We, Team ATPB, are concerned about the crisis in the fashion industry during this time of uncertainty. Throughout this new series, Fashion After COVID-19, we want to follow up with independent fashion designers, some you may have previously seen featured in our Designer Spotlight series. We look forward to sharing their unique points of view about how this will affect fashion and, by extension, their brand, in the long run. Many businesses have shut down, and small businesses are the most vulnerable, so it’s important to show up and support independent brands however we are able.
Fashion After Covid-19: Aisling Camps
We inaugurate Fashion After Covid-19, with Aisling Camps, a Trinidadian designer currently based in Brooklyn, New York. The U.S. and the New York region in particular have been severely affected, and the population is still in lockdown. For All the Pretty Birds, the designer discusses her experience with the crisis that impacts her home city, Port-of-Spain, her daily life during the quarantine, and above all, how she envisions Aisling Camps, her eponymous brand’s future post-pandemic.
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: In this time of confinement, how do you perceive this situation weighing on New York? Trinidad?
Aisling Camps: This is the first time everyone everywhere in the world has been experiencing pretty much the same thing. I’ve been quarantining in New York while my family is in Trinidad. Both economies have been deeply affected and everyone is wearing masks and washing their hands profusely. I mean, New Yorkers are tough and resilient, and Trinidadians have an uncanny ability to laugh through the worst of hardships. So ultimately, I think both will recover, but I don’t know what the long term effects are going to be.
AWK: When it comes to fashion, what is most important? How do you stay in tune with your values as a designer?
AC: The most important thing is to bring people joy with what you’re putting out into the world. More than ever before, I think we are being told that a lot of careers are nonessential. I believe my ethos as a designer has always been to make something special with a unique point of view. I mean, we don’t need a ton of clothing but making someone’s day a little brighter and making them feel confident about how they look should still count for something, right? If anything, it forces me to be even more thoughtful about crafting a great garment. There’s enough stuff out there. I want to make things that are exceptional.
AWK: Having to slow down has made us understand that we’re all facing a global pandemic and that our habits must change imperatively, for the future of this planet, as well as for generations to come. How do you see the future of fashion? The future of your brand?
AC: I think D-Day for fashion has been a long time coming, unfortunately. We really couldn’t continue at this rate of excess. All across the retail industry, we’ve seen heads roll for the last couple of years. I think Coronavirus has just been a catalyst to end an era that was ripe with issues and begging for fundamental change. Honestly, I think there will be more and more of an oligopoly between Kering and LVMH on the luxury end, and Zara, of course, will survive, the rest? I don’t know how this will all play out. I hope there will be more of an appreciation and support for independent designers. My brand from the beginning has always been a passion project where I get to create things that I think are special, and I have very slowly built it into what it is. I hope there will be a space for it in the future landscape of the fashion industry. But even if there isn’t, I’ve always had to carve out my own lane and will continue to do so—nothing new there.
AWK: Can you please share the state of your business at the moment. Have you had to lay off staff? How are your online sales going?
AC: Fortunately/unfortunately, I’ve always been a one-woman show, so no layoffs. My online sales continue to trickle in slowly, but it’s definitely not a ton. I’m lucky enough to have some consulting gigs for some special secret projects keeping me afloat, though, so I feel incredibly fortunate.
AWK: Did you offer online shopping before the pandemic? How is your business faring with retailers? How did you adapt your shipping procedures to protect your staff and customers?
AC: I’ve always had online shopping, as my business is mostly direct-to-consumer. I have not had any setbacks with retailers luckily, as I mainly did pop-ups and had no long term commitments. I’ve been isolating since March doing my best to avoid contracting the virus and try only to send things out to ship one day a week to avoid unnecessary contact.
AWK: What is the flow of work at your design studio? How did you feel creatively considering the moment?
