Following an Emmy award win for his documentary film ‘Remastered’ and two hugely successful runway shows in London and Edinburgh this February; we spoke to visual artist and sustainable fashion pioneer Jeff Garner about dressing Taylor Swift and the Jonas brothers in hemp and the inspiration behind his eco label Prophetik.
In 2011, Livia Firth stepped out on the red carpet at the Golden Globes wearing a glamorous, beautiful and sustainable dress for the Green Carpet Challenge. It was a naturally-dyed indigo coloured peace silk gown created by designer Jeff Garner, whose label Prophetik has long been a pioneer in the sustainable fashion realm.
Eight years on, Garner’s Prophetik continues to lead the evolution of fashion and challenge our perception of sustainable couture. For the red carpet, the Tennessee-born ‘southern gentleman designer’ has dressed the likes of Gisele Bündchen, Taylor Swift, Cameron Diaz, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Sheryl Crow in his characteristically romantic designs, made from plant-based natural textiles and dyes.
This season, for his 19’ Collection ‘Women of the Crown’ inspired by Mary Queen of Scots, Garner focused on the beautiful craft lace and linens of Scotland. He debuted the collection at Edinburgh Castle. “Edinburgh Castle was a vibrant romantic dream come true seeing local Scottish textiles on a runway inspired by the matriarchal strong figure that was Mary Queen of Scots, in the Great Room where she once held court and danced the night away – I even did a little Tennessee dance number at the end by the fireplace!” said Garner of the show in Edinburgh. “The people of Scotland were so grateful for the collaboration with Historic Environment Scotland and proud that their heritage was taking a main stage in world fashion with a positive message of sustainability. The way one blogger (@scotsstreetstyle) described it was that a dark glooming cloud has been hanging over the creatives of Scotland placing thoughts of shame and not good enough ideas in their minds and this is the type of event and show to make them proud of their heritage and what resources they have to move forward.”
From Scotland, Garner took his show to London Fashion Week, where the wood-panelled room in Notting Hill’s Beach Blanket Babylon provided an appropriately theatrical backdrop with its gold gilt frames and chandeliers. Garner’s charisma and passion for sustainable couture was brought to life by the models gliding down the runway in regal floor-length gowns, romantic tailoring and shimmering embroidery. “London was also inspirational in a different way as Prophetik sponsored ILFWDA (Independent London Fashion week Designers Association) giving six of their designers a platform to show their sustainable collections after our show,” he said. “It is nice to see artisan support of each other – especially in the area of sustainability now that Esthetica is no longer a part of LFW.”
Following the show in London, Garner headed straight back to his hometown state of Tennessee to pick up an Emmy award for his documentary film Remastered. “The Emmy was truly a surprise and I was so joyful for the filmmakers who invested their talents in a subject matter that is gaining importance in the eyes of the public yet not at the forefront, and their investment paid off,” Jeff told us. “The need for awareness of sustainable fashion and the drive to break addiction cycles of fast fashion took a stride forward through being recognised by the Academy in Documentary in Art.”
“I hope it inspires more to engage in their buying power of fashion making educated decisions for the World and their own self,” he adds.
Watch the trailer for Remastered below
Here, Jeff shares the inspiration behind his business, and the story of how it all began:
What inspired you to launch your business?
I started out doing brand merchandise and stage clothing design in Nashville, TN, for the likes of Donna Summer and Barry Manilow. During my production days I realised just how toxic the manufacturing industry was, so I decided to use my creative scientific energies to figure out a different solution.
I grew up on a horse farm, so naturally environmentalism was important to protect the land and the things in which I grew up around – I could not imagine pursuing an art or passion that hurt people and land. My grandparents lived in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and my grandmother taught me the value of protecting the land as she had an organic farm and cooked for the neighbours every Sunday after church. She also taught me the value of natural fibres, plant dyes, and sewing. She was a powerful human being.
I started dressing popular music artists like Taylor Swift and the Jonas brothers in hemp gowns and skinny jeans, evolving into sustainable couture to showcase on the world stage and help bring attention to staple items such as intimates so that the closest things to our bodies are breathable and not adding to a person’s bio accumulation level.
