By Miranda Levingston
Name: Samantha Giordano
Occupation: Founder/Fashion Designer at Dolores Haze
Hometown: West Orange, NJ
Current Neighborhood: Bushwick
Light beams glinted on the silky, gold threads of a reversible dragon bomber jacket in Samantha Giordano’s eclectic Fashion District studio. Giordano effused about girl power and globally conscious fashion in her tortoiseshell glasses and glimmering green mockneck when I met her there to talk about her brainchild, Dolores Haze—an ethical, feminist online shop and lifestyle blog. The Dolores Haze aesthetic, defined by grunge and kittenish charm, draws on a mix of eccentric fabrics and vintage silhouettes. Hallmarks include baby doll hems, bomber jackets, and emblazoned feminist slogans.
Fashion is Giordano’s medium of choice to advocate for gender equality and environmental change, and this message carries over into how the clothes are made. Fairly paid immigrant women produce her designs locally in Manhattan’s garment district with renewable and vintage textiles.
Dolores Haze is named after the protagonist of the literary classic Lolita and echoes the character’s aesthetic—defined in the clothing company’s mission statement as “hyper-feminine, yet possessing an undercurrent of darkness.” Dolores Haze’s name, mission statement, and image raise awareness of the pros and cons of being a woman in American society, and work to diminish the cons.
Giordano said her sociology studies at Barnard, where she concentrated in post-structuralist theory, and her design studies at Parsons and Central St. Martins University in London are the driving forces behind her ultimate goal: to use fashion to challenge the archetype of femininity through an imaginative approach to vintage fabrics and designs.
We sat down with Giordano in her sunny, knickknack-filled studio to talk about eco-friendly, ethical fashion, radical self-confidence, and her upcoming projects.
Your brand, Dolores Haze, takes its name from the protagonist of Lolita. In your brand’s bio you explain Dolores Haze’s aesthetic as “hyper-feminine” with an “undercurrent of darkness.” How do you balance the two energies when designing a collection?
These two energies: the “hyper-feminine” and the “undercurrent of darkness,” are where I find inspiration. I don’t have to make a conscious effort to balance them. The way this manifests differs in each collection. In the past I’ve created mini skirts and halters out of leather, but in hyper-feminine shades of ballet pink and baby blue. Recently, I’ve been working with Fire Dragon Brocade textiles. The Fire Dragon, from the Chinese Zodiac, embodies many traits such as being competitive, an empire builder, self-confident, and in the quest for knowledge and power. The masculine traits embodied by the Fire Dragon juxtaposed with feminine silhouettes such as pin-up shorts and crop tops is one of the ways in which I balance these two energies in our most recent collection.
In your mission statement, you inform your readers that the Dolores Haze team encourages radical self-confidence and advocates girl power. Your brand works with and features inspiring women. You even sell earrings emblazoned with “feminist.” In the fashion industry, have you seen change in regards to normalizing feminism and encouraging consumers’ self-confidence?
The fashion industry’s made great strides in normalizing feminism and promoting self-confidence. There has been a noticeable surge in diversity among models, which is essential to progress. While it’s germane to equality to promote feminism and self-confidence, what I fear is that feminism’s becoming commodified and may devolve into a movement that’s only about empowering the individual as opposing to the collective. Feminism isn’t about a selfie or hashtag, it’s about real political change. Our feminism is about advocating for fundamental human rights, and holding both sexes to the same standards. Confidence is an act of rebellion in a culture that demeans women’s worth by defining femininity by appearances and passivity. If equality’s to become reality, we must challenge the narrative of ascribing gender to traits like assertiveness, power, and success!
The industry’s movement towards self-confidence is applaudable, but it’s also something to be dubious of. It’s paramount for young girls to see an array of body types, but we don’t want to replace the waif model ideal with a voluptuous conception of bodily perfection. Rather, I think it’s crucial to not just encourage women to love their bodies no matter their size, but to start advocating for the radical notion that a woman’s sense of self should never be solely derived by what she looks like. The industry’s promotion of self love has coincided with the normalization of plastic surgery. To an extent, this normalization subliminally teaches our youth that in order to be loved, one must risk their life under anesthesia or inject substances into one’s face and body to conform to an ideal. While some feel empowered, it’s still paramount that we create a dialogue around the pernicious effects of the commodification of female insecurity in our culture.