AC: Honestly, I have not felt super creative with fashion during the quarantine. I’ve tweaked and improved a couple of old designs that I plan to release later this year. At first, I felt guilty about not making the most of the pandemic and the free time, but people are dying out there, businesses are collapsing, and it’s all very disconcerting. With all of that on our minds, it has been challenging to focus on designing fashion, especially as we don’t know what the landscape will look like post-pandemic. I have been gardening a lot, though. My fire escape in Brooklyn has turned into a mini-masterpiece, and I have been excited by nature and the optimism of spring as it unfolds, sprouting seeds and looking for rare plants online to add to my collection. My creativity has all gone into plants!
AWK: Have you been in contact with other designers or retailers? How are you supporting one another and the fashion community at the moment?
AC: I have been in contact with a couple of people in the industry that I am friendly with, but I feel like a lot of designers aren’t divulging too much publicly as there is just a lot of uncertainty. I focus on maintaining my relationships with my clients for contract work as we wait for the storm to pass.
AWK: In your opinion, what brands and retailers can do to spread the message about Anti-Racism and support the Black Lives Matter movement?
AC: I think at the end of the day, this is an issue about power, a made-up thing called the race, and maintaining the status quo of the haves, and the have nots. The last week has been so upsetting. I am sad, and I am tired. I think that tolerating one another is not enough. The only way to affect change is for those in positions of power to empower others with less. So many times, we see campaigns that feature Black girls in couture that use Black bodies as a bandaid, but there is no one behind the scenes making decisions that are Black. I think that what brands and retailers can do is take a moment of self-reflection and recognize whether or not their organization truly empowers Black people instead of just posting the same stuff on social media. Hire that Black graphic designer, pattern maker, merchandiser, marketing specialist, whatever.
Moreover, allow these people in your company to advance up the corporate ladder, so they too have a seat at the table. Do the work and find them because we are out here doing exceptional work, that is your choice and your responsibility. So before you hire your colleague’s friend that basically looks like everybody else in your office, do your due diligence and find a Black person who can do the job. With retailers, I’d say the same, find that Black designer that’s doing something great, and actively empower them by giving them a platform to showcase their work. I’ve been working in this industry for a while now, and part of the reason that I did my own thing was because no one would hire me. I am a Black immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago with big hair and an accent. I am not a well-connected elite with the right family name and the ability to work for free in the expensive New York City. Give more opportunities where you can, share the power that you have, and open some damn doors for us, too, because we have the skills.
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#Repost @alltheprettybirdsofficial ・・・ 🇹🇹 born, @aislingcamps made her way to the 🇺🇸 and eventually launched her brand. Her garments have been worn by the likes of @iamcardib and our fave @traceeellisross! She spoke to @amandawinniekabuiku for our #DesignerSpotlightSeries. Link in bio to read! (Image via @tamumcpherson)
AWK: Have you seen the open letter that Dries Van Noten spearheaded? What do you think, did you sign?
AC: I saw it and agreed with what he said but didn’t sign it. Our customers have come to expect regular discounts with the way things were. The timing of deliveries was illogical as well. When I sold my line at a small boutique in Sag Harbor, customers were relieved to find lightweight gauzy knit cover-ups in the middle of summer instead of bulky wool sweaters. It’s just common sense to sell the clothing for a season during the said season.
AWK: How many collections did you show a year? How many do you expect to do now?
AC: I never had the privilege (or the funds) to have a show, and the way things are going now, shows may have become an extravagance of the past. Never say never, though. I will continue to develop slowly and present new styles when I think they’re ready.
AWK: If you had to create only one piece, which would it be and why?
AC: I would say the Steph crop top that I’m bringing back this year. It was an old bestseller that has all the DNA of the brand, understated cutouts, unusual knit details, and a boxy cut that’s flattering on everybody. It’s identifiable and unique but wearable. An old fashion mentor once told me if you design a garment, and it could easily be mistaken for several other brands’ work, don’t make it. If we don’t create and produce unique, beautiful things that make people happy, inspire people, and inspire others to create, then what are we doing? We create culture, and that is essential work.