Contributing Monkie G Monkie
Published on May 8, 2009
Photography by Stefan Arni and his directing partner SIggi Kinski
This week we are lucky to have an exclusive interview with the founders of the fashion house SUST. With the seeds of their company planted in California, these two women, Marion McKee and Tristan Gribbin, have set out to make a mainstream fashion brand, with a green core. They are committed to designing desirable clothing, which looks and feels great, using only the finest 100% organicly grown cottons. They have even committed to having all their garments made in Northern California to ensure all workers are fairly treated, while receiving sustainable wages. Not your typical fashion company business model by a long shot. I guess they didn’t get the insiders handbook to creating a global brand on the cheap. You know the standard chemical / near slave labor production cycle. Isn’t that the right path to creating a main stream brand?
G Monkie: Tristan / Marion, your company is fairly new, only starting in 2008. When you jumped in to create this new fashion brand, what previous experience did you and how did you know what you wanted. to create?
Marion McKee, Co-Founder: I have fourteen years experience as an accessory designer with my own line Marion McKee Designs, which sells in specialty stores and boutiques across the nation. I also owned a skateboard/snowboard shop of street wear trends in the 1990’s in the heart of San Francisco’s Haight Street District. All my experience has stemmed from my love of fashion when I was in school and the merchandising and design classes I took in college.
Tristan Gribbin, Co-Founder: I have a background in theater and entertainment and have seen eye to eye with Marion on style since we’ve been friends in the seventh grade. When we were in junior high we were always sketching punk and new wave designs and passing them around in class! And then, when we were in high school we were Mods and that is still a heavy influence in our style and our designs for SUST today.
G Monkie: Which designers or companies in the green fashion space have inspired you and have they influenced your business model?
Tristan / Marion: We both have great respect for pioneers in the organic apparel industry. Scott Leonard of Indigenous Designs is a childhood friend and has been our mentor, and he has been in the organic + fair trade business for fourteen years, way ahead of the pack. We admire Linda Loudermilk and her groundbreaking development of eco fabrics. Gregory Rogan, designer for Loomstate, for helping bring organic apparel to the mainstream where it belongs. Jenny Hwa, of Loyale, is an inspiration to us as a pioneer who puts her whole heart and soul into her work and helps bring organics to the fashion world on her terms. Joslin Van Arsdale of Eco Citizen has created a fashion forward eco-boutique in San Francisco that takes the “hippy granola” out of environmentally friendly style. We admire TOMS Shoes for the important service they provide to the developing world. Also, Organic by John Patrick makes classic essential organic clothing that we love. All of these amazing people contribute something valuable and unique to environmentally conscious fashion and they have all been successful models for us.
G Monkie: Who are your favorite designers in the fashion industry as a whole and what makes them special?
Tristan / Marion: Favorite designers: We love designers like Chloe and Gucci, and a line called Aftur in Iceland that we find inspirational. But, for clothing like our SUST line, we love to wear designs from Vince, James Perse, Velvet, and Bread & Butter.
G Monkie: So far, what has been good about taking this path and has anything turned out to be more difficult that you expected?
Tristan / Marion: We initially conceived the concept for SUST in 2000, which was very early in the Green Fashion moment. At that point in time, we thought that the world wasn’t quite ready for us, so we waited until when there was enough momentum in the green movement to get started. We found a hole in the market for organic clothing, there wasn’t a lot on the market in the bright, stylish aesthetic that we love and decided to climb the hill towards making our vision a reality. It’s been an enlightening road so far, combining our creative visions, developing conscious production methods, materials and sources, and building an effective infrastructure is hard work and so we’ve expanded our team to focus on the business. The economic environment has created a great opportunity for us right now, we’re very lucky in that the only way to go is up! It’s a ripe opportunity to find fantastic people, so we’ve grown the team with a competitive overhead structure. We are all passionate and have positioned SUST for success. It’s been a paced growth strategy and we like that! We think about SUST like good, slow food- it will grow in it’s own time and end up stronger with more life force and flavor!
G Monkie: How do you think the state of the economy will effect the green movement?
Tristan / Marion: We think that the state of the economy is like a shake down, and people want change. People now more than ever want to buy things of quality and we, along with the green movement are trying to provide quality items that are long lasting in terms of style. This is in alignment with the change people are looking for. We aim to create a collection of essentials and to offer sustainable products with a great value proposition, so everyone can have access to quality organic clothing. At the end of the day, we believe that the state of the economy will strengthen the movement because the global efforts towards solutions are in their nascent stage. This is not trendy or a passing fad.
G Monkie: What is different about your clothing?