Sustainable fashion is a hallmark of Dolores Haze. How can women make more environmentally conscious fashion choices when it comes to their daily routine?
Women can make more environmentally conscious fashion choices in their daily routine firstly by using organic dry cleaners, and hand-washing and hang-drying clothing. Most importantly, purchasing clothing from sustainable and local designers is a great way to start being a more environmentally conscious shopper. While the price point is higher than fast-fashion companies, what you’re paying for is the assurance that the clothing was made under fair labor regulations and that they were produced in a manner that lowers the company’s carbon footprint. In addition, thinking about organic fabrics is crucial. Buying products that are made with either organic or vintage cotton is essential. The cotton industry is one of the most exploitative industries that uses toxic pesticides and chemicals during production. We’re proud to use organic cotton along with other sustainable fabrics. We use vegan leather sourced from Italy that’s made without the harsh chemical processes normally used in vegan leather production. In addition, we use organic fabrics such as silk and cupro. When we do use synthetic fabrics, we always source vintage qualities as opposed to creating our own polyblend fabrics that leave hefty carbon footprints that are detrimental to both the environment and the workers creating the fabrics. We sell through several shops that support sustainable designers such as Shop Ethica, Les Femmes, and Shop Helpsy, that give consumers the chance to shop in an environmentally conscious manner.
Your website is a multimedia experience with blog entries about movies, recent music, Polaroids, and notable women in fashion, music, and art. Where are you drawing inspiration from right now? What informs the content you feature?
I’m continuously inspired by the duality of Lolita and other archetypes of femininity, along with everything from my own childhood nostalgia, to the films I see, books I read, and people I meet. The blog features an array of influences that have shaped the brand, and we hope our customers will be excited to discover. I love the idea of the site serving not just as a place to shop but also as a place to get unfiltered, unique cultural content, and discover your next favorite movie or book on the theory of discrimination!
Currently, I’ve been cultivating inspiration from my childhood. While designing the new collection, I became obsessed with these dead-stock brocade textiles from China and Japan sourced locally from Bangladeshi-immigrant run fabric shops. As a kid, I spent a great deal of time in NYC’s Chinatown with my family, searching the neighborhood for hidden China-blue pottery shops and fish markets. My parents exposed me to many cultures outside of own when I was growing up, and the aesthetic of Chinatown really stuck with me. At 12 I had to pick a theme for my Bat-Mitzvah, and I went with China. I went to Chinatown and bought lanterns and umbrellas to decorate the tables, we served Chinese food, and I gave away t-shirts that had dragons embroidered on them above my name. While gathering inspiration for the collection I began to realize that many of the ideas were coming from my childhood. I did further research into the symbolism of dragons in Chinese culture and learned how the Fire Dragon in Chinese astrology is the masculine counterpart to the feminine Phoenix. The juxtaposition of the highly masculine dragon, the fierce empire builder instilled with self-confidence, with hyper-feminine silhouettes is pretty much the type of duality I always search for with inspiration.
Your brand showcases inspiring, avant-garde, and multi-talented young women modeling your designs and featuring in your zines. Do you think it’s important to have a wide range of passions and talents? Why or why not?
Innovation can come from looking to inspiration beyond one’s medium. As an artist I think it’s essential to be impassioned by things beyond fashion. I do not think it’s essential for all women to have a wide range of passions and talents, but individuals should be encouraged to explore an array of interests they may have. When someone learns composition in drawing, that same skill-set can be transferred to photography or set design. Inspiration for design can come from philosophy or even science. A well-rounded perspective is always beneficial.
