When the pandemic hit, Rachael Wang was in the middle of producing a new collection with the sustainable swimwear brand Ookioh. Like many other creatives, the acclaimed stylist had to pivot and rethink how she was going to approach the collab.
“The design process was limited to remote communication, where normally it would be done in person,” Wang tells Bustle. “Fittings had to be cancelled to protect the health of the pattern maker, the fit model, and our team, and this resulted in the collection not being able to be as size inclusive as I had hoped.”
Other changes included the fabric mill and manufacturer shutting down for employees’ safety, which caused a delay that resulted in pushing back the project’s initial launch date. “Like everyone else, we did the best we could given the circumstances,” Wang says.
The perseverance paid off. The Rachael Wang x Ookioh collection debuted earlier this week, and with its ultra sleek, classic silhouettes, it’s likely going to be everyone’s go-to swimwear brand for the final stretch of summer. The suits are made in Los Angeles using 100% post-consumer waste (recycled nylon and plastic bottles). The manufacturer is a minority- and woman-owned company, and fair wages and ethical working conditions are ensured.
“Eighty percent of garment workers around the world are women,” Wang says. “That those women are paid fair wages and work in safe environments is of the utmost importance to me, so those considerations were at the forefront of my initial conversations with Ookioh. It was a given that I would be designing with a regenerated nylon fabric, and we wanted to keep production local to invest in a local, women-owned business and cut down on transportation-related carbon emissions.”
Aesthetically, Wang shares that she was looking to create something timeless but also a little sensual, too. “[Something] that would celebrate the body and leave good tan lines, if you’re into that kind of thing,” she explains. “I wanted to design something that would be kept for a long, long time and that would be chic at any age on every body.”
For years, Wang has been at the forefront of the sustainability movement in fashion. She was an early champion of intersectional environmentalism long before it became a trendy buzzword. Today, her work in this arena is all the more important as others finally wake up to some uncomfortable realities about how their clothes are made, what goes into their drinking water, and which communities are most affected by economic inequities.
“We must take into account the fact that toxic pollution and hazardous waste contamination sites tend to be located near low-income communities of color,” Wang says. “The health impacts related to this kind of long-term exposure to toxic pollution or to contaminated water like in Flint, Michigan disproportionately affect BIPOC folks. To me, intersectional environmentalism is about centering the voices of those most affected by pollution, extraction, and the climate crisis. We can’t address the environment without addressing environmental racism — there can be no climate justice without social justice.”
Now with the collection launch successfully underway, Wang is looking forward to more quiet, unproductive moments. “I’m resisting society’s constant pressure to be ‘productive,’ just for a moment,” she shares. “I’m giving myself permission, during this important and historical time, to listen, to watch, and to reflect rather than making and creating. This time spent gathering, collecting, and preserving will serve me well when the time comes to be creative again.”