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In the Studio with Ryan Andrewsen: Studying Sartorial Sustainability

Nestled in the cusp between the Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem is NYU student Ryan Andrewsen’s studio. For an up-and-coming designer, his studio is remarkably clean, bright, and organized—an orderliness that is perhaps made even more noticeable when juxtaposed against his vintage decor on the walls and polished, antique furniture that fills the space. Andrewsen is welcoming and kind as he ushers us into his home/workspace, and I can’t help but notice that he’s wearing a very cool T-shirt.

The 22-year-old, soon-to-be graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, first began designing when he moved to NYC four years ago. Shaped by spending his formative years in San Francisco, Andrewsen’s interest in sustainability became engrained through the eco-friendly attitude that is suffused throughout the West Coast region.

“Living in the Bay Area, everyone is environmentally-conscious in their own kind of way,” Andrewsen says. “When I was growing up, me and my family had this nice house where my mom manicured this beautiful garden, going down a hillside. Growing up, my friends and I would just play superpower games, just running through nature. I guess through that, nature has always been a heavy inspiration.”

Along with school, Andrewsen has juggled multiple forays into the world of fashion. While working for Thom Browne, Andrewsen developed an understanding of suiting—particularly about the ways that Browne has re-invented and re-interpreted the banal perspectives surrounding suiting as we know it. From his hands-on experience in the field, Andrewsen has gleaned creative inspirations for his own designs.

For the last three years, Andrewsen and his work has been featured in the annual Gallatin Fashion Show at NYU, with the most recent show happening this past April. A collective fashion presentation that highlights the work of NYU student designers, The Gallatin Fashion Show provided an opportunity for Andrewsen to create collections for the show through a purposeful lens of sustainability—from his choices in textiles to his practices.

“Every year, I’ve tried to take whatever theme they give me and go off the rails and turn it towards sustainability,” Andrewsen says. “For this year, I aimed to create more practical fashion—stuff that I could wear afterwards too.  My fabrics are stuff that I got from old internships and saved from the trash, or dead stock. I didn’t use any synthetics, all my stretches were bamboo knits. The entire collection was aimed at breaking down the archetypes of garments, because I feel like the fashion industry has fractured our bodies into aspects that are sellable with a garment. Your legs get pants or skirts, your feet get shoes, your chest gets a shirt or a blouse or something, so I tried to disrupt that and create garments that could fit on the body the same way you’d expect them, but also provide a different way of wearing it. This way, the buyer can extend their wardrobe longevity, and by creating pieces that are wardrobe staples in themselves, they won’t get thrown out.”

Despite his West Coast roots, Andrewsen notes that the unique flavor of NYC has certainly rubbed off on him as well.

“New York has certainly evolved my style aesthetic for the better,” he says. “Living here has brought to light a lot of aspects of fashion that weren’t as apparent in the Bay Area, because the Bay Area has a very cohesive sense of style. The streetwear culture here has brought me in tune with how I can actually dress my body, and showcase my personality more. The Bay Area was more stylistically hegemonic, and it very much felt like I was one within a group. But in New York, I feel like everyone tries to set themselves apart since it’s such a big city.”

When he’s not creating garments for a collection or for himself, Andrewsen is a huge proponent of thrifting. Beyond the unique, fashion finds and affordable price tags, thrifting represents a sustainable practice that he’s adopted into his personal life.

“I like to thrift because the fashion world right now is so intrigued by the past, and what clothes have been lost to history,” Andrewsen says. “When you go thrifting, you dive into that archive of forgotten gems. You can find something really interesting. I think I bought this entire outfit like two weekends ago, thrifting. You bring new life to a garment, you extend the use so it’s not ending up in a landfill. A lot of brands are trying to do a lifecycle analysis of the garment itself, you need to take into consideration all the chemicals, water use, the land use, the human input. The more you wear it, the more you can justify those input costs for making the garment. When you go thrifting, you’re extending that and bringing new use and new value to it.”

With such strong focus and intention toward creating sustainable clothing, Andrewsen finds himself at a crossroads when it comes to his future—where does a small, sustainable designer find himself in the midst of a fashion climate largely dominated by European luxury?

“There is that blockade against sustainability, because the industry hasn’t fully shifted,” Andrewsen says. “Anything you want to do sustainably, brands have to invest in the movement independently. And at the current moment, it’s really expensive. Some fashion corporations, like Kering, are doing a great job with trying to change the mode of fashion production—but for small designers like me, we don’t have a voice. But they can spark change, and create these pathways for diffusion of better decision making in fashion production.”

For the rest of 2018, Andrewsen plans to continue his search for his place in the world of fashion.

“I still feel like I need to fine tune my aesthetic a little bit, and see what approach I want to have. Do I want to make my own brand? Do I want to apprentice under a brand? Do I want to go to a design school in Europe?”

But before he nails down his future, he’s got some projects he wants needs to finish first.

“I have a huge collection of scraps that I’ve been assimilating since my first collections, and for a lot of them, like my most recent collection, I used a lot of leftover fabrics, so now it’s down to the smaller scraps. I’m probably going to do a lot of patchwork-y projects to use every last scrap in the pile—I’m hoarding them and don’t have room for anymore. So, yeah, I kind of have to start with that.”

Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits.

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