Here we are. Week X of Quarantine Life, wondering what many of our tomorrow’s will look like. We talked with Vanessa Barboni Hallik, CEO and Founder of the brand paving the way for sustainable fashion, Another Tomorrow. So Fashion is a Pathway to Activism? It can be.
Welcome to our premier shoot in quarantine featuring SBJCT’s co-founder ME wearing the AT collection, and the beginning of our partnership with SPEAKABLE, so that you can be a part of the change brands like AT want to see in the world (check out the cool action button after the interview). These times are challenging, to say the least. Let’s use them to ask the most of ourselves. Read on…
BY ERIN WALSH
Erin Walsh Let’s talk responsibility and purpose and how you got started- tell me about your career transition that led you to ANOTHER TOMORROW.
Vanessa Barboni Hallik Another Tomorrow was an accident for me. The starting point was clear. I had a moment of clarity in late 2016/early 2017 that I wanted to spend the rest of my career putting my energy toward purposeful change. Initially I thought I would stay in finance and ultimately took a sabbatical from my career in emerging markets to make that transition. At the beginning of that time, I decided to look at a number of different industries to try to understand their impacts on a global scale starting from the bottom up. When I got to fashion, it stopped me in my tracks. The impacts are enormous on people, animals, and the planet and the complexity and opacity of the supply chains are just immense. It became information I could not unknown and I felt what I can only describe as a calling, professionally for the first time in my life, to be a part of the solution in this industry.
Looking back now, I can see that in some ways the seeds for this decision were sown long ago. I grew up in a hippie, academic, household surrounded by ideas around conscious consumerism with an artist mother and a sociologist father in small towns in the midwest. Fashion itself became much more important to me as a professional woman in a conservative industry as one of few means of personal expression so in a weird way it’s all full circle that I am applying my business knowledge to a problem of both personal and global significance.
EW Who were some of your “cheerleaders and mentors” during this transition?
VBH My husband, my sister, a couple of close friends, one of my mentors during my finance career, and a senior executive in the fashion industry who really showed me the ropes having had zero experience otherwise in the industry. Each of them had a deep understanding of who I was as a full person and could understand how this opportunity allowed me to bring my best self to a problem that deeply motivated me.
EW What is your “three pronged approach” to sustainable fashion? How did it come about?
VBH My three pronged approach is creating a foundational wardrobe of ethically and responsibly made clothing, and a platform education and activism to amplify our collective voices. To create change, I truly believe you need all three working together.
What ultimately led me to start a brand in the first place is that this is where the consumer relationship exists – between people and the brands who add value to their lives. There is a clear dearth of values-aligned product out there modeling what can be done and there was and is considerable white space to bring exceptional quality to the market at a more accessible price point. At the same time, that’s not enough. Education and advocacy are key. Education because apparel supply chains are exceptionally opaque and complex and there is a lot of consumer education required to build the foundations for better choices. And advocacy because better choices are not enough either – governments need to step up to improve regulation to support living wages, compassionate treatment of animals, and regulate the environmental impacts of the industry as well as creating the enabling infrastructure for a more circular economy.
DRESS Another Tomorrow SHOES Adidas
EW Tell me about the AT aesthetic and how it unfolded?
VBH The Another Tomorrow aesthetic is all about strength in tailoring and construction married with femininity. It’s that tension and exquisite beauty in walking the line. I’m not the designer, but by the time I started the company my personal taste was clear and I heard from so many women that they were looking for that same timeless, powerful, modern, elegance and that’s what I looked for in a design partner. When I met Jane Chung, our Creative Director, I immediately saw that common vision in her work as she had just created her own line, Summa Studio. She also has this incredible curiosity and candor which I so value and which was absolutely essential to ensuring there was very strong design leadership to ensure there was zero compromise in esthetic even with extremely constrained raw material choices.
The funny thing is that we actually dress pretty differently on a day to day basis interpreting many of the same pieces in really different ways. Our differences in personal expression combined with the fact that our esthetic grounding comes from the same place I think that allows us to reach an incredible range of women.
It’s that tension and exquisite beauty in walking the line.
EW Lets talk about fashion and its role in storytelling. I believe it was Joan Didion who said, “ we tell ourselves stories in order to live”. I love that you have returned to this premise in your purpose. Tell me your thoughts on both fashion as a narrative and its responsibility in bringing facts and information to the table.
VBH Fashion is such a remarkable form of personal expression. It’s really what sets us apart from other species, which I find fascinating.
But our personal values have been largely left out of the narrative it allows us to express. So I ask, what if we could reconnect to that narrative, to the eco-system, that journey behind the garment?
I believe it’s our responsibility to make seen those who make this creation possible from the farm to the mill to the manufacturer.
We approach this in a few different ways. One is by showing the provenance story of each garment through a QR code on the care label linked to its unique digital identity. We also have an extensive sustainability section on the website and an editorially independent Magazine dedicated to telling the long-form narrative stories around supply chains that tend to be missing in mainstream journalism.
EW What has frustrated you most in the process of making your company?
VBH That’s a great question. In general it’s been a joy, but I’d say I was most dismayed by how hollowed out the apparel industry has become in the United States and how few factories here in New York, or LA, are aligned on paying living wages to their workers. As a small brand unable to be vertical in our production, or to have significant influence on manufacturers, this led us to Europe, where we still had to do extensive auditing, but ended up finding suppliers with a strongly values-aligned approach and strong local regulation.
