There’s been a lot of speculation about where fashion is headed, in terms of sustainability and diminishing waste. Plenty of eco-friendly brands have popped up over the years, but all they’ve really done is scare high-end designers into using more and more fur—because, let’s be honest, no hype machine has ever gone crazy over anything beige. But that’s where Ji Won Choi comes in. With her bright-colored suits and geometric details, the Korean designer has completely redefined the way the industry sees “going green.” After taking a year away from Parsons to travel the world, Choi became fascinated with the utilitarian ways in which other people approach clothes. When she came home, she immediately emptied out her closet, and realized she had thousands of pieces she would never wear again. Same with all of her friends. That excessivism drove Choi to make a multi-purpose collection that feels both simple and strategic, at the same time. Fusing complicated lines with international minimalism, her clothes are both intellectual and understated—and did we mention cool? Unlike a lot of other designers, who have translated green fashion into uncomfortable (and well, basic) basics, Choi has equated sustainability with high fashion ready-to-wear.
BULLETT caught up with the designer to talk about the future of sustainable garments and fashion as an agent for social change. Read our interview and view an exclusive video, below.
Tell me about the collection. What inspired it?
I was going through a really low point during my studies, so I abruptly quit, packed up and left New York to travel the world for a year. I was doing things like living in a tent in a farming community of hippies in Kauai and milking/herding cows in the Swiss Alps. The people I met lived very purely—simply owning and wearing only what they truly need. And there I was, dragging around a suitcase stuffed with so many things that I didn’t even wear, but refusing to get rid of anything. It really made me reflect on my insanely stuffed closet in New York and it was very striking to realize how much useless junk I actually own. When I came back to the city, I spent some time researching the closets of friends and family, and I found that the majority of people only wear a portion of their closet’s contents, too. But of course, they’re also stuffed with so many pieces that wouldn’t be missed if they were gone. This whole process led me to focus on overconsumption.
So what was on your moodboard?
I had a photo of my closet and the contents within it—the goal was to represent the entire contents of my closet with only 5 looks. A single stripe represents an ‘item’ and was added over and over to represent this excessiveness.
How does this season compare to your previous work?
The collection is so different from my previous work—I didn’t even know I had it in me. But it all came very naturally—exaggerated silhouettes is something I have always been attracted to. But the concept and the graphic quality of the collection is entirely new.
Who do you see as the Ji Won Choi man and/or woman?
Someone who is quiet, but has a loud presence. Someone who is strong, independent, and doesn’t need anyone’s opinions or assurances.
How does the collection explore overconsumption? Was using sustainable fabrics a response to all of the excess that inspired the range?
The collection revolves entirely around sustainability and the idea of consumption. The repetitive visuals of the stripes highlight the idea of overconsumption and the construction of the garments offer a solution. All of the extension of the stripes (straps) can be manipulated by pulling, tying and wrapping to create new silhouettes within each garment. By having the ability to easily change each piece’s form limits the amount of garments needed in a closet.
How do you see this collection influencing your future work?
My future collections could have concepts completely separate from sustainability, but it will always be the foundation and priority of the brand. No overproducing, no wasting, remaining season-less, sourcing the right materials and making sure each garment will have a special spot in someone’s closet—that’s the point of my brand.
Do you see the sustainability as the future of fashion?
There won’t be much of a future without it! The industry is investing more and more on sustainability and it’s only a matter of time it becomes the focus.
Do you think fashion should be political?
Whatever industry anyone is in, it’s important to give a shit about the world.
Can fashion incite real change?
The influence of fashion on society is so incredible—that’s the main reason I chose to study it. Fashion plays such a huge role in our society and influences everyone knowingly or not—it eases the bridge of social change and has the power to make something radical the norm.
How do you see your brand evolving as you graduate and continue to design?
I’m excited to do a collection concept that isn’t about sustainability, but is still totally sustainable. This was only my first real collection, so there is so much more that I want to explore and create. I’m very eager to work on accessories and knitwear, also.
Describe Ji Won Choi in three words.
Loud. Conscious. Expressive.
What do you see as your role as a fashion designer?
I’m someone who creates beautiful things that have a purpose. It’s very important to me to be responsible for everything I put out into the world and not just contribute to all the noise. I mean, fashion already does have purpose—empowering, transporting, and transforming people. But if I can also make it sustainable, then why not?
Direction: Rowena True
Studio Production: Ewelina Nietupska
Director of Photography: Jack Shanahan
Styling: Shanelle Russell
Gaffing: Will Wang
Gripping: Ted Daniel
Prop Assistance: Michael Younker
Grooming: Marina Guidos
Production: Shewolf Productions
Coloring: Damien Van Der Cruyssen / The Mill
Music: Moan (Trentemøller Dub Remix)