“There are definitely sustainable elements to our practice,” says Eckhaus, “but we never have been like, ‘We are a sustainable brand,’ and I think that’s important.”
Eckhaus and Latta met at the Rhode Island School of Design, where they studied sculpture and textile design, respectively, and bonded over thrift shopping. Early Eckhaus Latta collections were made almost entirely from deadstock fabrics, upcycled material, and refuse—all stuff that was cheap and easy to find in Providence. The duo’s approach was born out of art-school resourcefulness, not environmental activism, but their techniques have made them pioneers of sustainable design—even if they’ve never quite embraced the role.
“We didn’t want to get pigeonholed as an eco-brand,” says Latta. “We didn’t want to make clothes that would be sold in Whole Foods. We wanted the clothes to stand for themselves.”
People love Eckhaus Latta because of what the brand makes, not how the designers make it. The clothes have the mix of sensible functionality and freaky ingenuity that art kids and other hyper-cool downtowners find irresistible. The label has been described as post-gender, with runway shows that feature men and women wearing the brand’s signature sheer knitwear and fluid suiting. An exhibition Eckhaus Latta staged at the Whitney Museum in 2018 included garments crocheted using plastic shopping bags and a series of old-stock T-shirts and sweatshirts that had been dyed, deconstructed, and reconfigured.
As Eckhaus and Latta get to work on their 20th collection, their eco-practices have shifted. They continue to incorporate deadstock and waste materials into their work, but only as part of small, limited collections. Instead, they’re focusing on retaining their sustainable practices as their manufacturing scales up. “We still have a cottage-knitting setup,” Latta says. “This way we can hold on to how we like to work and still comply with wanting to grow the business.”
Expanding their production abroad has led to some interesting discoveries. “In Peru we saw our tee factory that uses Peruvian pima cotton, and they have tons of leftovers, warehouses full,” Latta says. Other, less resourceful designers may not have even noticed an opportunity in the discarded material. “Part of the problem now is that we try to explain to our factories, ‘No, we’re interested in your leftovers,’ and they’re like, ‘Why?’ ”
Thanks to this new generation of designers, the answer is finally becoming obvious.
A version of this story originally appeared in the April 2020 issue with the title “Redefining Sustainability.”
Photographs for Marine Serre by Piotr Niepsuj
Photographs for Phoebe English by Sophie Green
Photographs for GmbH by Maxime Ballesteros
Production for GmbH by Iconoclast Image Germany
Photographs for Eckhaus Latta by Corey Olsen
Grooming for Eckhaus Latta by Juliette Perreux at The Wall Group using Charlotte Tillbury