GET GUILDED

Creating a new model for sustainable-design education doesn’t come cheap. Shahpar and St. James need to invest in furniture, videography, lighting, statistical analyses, market research, and visual-conferencing tools and software, among others. The bare minimum they require is $15,000, and the pair has less than two weeks to raise the money through IndieGoGo.

At the Guilded studio on the Bowery, just across the street from the New Museum, Shahpar and St. James plot their unprecedented, industry-changing endeavor.

Designers at the forefront of the sustainable movement have had years consolidate their expertise. Guilded is a way for the rest of the industry to catch up.

“Right now, the way information is passed around is from friend to friend, colleague to colleague; individuals on a one-on-one basis,” Shahpar tells Ecouterre. “And that information, oftentimes is very just skimming the surface of what knowledge is out there. Except it’s not packaged in any accessible way for designers who are interested in becoming more sustainable, or who already are, and want to progress a little bit in their development.”

Designers at the forefront of the sustainable movement have had years consolidate their knowledge and expertise. Guilded, according St. James, is a way for the rest of the industry to catch up. “I think what people don’t understand is that there are many options towards sustainability as a designer,” she adds.

Want to hear more? Click the numbered links below for the complete Q and A.

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Guilded, IndieGoGo, Tara St. James, Bahar Shahpar, New York City, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

What inspired you to start Guilded?

SHAHPAR: The birth of this business was, no pun intended, very organic for Tara [St. James] and I. It was truly a cumulative result of our own trial by fire, trial and error experience.  We had to learn by practice, by doing, and by doing our own research. We really feel that what’s holding the industry back is the lack of localized, centralized, or standardized vocabularies, and resources, and information.

Anyone who’s interested in developing their own sustainable-fashion business has to start from scratch, and much of the information that is available is ambiguous in a way that’s both conflicting and confusing, and that in itself can be incredibly discouraging. There’s a lot of information out there, so everyone shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Right now, the way information is passed around is from friend to friend, colleague to colleague; individuals on a one-on-one basis.

Right now, the way information is passed around is from friend to friend, colleague to colleague; individuals on a one-on-one basis. And that information, oftentimes is very just skimming the surface of what knowledge is out there. Except it’s not packaged in any accessible way for designers who are interested in becoming more sustainable, or who already are, and want to progress a little bit in their development.

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Guilded, IndieGoGo, Tara St. James, Bahar Shahpar, New York City, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

ST. JAMES: Whenever Bahar [Shahpar] and I were speaking on panels about sustainable fashion, or talking to people at events, it’s always the same. You always find yourself at the same starting point. Whereas on the backend of it, considering all of the research we’ve been doing for our own lines, and in our own lives, businesses, etc., we’ve progressed so much farther than the conversations that we’ve been having. Guilded is a means to get the rest of the industry caught up.

SHAHPAR: Another issue that got us fired up is when we would see people give up on attempting to become more sustainable. Constantly we’ve seen people failing when they didn’t have to because the resources they needed to succeed were there for them. There are so many beautiful, fashion-forward lines that could really easily be substituting a sustainable fabric, fiber, or method into their processes, and just don’t simply because it’s either overwhelming, too confusing, or not easily accessible, so why go that extra mile?

There are so many beautiful, fashion-forward lines that could really easily be substituting a sustainable fabric, fiber, or method into their processes.

We’ve wanted so badly for people to be supportive of this movement and so we’ve been afraid to show its vulnerability. But as more designers begin to incorporate concepts related to sustainability into the fundamental parts of their business, they’ll become a bit more transparent with how many things are potentially wrong with the current state of things.

Personally, I believe that that’s how you move forward, is you pull back the curtain, and show where there’s a problem, a gap, a disease, and wherever it is, and you fix it. But, we can’t do that until we start actually addressing where there’s problems within sustainable fashion design. Guilded is one piece of the puzzle to get things moving forward.

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Guilded, IndieGoGo, Tara St. James, Bahar Shahpar, New York City, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

How is Guilded different from similar efforts before?