Tristan / Marion: When we started conceptualizing SUST, we carefully researched the apparel market and felt that there was a void in contemporary casual, brightly colored items that we love. A lot of clothing in the eco market has a hippie, folksy look, are logo or art inspired or have a yoga aesthetic that distinguishes them from other non-organic lines. But SUST clothes have the look and the feel of contemporary brands, bringing a breath of fresh air and style to the movement. SUST clothes are made with US-grown certified organic cotton and we currently manage the entire product lifecycle right here in California. We develop our line in a rainbow of colors that reflect our roots and keep our sense of style.
G Monkie: How important are the fabrics?
Tristan / Marion: The super-soft organic cotton that we use is literally the very canvas of our business. It is at the core of the beauty of the SUST line and the sustainable and conscious values that we represent. The fabrics we use are the building blocks of this business and we believe this primary element is critical to our success.
G Monkie: How important are the designs?
Tristan / Marion: It all starts with great product, design is the cornerstone of our business. We believe that well made, trend-right products provide an opportunity for people to shop smart and to buy essentials that fit their lifestyle. Our debut Spring/Summer ’09 line is based on this belief, so we created our version of the perfect key items for the modern and ecologically conscious woman. Because each of our pieces is constructed of beautiful, soft organic Supima cotton, you can wear them casually or dress them up. They even will go under a blazer for work. Moving forward, we will be incorporating more fun, novelty pieces to build upon the clean, modern appeal of our debut line.
G Monkie: How important is the price point for you?
Tristan / Marion:We are determined to keep our price points competitive with non-organic brands of similar style and quality. Our goal is to make organic, stylish products that are accessible for everyone. Each individual can do their part to make a difference in the whole world. If consumers have a choice, we believe they will be responsible and select products that are focused on reducing our impact on the environment.
G Monkie: Your company SUST is focused on sustainable and organic fashion. Does the concept of living "G" bleed over into your personal life?
Tristan / Marion: Both of us were raised in a green environment having grown up in Palo Alto, California with environmentally conscious parents who instilled these values in us. This inherent belief in living a sustainable lifestyle was one of the main motivations to create SUST and to spread responsible fashion to all corners of the clothing market.
On a daily basis, we live green lifestyles by buying organic foods, shopping for local made products, gardening at home, actively supporting recycling and conservation efforts, using alternative methods of transportation and supporting like minded eco and sustainable companies. We also consciously educate ourselves and our families to pass these ideals into future generations.
G Monkie: When creating your designs, who do you have in mind as the perfect customer for your fashion line?
Tristan / Marion: We design clothes for women much like ourselves, those who are educated, socially and environmentally aware, fashion conscious and motivated to be part of the change that we wish to see in the world. SUST clothing is for women who want to green their lives. Our customers are mindful, not wasteful, cultured and possess a clean, modern sense of style.
G Monkie: When you started your company, what was the objective?
Tristan / Marion: We want to create a strong and compelling brand that will help support the movement for sustainability. We would like the SUST to stand for well made, certified organic products made in a socially responsible manner. Our focus is specialty & boutique stores, along with better department stores throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.
G Monkie: With all the bad news about the economy, global warming and just the endless dramas playing out on the news, do you have anything that just makes you feel good or have a laugh?
Tristan / Marion: What makes us laugh: Our kids. Comedies like Something about Mary or You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Dirty Jokes!
G Monkie: Do you have a favorite place or city you love to go to?
Tristan / Marion: Marion’s favorite city is: San Francisco or London. London is a great inspiration for SUST, and the team has traveled there together a few times, and explored Carnaby Street and Portobello Road we have enjoyed the clubs, shopping and being a part of the youth culture.
Tristan’s favorite cities are: Reykjavik, Iceland, and Dublin Ireland, where I lived for six years each, acting in theater and film.
G Monkie: How important is traveling for you? Do you like to travel and does traveling influence your designs in anyway?
Tristan / Marion: We love to travel, and have traveled extensively both together and separately. Together we have been to: London, Reykjavik, Los Angeles, New York, Carmel by the Sea, and Lake Tahoe. We attended UC Santa Cruz together. Marion has been to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Indonesia. Marion’s favorite memories are learning to surf, enjoying the laid back vibe of a tropical vacation, and being on the sand on the beach.
Tristan: I’ve traveled throughout Europe and lived in both Ireland and Iceland, performing a one woman play that toured across Europe and North America. My favorite memories from my travels are doing the Inuit Dance on stage in Nuuk, Greenland and performing at Stanford in front of a full audience of friends and family. I also lived in Singapore and Indonesia as a teenager, where I have memories of my first love, playing soccer and learning about South East Asian cultures.
To see more of SUST designs and the most current collection, checkout at getsust.com