least amount of waste and get hit with the most amount of damage. Developed nations are shipping their trash and unwanted items to these countries inhibited by black and brown folks. We're not just ruining our lands we're also contributing to the devastation of land we've never seen and those people are living in waste that they've never created. Not to mention, those places already face challenges with unstable infrastructure and are most vulnerable to climate change and the host of conditions.
Lastly, like I've stated previously, sustainability has been around in households since forever. Necessity pushes our creativity to limits unknown, its often the foundation for style trends, for our music, we just make it look intentional and very good might i add.
What is your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration can be pulled from a long list of amazing women that had oppression on their backs and still managed to rise like a pheonix, HARRIET TUBMAN, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Nina Simon but mainly my two grandmothers. They both came from other countries, with little to nothing (one not speaking english) and they found themselves succeeding against all odds. They set the foundation for me to continually believe that you can make change and I will do so because they have.