It’s a Modular World: interview with Sandra Garratt
Sandra Garratt is no stranger to innovation. She is best known for her modular clothing brands, Units (1979) and Multiples (1989), both which sold in malls throughout the US. Multiples was a line of jersey knits sold as separates, each piece could be worn in multiple ways and could be combined with other pieces or worn separately. I was working at the Northridge Mall around ’89, and remember the ultramodern grid-like display of Multiples and watching in awe the demos of effortless styling. This was fresh, Multiples was in line with electronic music, videos, and graphics of that time. It was clean, simple and smart right down to the presentation. Even better, was that it was sold in flat packaging like an efficient commodity that belied its versatility, this was clothing of the future…
Forward to the present…and the needs of everyday dressing has somewhat changed to include environmental factors. Currently, Sandra Garratt is Design Director of SilvrLining based in Los Angeles, in which she has developed three distinct lines of eco-conscious clothing: MODBOX modular clothing, GO Collection solar power clothing, and DUGWEAR active-urban sportswear. Modern clothing that transcends trends and embody the qualities of being versatile, environmentally sustainable, and most of all wearable for everyday life.
I’m very much inspired by her design philosophy and aesthetic, from Units and Multiples to current lines of GO Collection, DUGWEAR, and MODBOX. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Sandra Garratt on her past and current work, and the future of fashion in Los Angeles…
What was your inspiration for Units and Multiples? and did you think it would have the impact that it did?
My inspiration was actually a FIDM-LA project when I was in design school in 1975. My project was an open project but it had to be a manufactured, high volume line….not at all what I was into at the time, I was totally into couture and special occasion clothing. As I wanted a good grade I wrapped my mind around the idea of easily manufactured clothing using a modular approach, like Leggos for example. when the concept occurred to me it was like Venus born full blown if you know what I mean. The concept appeared to me complete and the modern efficiency implications were vividly clear to me, as were the creative possibilities in every application imaginable.
UNITS A one-size-fits-all clothing store featuring knit skirts, shirts, belts and leggings in coordinating colors. The clothes were sold in UNITS boutiques located in malls throughout the United States. You could buy six different pieces of UNITS clothing and create an entire wardrobe from them. http://www.liketotally80s.com/top-80s-fashion-trends.html
Multiples original modulars – with silhouettes in 100% supima cotton for MODBOX
Is Mod Box an updated version of Units or Multiples?
Yes, it is the 21st century version. The patterns are all my original patterns, but we are using a US 100% cotton interlock these days not the 50/50 cotton/poly that we used then. We are having a great response to the relaunch and it has been quite gratifying to get such wonderful feedback from so many loyal customers. It really is quite unique to have people respond to any product in this way.
Your designs are very modern and well thought out concerning the wearer’s environment (versatility, eco-friendly fabrics, & solar power.) Are you inspired to design by the possibilities of the future or by present conditions?
They (the designs) are based on very ancient primitive shapes and construction techniques but using modern cut & sew knits and machinery. So it’s the very ancient morphed w/ the current modern capabilities and inspired by what is next to come but has not yet come to pass. I try to be in the Now as they say and that includes preparing for the future. Modern means today, of the moment…not really futuristic but now, in this moment and that is where I like to be. I think that to consider the present conditions one sees the possibilities and needs of the future.
Also, I have to ask…Are you a science fiction fan? (movies, books, theories…?)
Very much so…I love Sci Fi and find it very inspirational. I like the Ben Bova space adventure series as it involves a lot of actual NASA technologies and the concept of Nano technology is fascinating to me.
On your site, you mention that although you have a Southern California point of view, your designs are aimed for the global active-urban customer. Who do you define as the global active-urban customer?
The Southern CA point of view is very easy going, Pacific rim influenced with a love of activity and living in the sun shine and lots of colour. To me when I say Global, I am referring to the post punk movement that morphed into early hip-hop and world music influences, and that sense of the new global brotherhood compounded by the world wide web that tied every independent together in a way that has never happened before. The active aspect is based on the CA love of fitness and activities outdoors in all our various environments….snow, ocean desert etc. all an hour or so away….not necessarily part of every day urban life in other cities.
