Eco-friendly fabrics have come a long way in recent years and so has Susan Woo, who began her namesake environmentally conscious clothing line in 2009.
Feted with the 2013 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award for sustainable design, Woo said she feels like she’s hitting her stride creatively and has been handed the tools to put her creativity into action.
“When I first started, all the organic fabrics were the most simple, easy, plain fabrics in the world,” she said. “Now, I have been given a much greater palette to work with.” RELATED STORY: The Las Vegas Scene >>
Strong on tailored pieces, Woo’s fall collection features pencil skirts, dresses, blouses, pants, shorts and jackets out of organic cotton and wool, natural silk and leather in black, gray, white, cream and burgundy.
During a year in which fairy tales are being retold on the big screen (“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Jack the Giant Slayer”), Woo said the inspiration for the collection was a damsel in distress who, instead of waiting for a man to come to her rescue, saves herself.
“It has a romantic element to it, but it is not girly or feminine,” she declared.
Powerful females play a constant role in Woo’s work. Every season, she said, she envisions making clothes for a woman she calls Jane Bond.
“She’s so capable and so self-assured,” said Woo.
That female archetype crosses boundaries, and Woo insisted her clothes do, too. “I honestly feel that the collection is more for a spirit than a certain body type or geography,” she said. “It is about this woman who is very confident. There is a real edge to it.”
Woo describes her green approach as a bonus to shoppers, not usually the sole reason they buy her line. However, she is committed to her design process and production being as sustainable as possible.
Woo’s devotion to sustainability started at an early age. She recalled her parents were careful about what they put in and on their bodies. Organic food and makeup were household staples.
“I never grew up drinking soda. I joke they were juicing 20 years ago. They were so ahead of the trends,” she said. “I realized so much of it worked its way into my subconscious. I try to live a very healthy lifestyle.”
Woo’s personal experience is important to her brand. “I really wanted it to be something personal, not just an aesthetic. If you look at the luxury brands and the brands I have worked at in the past, it is about lifestyle. You have an emotional connection with the brand,” said Woo, who toiled at Louis Vuitton, Derek Lam and Chanel before going out on her own. “People who buy the collection really appreciate the story behind it, whether they agree with the eco aspect or not.”
Skirts, blouses and coats have been strong sellers for Susan Woo, according to the designer. “I love a great coat. I will spend money on a great coat. It is a passion of mine,” she said. “Everybody wears a black coat, but you want something special.”
Woo has sold her line, which is priced at retail from $120 to $945, in just a few boutiques, including Bhoomki in New York and Atelier 360 in Greenwich, Conn., on purpose.
“We had talked with department stores, but we weren’t ready. I am a big believer in walking before you run,” said Woo.
But the brand is spreading its wings. It is selling abroad and is even considering entering a department store. Although the deal isn’t done, Woo said, “It is really catering to a certain clientele, and it is more of a boutique [line]. That intrigues us because it would be a comfortable fit.”