SHAHPAR:We certainly hope to work in tandem with other groups who are working towards similar goals, in a partnership to support all their initiatives, because what many of them are tackling is a much more tangible aspect of actually creating that link between the buyer and the wholesale supplier. And, what they’ve done is create a database which didn’t exist before. To create these references and relationships is an incredibly difficult thing, and we want to work alongside that.

We’re not actually trying to compete with them or anyone else. I think we view these bodies as available resources that we’re trying to teach people how to use.

Our aim however, is to give people the knowledge of how to use those tools. Say someone goes to Source4Style. This site will give you the information on a textile, and they’ll show you what it looks like, tell you how it works, tell you how it’s certified, and where it comes from. That’s a huge amount of information for designers already, but it’s also why I love Source4Style so much. But being able to guide the designers, not only through that step, but through all the steps that precede, and come after it, is equally important—that’s where we fit in.

We’re not actually trying to compete with them or anyone else. I think we view these bodies as available resources that we’re trying to teach people how to use.

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Guilded, IndieGoGo, Tara St. James, Bahar Shahpar, New York City, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

What are the main objectives you’re trying to achieve?

SHAHPAR: Our main goal is to take the information we’ve gained through our experiences and make it accessible and efficient. That’s why we decided to do it in a way where we have classes, seminars, and workshops in the studio that are affordable and topic-specific. We also have the more in depth, customized educational training modules for businesses.

Generally speaking though, we want to simultaneously educate, and in doing so, allow ourselves the room to innovate.

Generally speaking though, we want to simultaneously educate, and in doing so, allow ourselves the room to innovate. I think by bringing together, not just our own brain trust, but also the knowledge and the experience of all of the industry experts to tap them for their own very particular areas of expertise. That in and of itself creates a much more effective and innovative conversation. That’s when the specific gaps in information really start to appear, and we can tell where we need to focus our energies on.

And while that’s where we’re gonna begin, it’s probably going to metamorphose and evolve into something with many more tentacles. But we felt like we had to start somewhere, and that somewhere really is just saying, “Okay, we are going to be the go-to resource, and like educational center, and consultants for how to implement sustainable design into your business.”

But we’re not asking them to join the team, and to put a big green leaf on everything they do. We actually would prefer that they didn’t, you know?  But, if designers who have taken our courses talk about the design process and their product, and then start to incorporate some of this standardized language and really recognize it at a deeper level—that’s what we’re trying to encourage. It’s thoughtful design.

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Guilded, IndieGoGo, Tara St. James, Bahar Shahpar, New York City, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

What kinds of classes will you be offering at Guilded?

SHAHPAR: One of the first series that we’re going to be hosting is a 101 series. The 101 series is a basic seminar series, going over all the basic tenants of sustainable design, from fair trade to local production, to over sea sourcing, and all the vocabulary in between. It just gives people a taste of what issues are at hand, what types of commodities are at stake, and what types of issues are on the table so that they can find the access point for them. But, one of the first things that we’re asking is, “What is sustainable fashion?” But instead of defining what the borders of it are, we want to open up the borders of what it can be.

It’s not one single choice any designer makes, but a series of questions and answers that everyone has to answer while they’re taking the path.

ST. JAMES: Moreover, we really want to show people how all of those things can be woven into their design process. What [sustainable design] is really defined as. What the obstacles and pitfalls? What do you look out for? After every class, we want people to leave with very tangible takeaways they can immediately implement.

The other question is how to integrate your brand with sustainability. Where does that fit in?  How much do you hammer it home?  When do you bring it up? How do you tell the story in other ways? How do you not use the words “green” and “eco” and “sustainable” and “organic” but still embody the sensibility, the commitment, and the responsibility that you are showcasing behind the scenes? And that will be different for different people.

SHAHPAR: The reality is, what we do is pretty nuts and bolts. It’s seminars, it’s hands-on workshops, it’s master classes, and we offer consulting that’s very easily packaged and customizable. We offer mini-boot camps for small-business owners and entrepreneurs who just want a one-to-three-month [program] or a seasonal consulting service to help them walk them through sourcing, production, design, collection-editing, and sales. We want to be clear that it’s all very easily digestible and modular.

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