Rosario Dawson has been a BUST favorite since the ‘90s, and her badass 2007 cover — featuring her posing in knuckle dusters and a veil — remains one of our favorites. It’s even framed on our BUST office wall of fame, right next to our covers featuring Tina Fey and Zooey Deschanel.
We were thrilled to interview Rosario at the New York Fashion Week presentation of her line Studio 189 at the Lower East Side Girls’ Club. Co-founded in 2013 by Rosario and luxury executive Abrima Erwia, Studio 189 is sustainable, ethical, headquartered in Ghana, and works with local artisans. It’s as moral as a fashion line can get, and the perfect response to “fast fashion” brands that pay their employees next to nothing to create cheap, disposable clothes.
Tell us about this collection!
This collection is all about teamwork! This is everyone coming together and doing what they do best, from the indigo, to the batiking, to the patterns, to the beads. We’re working in collaboration with manufacturers, we’re working with people who are doing trainings, we’re working with schools. It’s been amazing to see how we can grow together collectively. This is a lot of hard work, but it’s all come together, it’s really beautiful.
The show notes say that part of the inspiration for this collection was your grandmother’s cape. Can you tell us more about that?
My great-grandmother was a seamstress who worked with International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, and my grandmother was the head secretary for CIS Bank corporation. They were raising five kids on their own, these two women as the heads of household.
I grew up with these stories of my mom saying, “We were really poor and we couldn’t afford all these new, hip clothes,” so my great-grandma actually made the clothes. She had the patterns and would make them from whatever materials we had. But that also meant that sometimes my mom would be really embarrassed because she’d blend with the curtains and the couch pillows! We don’t have a whole lot of heirlooms, but the ones we have I consider really precious.
In this collection, we were doing a lot of kimonos already and using similar materials and silks. It’s about water, it’s about that fluidity. We’re doing reversible pieces and playing with new textures. We’re using kente cloth, which is really difficult because it takes six weeks to get a yard. And we’re doing shoes for the first time.
You hear “African,” but it doesn’t look like you went to a village and got something and threw it in your closet and never look at again. It feels nice, it looks beautiful.
Rosario Dawson (L), Abrima Erwia (R) and models, all wearing Studio 189.
There’s such a conversation about sustainable fashion, slow fashion, ethical fashion. What drew you to that movement?
For me, I grew up in the Lower East Side. We didn’t have much. My mom used to work for Housing Works, which is all about giving homes to people who have HIV and are homeless. Growing up, I always got things from thrift shops. That’s where I got my 6th grade graduation dress. Thrift shops and hand-me-downs were my life.
When you go to Africa, that’s exactly what they’re doing. We’re sending over masses and masses and masses of stuff. So in our collection, we have upcycling. We have pieces that use jeans. We have scarves made in Sierra Leone because people are sending blankets and sweaters there, but people are like, “I don’t need blankets and sweaters, it’s Africa!” So they unravel them and make these beautiful scarves, and each one is hand done and each is unique because they’re made from whatever parts and pieces they can get.
I love those stories. Let’s figure out a way to do that. This fast fashion stuff, it’s just creating garbage and so much of it ends up polluting our air. That’s why water is a big part of our collection, because a lot of that fast fashion garbage, when it gets to Africa, it ends up polluting and clogging up waterways. We need to stop this fast fashion thing and be more aware of it. There’s a way to still have our lifestyle that we want, but not compromise future generations.
At BUST, we’re all about plus size fashion. Do you have any plans to expand the sizes that Studio 189 offers?
We don’t do very many fitted things, so we’re really into our bubus and we’re really into our flowing pieces. My mom is 6 foot tall with boobs out to here, but in our sample sizes, she’s saying, “I’ll wear this, and I’ll wear this,” and she’s able to wear it all.
If you’re a guy or a girl of whatever size, you’ll find something you love. You can mix and match and play with it in different ways. We have a coupled tailored pieces, and maybe we’ll continue to grow with that, but with the free-flowing, water-inspired pieces, that’s about being in the flow and making everyone feel comfortable and good in it.
Photos courtesy Studio 189