It’s my mission as we grow to help rebuild a lost industry in the United States as part of our manufacturing, particularly as we source much of our raw organic cotton here.
EW What is your biggest complaint about moving into this industry in general?
VBH The fashion industry is one of the most inherently speculative industries I’ve ever seen. It’s the “if we build it they will come” attitude taken to the extreme. That creates a value-destructive mark-down cycle due to overproduction and products that don’t work.
DRESS Another Tomorrow SHOES Adidas
EW What are some of the issues with supply chain you found in the process of developing your company?
VBH It’s really hard to know what’s really going on unless you show up yourself. Sustainability issues, particularly when it comes to raw materials, are fundamentally local so what we’ve found is that we have to show up and build relationships at the source – at the farm – whenever we can. We’ve found real joy in doing so, but ultimately not everyone can do this so we have to find ways to bubble up that local level information to the decision makers in production within the broader industry.
EW What has been the most pleasant surprise about the industry in the process of doing this?
VBH I love how inherently collaborative this industry is. It takes an incredible number of experts in their field to make a garment, to create a stunning image. Everyone plays a role and each role is vitally important.
EW What is your number one piece of advice for becoming a more conscious consumer? Citizen? Designer?
VBH Stay curious and ask questions!
EW What supply chains and factories do you collaborate with?
VBH We work with a small number of core materials: organic cotton, organic linen, ethical wool, and sustainable viscose and our goal is to have relationships at the farm level wherever possible, as we do with the two farms from which we source our wool directly in Tasmania and our organic cotton sources for our t-shirts in the US.
From there, we make almost entirely custom fabrics working with mills in Italy and Portugal – our organic linen mill in Belgium is the only one where we purchase an existing quality as they have been doing this for years. We try to locate our manufacturing as close to our mills as possible to keep the supply chains short and have personal relationships with every single supplier who makes our garments. There is zero subcontracting and everyone pays a living wage.
We are honored to have relationships on the ground at the raw material level in most of our supply chains and have learned what true sustainability means most directly from the people working on the farm, often dealing with very challenging circumstances.
EW What are your best resources for keeping your goals in check? That is, given your ethical mission, who helps keep you on that path without compromising your values?
VBH Our team. At the beginning of this year, we laid out all of our core values and our core goals as a company. We hold each other accountable and we’ve created true transparency for our customer as an architecture to maintain that accountability over time. For me, growth is only success if we do so in line with our ability to have positive impact.
EW Any muses come to mind in your design process?
VBH Our customer is our muse and there are so many women who inspire us every day.
EW This has been a challenging month to say the least. How do you think your business model will shift in a post-covid world?
VBH Great question. It’s very difficult to tell how our customers’ needs will evolve so we are trying to stay nimble and watch that closely as we believe our customer’s true product needs are at the core of how we create value. It is clear to me however that we are going to evolve to a world of much stronger, and genuine, collaboration among independent brands and that is very exciting.
We need to create value for our customer to survive and we need each other’s communities and creativity to survive.
EW Any new needs or white space you see resulting from this shift?
VBH For now, mostly this idea of networks, collaboration, and deeper dialogue with our customer, our community.
DRESS Another Tomorrow
I revel in the smallest joys and breathe in the scent from the flowers I used to rush past.
EW How have you been spending your quarantine days?
VBH Working – a lot – and really appreciating my time with my family. Necessity is truly the mother of invention and I’ve found the difficulty of this period both clarifying and the source of much creativity from a business perspective. I’ve also loved having lunch and going for a walk with my husband every day and seeing my step-kids much more. I revel in the smallest joys and breathe in the scent from the flowers I used to rush past.
SHIRT Another Tomorrow
EW If we are meant to “be the change we want to see in the world”, I think its pretty clear what you are creating is doing just that. Are there any other big changes you would like to create in your lifetime? 5 or 10 year goals?
VBH My goal is to change expectations – as a small company I think that’s the most powerful thing we can do. My goal is to reset expectations for transparency, for what workers should be paid, for how we treat the environment, and for how we treat animals in the supply chain.
SUIT Another Tomorrow SHOES Adidas
EW What other brands do you think are leading the way in terms of sustainability and ethical practices?
VBH I admire Eileen Fisher, Mara Hoffman, and Patagonia. Our aesthetics are different, but each of them walks the talk and when faced with new information about how their supply chains impact the world they don’t sit on it, they change. They are also incredibly open with others, which I believe is the hallmark of a sustainable and ethical brand.
EW What is your MUST HAVE piece of AT that every woman must own?
VBH Can I name two? Our wool blazers, which are just exquisite – you have to try one on and you’ll see. And our t-shirts, which we have perfected the hell out of and they are so durable, perfectly cut, and soft.
EW Favorite meal during quarantine?
VBH My veggie tacos I eat at lunch almost every day.
EW Favorite meal out of quarantine?
VBH Thai green curry!
EW Any wellness or piece of mind hacks you would like to share?
VBH Vedic meditation has saved my life. I mean that. It has transformed my perspective, my experience of this life and every single one of my relationships.
EW Vanessa, What’s Your SBJCT? What really moves you?
VBH An inner knowing that we are capable of more as humans, that I am capable of more as a human. That life is not zero sum and that we can create systems and ways of interacting that create mutual value.
TRENCH COAT Another Tomorrow