Los Angeles is usually associated with surf, “garmento” fast fashion, or not taken seriously by other fashion cities such as Paris, New York, Milan,…What do you see in the future of fashion in Los Angeles?
I grew up here in Malibu Canyon and left after school because I was not challenged by the design community here, back then. I worked in London and NY and found that all very inspiring and exciting and later Mr Stanley Marcus was on the advisory board of my business and he was a great connoisseur of style and quality. Now after 9-11 the fact is that LA has the largest garment center in the world, but I fear that most companies here don’t really get the scale of opportunities that exist here now. I know Mayor Bloomberg has made some strong moves in NY to support the design community and young designers and the income that produces for NYC. LA still has not awakened to the fact that they can compete on that more sophisticated international high fashion level. The need is here, the lifestyle supports it and the manufacturing capabilities certainly exist here. It should not be a choice of either garmento, etc.. as you describe so well OR high fashion but how about doing both? It can be done and should be. There must be a balance.
I am committed to building our company into a new form of LA fashion company that is progressive in terms of design and using the best textiles possible, both organic as well as high performance and high tech materials. We manufacture only locally and use primarily all American goods. Silk is the exception of course and hemp cannot be grown here legally and bamboo cultivation has met resistance from American farmers. Otherwise all our materials are grown/made in the USA. We do use Ultrasuede, which is because I worked at Halston when I was starting out and he introduced Ultrasuede to the world. The fabric is produced in Japan to a very high standard and is made from entirely recycled polyester. I think it’s a wonderful modern fabric…why use leather? and in a world of fake faux suede Ultrasuede is the real fake. I am here in LA again because I think this is where the future of fashion will be like it or not.
What change would you most like to see in fashion? (aesthetically, industry, design…?)
I would like it to be more design driven and less of this tail wagging the dog business of manufacturers and retailers dictating what is produced, which amounts to an endless stream of knock offs. Where is the innovation? What is new & fresh & interesting and AUTHENTIC? How will stores be profitable, why should people buy if there is nothing meaningful to buy other then great quality basics available to everyone at an accessible price? (that is very MODBOX point of view). One way to create good jobs with a solid tax base in the USA would be to manufacture American clothing in the USA…good jobs, the best organic cotton textiles in the world and styles that actually flatter us and function in our demanding modern lives. The USA can lead in this movement.
What advice would you give to new designers who want to start their own line?
Learn everything you can before you jump onto the board……be as ready as you can be and then work for a designer that you can learn more from, someone you admire. Then focus on how to do business, how to sell fashion and how to get your work seen. Be serious about your work and be prepared to sacrifice and work. The customers will recognize the work, just keep at it and develop your design work in a meaningful way. How can you best serve the design community? What are your strengths? What are your dreams? How to combine them with your efforts to dress others?
What are you working on now?
Right now I am pretty heavily involved with developing SilvrLining. We have the re-launch of MODBOX (my original modular collection) plus developing the DUGWEAR sportswear into a lifestyle line for women, men, kids, dogs, home, etc and of course The GO Collection solar power outerwear and related solar charging accessories.
innovative designer, Sandra Garratt
What is next for you?
We are thinking about opening a SilvrLining store here in downtown LA later this year which would be very exciting to do. I am an English merchant at heart and have missed having my own stores. My longer range dream is to open a Sandra Garratt shop in Palm Springs and do resort wear both active and dressy for that incredibly stylish Palm Springs lifestyle.
One last thing to I’d like to say is that this is a wonderful time for newness and true innovation and I hope the new designers & merchants struggling to break out will have the courage to break down some of these antiquated ideas we have about design and marketing. There is so much opportunity all we have to do is accept that and step into the light.
MODBOX in organic cotton can be found here