DESIGNER / SCULPTOR
b. 1983


Farm to Hanger

ADRIENNE ANTONSON


Whether you agree or not, it’s hard to deny the serendipitous line of fate -- call it what you will -- tugging you through her story. And this from a girl born on August 17th, the “Day of Explosive Power,” a day with a horoscope profile that reads “as accurate as hell” (for a similar reaction of your own peruse the pages of “The Secret Language of Birthdays”).

Perhaps due to this interest in a greater narrative, Adrienne has shied away from expected endings. At an age when most young couples begin contemplating the purchase of a first home or birth of a child, she and her husband, Kevin, left their jobs in Charleston, South Carolina, to live in Vashon, an island off the coast of Washington. The move was the result of a “real estate porn” binge that spanned months. Once installed on the island that 10,000 residents call home, Adrienne began volunteering at a nearby alpaca farm. Her relationship with the family, spanning three generations of herders, grew steadily as she piled sod hills of manure and poured pellets and hay into troughs. She even was given the responsibility of caring for a newborn alpaca, who she named Carmen. Eventually, Adrienne and her husband moved onto the grounds rent-free in exchange for her help.

The island honeymoon spanned a new season of productivity for the artist. Back in Charleston, Adrienne, a Fine Arts grad with an emphasis in sculpting, had honed her aesthetic by incorporating insect and angel imagery. Now, with the immediacy of alpaca fur, she began exploring more structural designs that relied on alpaca felt, hand-woven from the animal fibers collected during shearing season. She also began creating intricate life-life insect sculptures made of human hair -- sometimes her own.

Perhaps more conventionally, she also continued to sew. Although Adrienne had toyed with the idea of giving up sewing altogether (in fact, she has give away her sewing gear multiple times), she decided to approach Nube Green, an eco-friendly boutique in Seattle, with several samples. After testing out several well-received trunk shows at the shop, Adrienne was snapped up as their in-house designer. From this relationship, STATE was born. Constructed entirely from repurposed fabrics sourced from thrift stores across the United States, Adrienne painstakingly hand-stitched every item in the collection.

This past February the couple relocated to Brooklyn, trading in the vestiges of their farmhouse life for a railroad in South Slope. So far, the move has been a good one. Ferns and other waxy plants are sprinkled throughout their home, making up for the lack of rolling green hills outside. Adrienne has been able to convert one of the rooms into a studio. Sales are good. So good, in fact, that the designer has been re-examining her business model as of late and strategizing on the future of her label (she continues to produce most of the clothing by hand). This is New York City after all. No one comes to coast.

And then, this past spring during Charleston Fashion Week, Adrienne’s future became a little clearer. During a session with the press, Adrienne serendipitously coined a term to embody her labor of work, “farm to hanger.” The press latched onto the word and Elle Magazine picked up the story. Almost unbeknownst to her, Adrienne had given name to a movement, and consciousness, that has been been slowly building within the fashion scene.

Adrienne is still surprised by the turn of events. Destinies aside, she remains practical about her future. “I just want people like us who probably don’t shop 10 times a month to find STATE accessible." She also remains giddy about alpacas. This past week she met with a vendor in upstate New York who sells 16 different types of fabric sourced from alpaca fur. Expect great things from the next collection.




Q - How did you come by the term "farm to hanger"?
A - When I went to Charleston for Fashion Week, I had such a short amount of time with press, with judges, to get my point across about my aesthetic. Most of the other designers were using regular fabric, which is fine. But, I felt like my collection was different in that I was using nontraditional, sustainably sourced materials and was hand dyeing them, hand-stitching them and using lots of labor-intensive processes. For instance: I cut out the leather, hand felted the bonnets and made all the shoes out of scraps. So to be efficient, I started explaining my work to people along the lines of fashion's “farm to table,” referencing the culinary movement that’s happening. I just think of this as “farm to hanger.” The phrase really got the point across. People got it immediately. I truly believe that the sustainability movement is a huge component to the future of fashion -- to go back to where it basically started, away from mass-production and non-ethical and not-responsible processes.

Q - Where has this momentum from fashion week taken you?
A - It wasn't until 2 months later that I was ready to take STATE to the next level and I was meeting with factories, talking about increasing my quantities, looking into wholesale/online shop options. There were a lot of directions I could take it.

When I’m working creatively, I often tell myself if I get in a bind, “You have what you need, you have what you need, you have what you need.” And then I just look around the studio until I find something that solves whatever creative problem I’m in. Usually a great solution (the perfect material/tool/ingredient) is right in front of me.

Q - So what was the creative problem here?
A - Well, just really figuring out how to grow into this next phase. And asking myself, “Do I take on an investor? Do I look into grants? Do I go on Shark Tank?” And then I realized, “You have what you need.” I have the skills to build an e-commerce site. I have the means to make the inventory. I have enough contacts in terms of marketing. So then it became clear that that’s what I needed to do. Keep it simple and true and not make it this big crazy thing. It will grow into what it needs to become. The best things happen organically anyways.

Q - As you look to expand your business, how do you see your "farm to hanger" ethic working itself out in the growth of STATE?
A - As STATE expands, I am looking for sources that I can grow with -- like mills producing high quantities of yardage from local fiber farms, factories in Brooklyn and Charleston that can meet my needs and vendors offering domestically made buttons from coconuts and other weird things.

Really, I'm just casting a wider net for my materials and labor -- and there's plenty to choose from! Everyday, more and more fabrics that are made in the US are organic and high quality. And then, there's always raw fibers to be purchased from small American farms who desperately need the support -- which is the direction that inspires me the most.

Q - In the past, you've opted for creative independence -- sometimes at the cost of isolation -- over the competitive chaos of city life. Yet now, you're poised to expand your business in New York. Where do you feel most prolific?
A - I've lived in some extreme places (cabins in the woods, teeny tiny apartments, a farm, now NYC) and I've always worked a great deal no matter the environment. Even on vacations I have projects to work on. Making things is my default. And being in New York has definitely illuminated something inside of me. It's the place where things happen and I'm ready for things to happen.

Q - Switching gears a bit, I've been reading a lot about "coming into your 30s." So far, you've tested the waters with your insect sculptures and STATE. What would you like to accomplish in your 30s?
A - I'd like to learn how to stay put in my 30s. The last five years have been nonstop. I'm looking forward to covering some ground, expanding my brand, developing a team and driving down the same road for a while. Ideal harmony would be getting into the rhythm of designing clothing, while also building elaborate sets and installations for STATE's photo shoot concepts. That's where my true love lies: when the art and design parts of me are working together. .

Q - When do you mentally map out what you're going to wear to work the next day?
A - Mostly, I'm pretty spontaneous: I let the day move me. Comfort and pockets are key in the city. And I always plan from the shoes up.

Q - Besides your own creations, are there any other designers or shops that you look to fill your closet?
A - I'm really not a shopper, except for shoes (and more specifically boots): CYDWOQ, Fiorentini + Baker, Marsèll... That's where I'm powerless.

Q - What work outfit gives you that "on top of the world" feeling?
A - Lately, head-to-toe navy blue has been my go-to look. I don't wear a lot of black, but I love the urban uniform of all black. I just do it in blue.

Special thanks to Roots Cafe and 6/15 Green Community Garden.

This interview has been edited and condensed.