It’s essential though that women are represented as multifaceted beings. Often creative and professional women are compartmentalized, defined solely by one skill-set or aspiration, while men are portrayed as possessing a fluid range of multiple talents. Personally, I’ve met individuals who were taken aback when I tell them how I work in fashion, am passionate about sustainability, ethical production, and also love foreign affairs and domestic policy.
The reason I love using avant-garde, multi-talented young women to represent Dolores Haze is that I’m casting models who actually inspire me. They’re my muses not because of what they look like, but for who they are fundamentally. I’d rather make customers question what they think is cool as opposed to their own beauty. Often we see some models put on pedestals as “feminist inspirations,” but we need to think about why we do this. Is it just because they’re hot and preach self-love, and if so what are we teaching the youth (of both sexes) to value in women?
What advice do you have for other young women getting started in your industry?
The fashion industry has evolved into a tech industry. I advise any young woman getting started in the industry to fully utilize technology, and to never be shy about sharing and promoting herself or company online. As trite as this sounds, you need to be your own biggest cheerleader in this industry. You need to have inflated self-confidence, so that others and prospective consumers believe in your brand as much as you do. Lastly, any young woman getting into fashion needs to be thick-skinned. As a female entrepreneur I can 100% tell young women that they should be prepared to be doubted far more than their male counterparts.
What are your upcoming projects?
We have an upcoming collaboration with an extremely talented painter and a good friend of mine, Dan Flanagan. His work has been featured in i-D and Naked Magazine, and the fanfare is just getting started. Flanagan’s studio is on the same street as our old Brooklyn studio, and when I first saw his work I literally described it as “trendy Matisse,” and immediately said, “We need to collaborate.” We’re launching a line of organic cotton t-shirts and tote bags with his paintings on them with our upcoming SS17 collection, so stay tuned!
What’s the high point of your career so far?
The high point of my career is twofold. Firstly, as a young sociology student, I felt very strongly about continuing the tradition of social mobility for immigrants through the garment industry. I can’t begin to explain how happy it makes me to know that I’m able to run a business that supports my community and advocates for the issues I feel most strongly about, and that I have the opportunity to share this with other networks in interviews like this. Over 90% of all the fabric vendors that we work with came to the US from Third World countries, and the majority of them are Muslim. I’d often inquire as to why they chose to come to NYC over London or Germany, and over and over again I would hear “this is the land of the free,” “the best country in the world,” and how grateful they were to be here. I don’t just believe immigrants are the backbone of our society—at Dolores Haze we actively support their small businesses.
Another high point of my career is when a young girl from the Philippines, in the budding stages of becoming a fashion blogger, reached out to interview me. Despite the fact that at the time she didn’t have many followers and I wasn’t crazy about the design of her site, I felt strongly that I should help support her, because I know very well that there are not enough women supporting young, driven girls in fashion. After I sent her my responses, she was wrote back telling me how honored she was to have interviewed me, that I inspired her to achieve her dream, and how I opened her eyes to the importance of sustainable and socially responsible fashion. Her words have impacted me far more than she realizes.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I hope to see the continued growth and global expansion of Dolores Haze and to have a family. I hope to see the message of Dolores Haze further resonate with women across the globe. I want to create a movement that not only sells clothing and accessories that fall in line with women’s ethical beliefs, but also, to quote my girl power super-hero Kathleen Hanna “creates a bed of culture that could turn into political change.”
What’s your favorite Dolores Haze item right now?
That’s a hard question! My favorite piece of clothing is the Marsha Crop Top. It has a retro feel because the fabric is actually a vintage textile from the ’90s, and it’s perfect to pair with a high-waisted bottom. My favorite accessories are the Feminist Hoop Earrings, where we donate 10% of the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. I went to a college where the bookstore sold shirts that said “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” so I love the earrings because they’re cute but also because they go back to my youth and education in the importance of feminist activism.
Any great/terrible/funny roommate experiences you’d like to share?
When it comes to roommate experiences I’m pretty fortunate. My roommate and I are best friends, and after living together for a decade, she’s more like a sister than a roommate.
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