And hint-hint, it’s green
Where Mountains Meet is a New York based, eco-conscious womenswear label founded by industry-veterans, Genevieve Saylak and Corissa Santos (the pair held posts at the likes of Marchesa and Theory), that is redefining our understanding of luxury. Making the industry’s best sustainable practices a part of their quotidian repertoire, the pair holds the artisans they work with, their partners and their customers close to their hearts. Hailing from a childhood under the guise of the wild and an open illy, Genevieve and Corissa are stewards of Mother Nature and the beauty she unconditionally bestows.
COOLS: Hailing from New York and Oregon, the stars seemingly aligned when you two met at university (in Saint Louis, MO) and then both moved to NY. Little did either of you know that you’d be starting your own label together two years ago, what a wonderful and remarkable journey!
Wondering if you could both tell us a little bit more about your childhood? I’m always curious because we often take for granted how much our upbringing has influenced us. Would love to know what you both used to do for summer vacations, any favorite family trips, anything of that sort that can give us a better insight into your personalities.
Genevieve Saylak: So refreshing to be asked this question. I’ve personally felt very shaped by my parents’ influence and guidance, and by experiences we’ve shared. International travel and cultivating empathy for other cultures and perspectives was central to my upbringing. My family spends a lot of time at our second home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; I haven’t missed a year there since I was born. It’s hard to sum up, but the serenity of wide open spaces and a way of life that emphasizes slowing down, respecting nature and family just does good things for human beings, especially in one’s formative years. There’s nothing like time out there to ground me and put things into perspective.
Corissa Santos: Growing up in the Pacific Northwest was a bit idyllic. There is a never-ending list of outdoor activities to participate in – hiking, camping, skiing, wakeboarding, etc. – but more than anything, I loved going to our family lake house. Situated on a lake in the high-desert hills of southeast Oregon, it was the perfect place to be on hot summer days. We would spend all day on the boat and all night laying under the millions of stars. To this day, the lake house is my favorite place to be. It’s probably in part nostalgia, but it’s also one of the few places where I can hang out with my favorite people, my family, without an agenda or outside stressors.
COOLS: You both have worked for some very respectable names in the industry during your careers prior to starting wMM. We know that it was during that time that you both were figuring out what you liked and didn’t like in terms of industry practices etc. Can you recall any certain moments or feelings you were left with that sparked you both into action?
GS & CS: Interestingly enough, it was less about specific “ah-ha” moments, and more about many experiences and processes we witnessed. Our similar reactions to them ultimately revealed how important these issues were to us, and just how strongly we felt about them. The philosophy that emerged is simple – be environmentally conscious, treat partners as if they are members of our own team and have an honest, open dialogue about product with our customers. We’ve believed in it since day one.
COOLS: The artisan partnerships that you’ve set up in India, Guatemala and Bolivia sound amazing! The storytelling aspect sounds really amazing and I’m curious how these stories also tie into your own. There’s this sense that inspiration has to come from somewhere so I’m wondering if you can tell us more about your experiences working with these artisans and how did you go about setting up these partnerships? With Nest correct? Maybe what it was like to get your first samples back etc.
GS & CS: Our artisan partners are amazing, and we’re constantly in awe of what they can do. Their skill-set, what they accomplish with non-mechanized equipment, and even just their own hands, blows us away. We believe people should have an emotional connection to the clothes they buy, and telling our artisans’ stories is a huge part of encouraging that. Our product is not cheap, and there’s a reason for it – someone wove the fabric of your blouse with their own two hands on a giant loom!
Nest has been an incredible partner to the brand and, yes, they’ve made several introductions for us. We’ve also met artisan partners through By Hand Consulting, and discovered yet another, Indigo Handloom, through some old-fashioned Google searching. Communication and being very realistic about lead-times are both challenging and crucial – especially at the start when we’re establishing a relationship with a new artisan group. Getting a first fabric sample or prototype back is terrifying regardless of whether you’re working with a local sample room or an overseas artisan community. We’ve had brilliant and catastrophic results from both camps. The excitement comes when we see the market’s reaction to our collections. Very often the styles that buyers gravitate towards most, are those made with our bespoke artisan fabrics.
COOLS: One of the main problems with artisan partnerships is that they’re not always longterm, leaving a void after a collection is done, how are you addressing this problem? You’re both kind of pioneers of this movement in a way!
GS & CS: This is such a great point – and you are right to identify this as a challenge. We’re constantly brainstorming ways to offer our artisan partners, and all of our product-related partners for that matter, a steady workflow. As we’re not yet ready to scale to the typical four or more seasons per year, we have to think about ways to modify our two-season calendar and spread out our production cycle. Internally, we’ve been brainstorming ways to morph the standard wholesale buying and selling season into something more sustainable and appealing to our manufacturers, wholesale accounts and customers. The net effect will be a less drastic ebb and flow of work, particularly for our artisans and New York-based factories; the goal of which is to make wMM a dependable and effective partner without our needing to rely solely on volume to do so. Stay tuned on this one…
COOLS: These partnerships are often so great because of the education aspect, where these local communities can often learn a skill/put their skills to use while learning about the world of business. What have you both learned about yourselves and learned about the brand along the way?
GS & CS: More than anything, I think we appreciate the challenge of running a business and brand optimally. The creative aspects of our job, just like the skills our artisans possess, are essentially innate. However, promoting a brand, staying on top of a calendar and organizing a team all lie on a steep learning curve. We know firsthand how hard this is, and we’re sure that our artisan partners do as well.
COOLS: You have a clear idea and identity of who the wMM woman is and one of the criterions that stuck out to me was that she is a woman who knows that she too is responsible for change. There’s been a lot of buzz around feminism and people have been making it “an aesthetic”, is there a problem in doing so?
GS & CS: We really believe our clients should have an emotional connection to our product. If that stems from a desire to affect change and to support fashion that stands for something more than just product and trend, then more power to your purchase. We want our community to feel they are buying into fashion that’s more than just another item in your closet – fashion that represents the best practices of the industry, that supports the livelihoods of fellow female entrepreneurs and responsible, transparent production. To think of feminism as an aesthetic is compelling, but can often be too galvanizing. Our woman has a quiet confidence, she wears her choices on her sleeves (literally), but doesn’t proselytize. She embodies thoughtful living, strives to be a change-maker and leads by example. That’s feminism we can get behind.
COOLS: Being an eco-conscious luxury brand is no small feat, real talk, what have been some of the biggest challenges in accomplishing this? What do you think it’ll take for society and the industry to realize that this is indeed a very necessary future.
GS & CS: There are many challenges, but the biggest ones involve re-educating the consumer to view eco-conscious fashion as luxury fashion, and to compel them to pay up for it (which we touched on earlier). With the rise of fast fashion, the average retail price people are paying per garment has dropped significantly, so notions of value and expectations of quality have shifted, or altogether disappeared. We love a bargain as much as the next person, but we also believe in investment, and eco-conscious fashion is a business model built around that nexus. You are right – it is a necessary future and we cannot continue to pack our landfills full of disposable fashion. Just as people have recognized the importance of recycling, clean energy and reducing our carbon footprints, so too will they start to modify their shopping habits. They all go hand-in-hand. Of course, this won’t happen overnight, but we think small brands like ours, as well as major players in the industry, are optimistic. Conscious fashion is the new, necessary frontier.