Like most city-dwellers, Carol Young knows the struggle of staying stylish while navigating cramped public transportation and busy sidewalks on daily wanderings about town. So after spending the better part of the '90s busing, biking and riding subways through cities like New York and San Francisco, the Los Angeles native and once-again resident decided to launch a line of clothing to outfit what she calls the urban nomad. “I was looking to create pieces that fit into modern life and would address movement, temperature issues and moisture control by incorporating new fabrics and plentiful resources, like used clothing and post-consumer recycled materials,” says Young. Working with that vision, she created a clothing line for the ecosavvy urbanite as part of her master’s thesis at Cornell University. Now, eight years after wrapping up her studies, the 34-year-old runs Undesigned by Carol Young (undesigned.com) from her studio in L.A.’s indie-friendly Echo Park neighborhood.
The shop showcases pieces from Young’s seven elegant-yet-edgy womenswear collections, including a recycled-cotton wrap skirt, an eco-fleece bolero (made from recycled soda bottles) and an iridescent Tencel dress. “The collections are a combination of materials that can be called eco-friendly and fun fabrics like linen and Italian microfiber,” says Young. “I think it’s important to keep using different materials, like a collage.”
When Young first dreamed up Undesigned, she aspired to integrate her Berkeley-bred sense of conscious consumerism into the business. “Going into a profession that’s very wasteful, I wanted the collections to have some kind of eco-aspect,” she says. “But when you talk about sustainability, you have to ask what that really means.” For Young, who continues to design for the urban nomad that originally inspired her clothing line, sustainability can’t exist without durability. The “super-drapey and soft” French meryl-nylonlycra microfiber used in Undesigned’s Caterpillar and Wing series, for instance, isn’t renewable, recycled or organic, but it’s a resilient fabric that could be worn for years of car-free commuting. “Another thing I try to pay attention to is the care of the garment,” Young adds. “If I were making something from a very refined material that was organic but had to be dry-cleaned, how does that work into the cycle of things? I do have some items that are dry-clean-only, but it’s something I’ll be thinking about when designing my next collection.”
Of course, not all Earth-sensitive materials are delicate, precious fabrics that easily get torn and tattered: The hemp denim in one fall 2005 skirt seems far sturdier than any pair of Levi’s, while an embellished bamboo jacket from 2006 feels equally tough and soft. Those unique textures appear to have a steady drawing power for Undesigned’s clientele, which includes celebs like Winona Ryder and Emmylou Harris, but mainly consists of graphic designers, architects, museum curators and other professionals in the arts. For now, Young aims to keep luring her customers with the line’s functionality, simple silhouettes and sophisticated designs instead of playing up any potential trendiness of ecofashion. “It’s important to me that people actually use this stuff and keep it in their wardrobe for a long time,” says Young. “I’d like for them to really love a skirt or dress and then realize, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s organic cotton,’ — then it’s like an added bonus.”
Story by Elizabeth Barker. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2006. The story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.