Dina Chavez was, by all accounts, a successful fashion designer. A University of Texas graduate with a laundry list of clients and fashion shows that included New York’s coveted Fashion Week, styling a star for the Grammys, a Project Runway Rio Grande Valley win and a direct affiliation with Fashion X, which started in Austin but soon grew to be statewide, her pedigree was more than impressive under her label, SixChel.
The brand grew in strength and notoriety, as New York to Austin was and remains a strong pipeline for bold ideas, breathtaking styles and the laid-back air of coolness that pervades from Brooklyn to the East Side. Chavez saw the link between the two, admitting, “As a whole, the idea of fashion in New York is city chic, modern and simplistic whereas the style of Austin is laid back, relaxed and ready for the heat. However, when one actually visits both cities, there are several similarities, depending on where in the city you will be or what events you are attending.”
In Chavez’s estimation, the link has only strengthened over time, thanks to innovation. “Technology, smart phones and social media have bridged the gap between who is wearing what right now and the consumer at home looking for that next “it” item to purchase and wear,” she observes. Still, there is the occasional foundational difference that won’t be changed – that thing that stands, resolute. “Austin is still Austin and it is more acceptable and common to wear flip flops with anything, where in New York, you better be a tourist,” she adds.
Fashion, is as an unforgiving mistress as that and, regardless of the source, the pressure always mounts to deliver faster, edgier and, most importantly, more affordable designs to market. And in a world that clamors for more, more, more at cheaper and cheaper prices, something happened early in her career that turned Dina Chavez in a much different direction.
In 2011, her sister was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Heartbroken two years later, when her sister died, Dina re-dedicated herself to a new way of thinking, one that is somewhat antithetical to the nature of the fashion industry. “As her primary caregiver, I spent a lot of time researching the environmental causes of cancer,” Chavez explains, “and it led me to see a whole new world of information on how chemicals and toxins in our environment and products we buy and wear, can lead to potential health problems.”
Chavez analyzed her industry and practices and changed everything about her involvement. “I wanted to make sure that SixChel would not be a contributing factor in creating more toxins by using non-sustainable fabrics. Fabrics such as hemp, organic cotton, bamboo and Tencel are made from natural and sustainable resources, leaving out the chemicals and toxins used to make common man-made fabrics such as rayon, polyester, nylon, etcetera.”
They sound like simple replacements, but, over decades, synthetics have been widely accepted as the norm, as they hold color and shape more readily than natural fabrics. The bright neons and deeper hues reflected in modern fashion design are difficult to replicate, using natural materials, to say nothing of the cutting edge shapes and angles promoted by the likes of Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and other celebrities that push the industry leaders to imagine further. It is a revolutionary impetus in an industry that reveres rebels.
Still, with the increased visibility of sustainable sourcing, thanks to brands like TOMS and campaigns like Trade As One, Chavez has found people to follow where she leads.
“Brands are definitely following the lead of SixChel and other sustainable fashion brands,” she explains. “The phenomenon has been rapidly growing and we are seeing more independent fashion labels that are dedicated to making sustainable fashion. We are seeing more mainstream brands such as Stella McCartney, New Balance, H&M (they are trying) to name a few, that are making more or all of their products sustainable. In Austin alone, there are a number of local designers who are ethical and sustainable fashion brands and the number seems to keep growing.”
It makes these sustainable brands easy to find, and increasingly easier as the demand from consumers, now conscious about their fashion choices, increases. Chavez’s advice is to be conscious and look for brands that ascribe to a more sustainable ethos. But, there is a by-product to such choices that she recognizes will increase the momentum even more. “Most importantly,” she focuses in, “as consumers, we must stop buying fast fashion. These products create a high level of toxins that are released into our water systems.”
Utimately, the increased price is offset in different ways. “In the end, you are not saving money from fast fashion products, you actually end up spending more or the same amount as you would if purchasing a well-made, sustainable garment that will last longer than the fast fashion product,” she adds.
It might cost a little more to the consumer, but haute couture always commands a premium, and the one thing that Chavez’s designs do not sacrifice is in their innovative and eye-catching design is their devotion to the evolution of fashion, itself. One need only look at the provocative angles and playful use of draping fabrics to showcase the feminine form in order to know that SixChel’s designs sacrifice nothing for their sustainable ethic. And that, more than anything else, is the ultimate tribute to her sister – resigning from the faster, better and more mentality to remove harmful processes from the production of very high fashion that’s at home on New York runways, seen at Austin nightlife spots and at the ready in your closet.
To stylishly stand for sustainable, low-toxin fashion, consumers in Austin, New York and world-wide can find SixChel designs online at their website www.sixchelbydinachavez.com. They can also be found at pop-ups and other markets, as the website and SixChel newsletter can keep you informed.