What are your sustainable priorities for it?
My priorities lie in leaving the earth better than when we began, so my ethos is to develop new fabrics, dyes and processes that enhance the design yet fall within the realm of sustainable production values. My goal has always been to educate and break the addiction cycle of commercial synthetics, which might mimic the properties of the natural but are made with ingredients containing toxins. I don’t believe that the scientists paid to make these synthetics were never paid to study the effect on the human body or the synergy of that effect. We need to bring awareness so everyone has an educated decision when it comes to purchasing clothing to place on their bodies.
How challenging has it been to maintain your eco principles?
In the beginning, everyone thought I was a bit crazy. Then my family, who is very old south right wing, thought I was shifting into that hippie world. I believe the world and body health is everybody’s concerns – not a political party statement. Early on, I had to sweetly convince textile makers to trust the vision and start making fabrics with hemp, which is the super fabric. They felt that nobody would want to wear it since the stigma has always been a rough texture or can you smoke it?
Slowly but surely I convinced them to invest in more sustainable textile production by showing them that there is a market. For example, I used hemp t-shirts for the bands I was dressing, leveraging my buying power with band merchandise to help jump-start sustainable textile production in the States. Now there are niche fabric companies in this arena, so it’s much easier for sustainable designers to just simply go online and choose fabrics.
The natural dye solution has a way to go before entering the commercial availability field, but we are working on it. Obviously price points have always been a big debate and issue. Simply everything in life has naturally increased in price – food, gas, houses, land – yet clothing has stayed the same since the Seventies. Someone is paying for that cheap fabric and t-shirt and it usually is the person making it and the environment it is made in. It is not a “true” price…so eco clothing is going to be a “real” cost. But the consumer market is addicted to cheap fast fashion production that is designed to fall apart after a few washes to drive the consumer back into the store to purchase more. This principle is called design obsolescence. As a designer, I feel it is our responsibility to make products that will last the test of time so that a consumer can pass a garment down to their son or daughter and have character. We need to shift this trend-based lifestyle.
What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch a sustainable business?
Stay the course, the sun will shine again. You live with yourself not people’s opinions. Really research and visit your textile company, printer, sewers, zipper makers, everyone in the process…it should be a family and it should be purpose-driven. Fly that flag Joan of Arc.
Which other sustainable businesses have inspired you?
Tesla – I had the honour of having dinner with Elon Musk along with James & Suzy Cameron and the Hilton family – change leaders all in their own elements. [They are al;] visionaries that hold true no matter what the cost and create change on a large scale. I respect each and every one of those innovators. James & Suzy Cameron are dear friends and have made such an impact with James’ vision of how everything is connected and how what we do as humans affects each other and our world. His beautiful wife Suzy has created a sustainable school in Malibu called Muse, which is paving the way for a new school system in the States and overseas.
What have been the main prohibitors to your progress in building a sustainable business?
My own self – losing sight at times, struggling with the concept of success, as most worldly people define it as built on the principle of attaining monetary value. This drive and goal will influence one to take shortcuts and not live the ethical life of sustainable principles in the name of business. Being a purist and holding on to these principles, it is hard sometimes to survive as you compete against mainstream brands financed by commercial ventures. No one then or now sees mass commercial profit in what I do, limited by fabrics, dyes, and a caring market. I know one day this effort will yield itself to a shift in consciousness and help drive the market into caring about what you put on your body, similar to the Whole Foods Market ethos of caring about what you put in your body. Hopefully it will be before I fight that bear in the woods at 72.
What have been your biggest milestones and triumphs until now?
Our documentary ‘Remastered’ has just won an Emmy, which is exciting as it will lead to more awareness and the film industry is such a big platform. Also, on February 7th I showcased my newest collection – “Women of the Crown” inspired by Mary Queen of Scots and the powerful ladies of the Renaissance era – at Edinburgh Castle, presented by the Historic Environment of Scotland.
My biggest milestone is finishing each collection with limited resources and time and being better than the last season to exceed the expectations of everyone watching.