Martha’s Vineyard may bring to mind attractive sea captain homes from a bygone era to the summer destination of choice for celebrities and American presidents, lobster dinners, tall grasses, sandy beaches, and the Atlantic - but probably not fashion. Meet Vineyard-based fashion designer Lauren Morgan who just in May launched a line with two different rain jackets for men and women apropos of the weather of New England, and aptly named the Nor’easter and the Down-easter - stylish and practical organic foul weather gear, and sustainably made in the United States. Lauren is nice and hardworking and in character with her eight-hour day trip from the Vineyard to meet me for this interview. On her way, she incorporated two factory visits and an oil change for her car. The very least I could do was have lunch ready upon her arrival.
She and her husband Nate are both graduates of the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning - also known as its acronym DAAP - at the University of Cincinnati. In 2009, when the country was in the midst of the economic downturn and shortly after Lauren’s graduation, Nate’s career as an architect took them to the Vineyard. Moving from the Midwest to New England was akin to moving to a different country for them. The weather, culture, and mindset were a bit of a shock and they had to wean themselves off chain stores and fast food. The under-development and simplicity of the Vineyard, however, helped them embrace a sense for delayed gratification. Before launching Lauren Morgan and Company - Lauren worked for many years in interior design on the Vineyard with Elizabeth Stiving- Nichols at Martha Vineyard Interior Design. On her own time Lauren designed and made clothes for individual clients such as wedding dresses (including her own).
I found the journey of Lauren and Nate’s clothes particularly fascinating and one can quickly appreciate their commitment to the environment. The transparency they share in the chain of sustainable production sets them apart from many of their competitors. They have painstakingly sought out factories that care about the environment, such as the seventy-nine year old Brooklyn button factory that replants three trees for every two they cut. Here’s a list of just some of the lengths they go to to find sources:
Texas - Organic cotton (Lubbock, in the region of South Plains where most of the United States organic cotton is grown)
North Carolina - spinning and weaving
South Carolina - dying and natural waxing (non-petroleum)
Connecticut - Snaps and grommets
Georgia - Zippers and Draw-strings
New York - Buttons are hand turned in Brooklyn (made from Maine-grown birch)
California - Weaving of chambray lining
Massachusetts - Fall River Cutting and sewing, Nantucket Gingham lining
“It brings me joy just to walk into my closet and create endless unexpected combinations.” - Lauren Morgan
Lauren tends to agree with the “Project 333” approach which endorses limiting one’s wardrobe to thirty-three pieces for three months. Lauren aptly pointed out this doesn’t mean that thirty-three is the right number for everyone, nor is one stuck with black, grey and white. Lauren consulted the House of Colour to learn what colors work best for her complexion, and for Lauren this meant a colorful wardrobe of coral, tan, bright navy, turquoise, melon, peach, cobalt, red, and canary yellow - roughly totaling forty pieces of clothing (not counting undergarments, work-out clothes, or loungewear). Her wardrobe is dotted with articles of her own design and those of her friends. Lauren’s thoughtful approach to fashion design and her personal wardrobe extends to her choice of fragrance: Phlur’s Greylocke - which reminds her of the scents of pine and sea on her Vineyard walks. – It observes standards of cruelty-free research and production with a minimum of ingredients. .
“I love owning clothing and accessories made and designed by friends because I feel like I have their essence with me” – Lauren Morgan
Lauren and Nate’s clothing is biodegradable and can be composted in a home composting system after the zippers, snaps and grommets have been removed even their thread is one hundred percent cotton. Lauren explained that typically when we donate clothes they tend to get sold to third parties and end up in second-hand clothing stores of developing countries that compete with local craft and artisan industry, thus causing more harm and injury rather than helping.
Innovative machinery is already taking over human labor. Lauren explained the current use of 3-D printer knitting machines where only the finishing of the garment is left to the human hand. In contrast, today’s Craftivism movement marries craft and voice to initiate change - hints at the Arts and Crafts movement of the nineteenth century in response to the industrial revolution.
Lauren and Nate designed their own home to reflect their mutual design sensibilities. It was inspired by a tobacco barn - perhaps drawn from their shared nostalgia of their respective grandparents’ farms in America’s heartland. Lauren describes their Vineyard home as an ever- evolving peaceful sanctuary with views out the windows of scrub oaks and ferns, and berries and wildflowers that they’ve planted.
“It is said that C. S. Lewis wrote of Narnia about its forests – ‘They are magical.’ ” - Lauren Morgan
Whether Lauren is describing a lush and flowered spring in an Ohio valley, the bounty of protected wildlife of the Vineyard, or the Great Barrier Reef of Hamilton Island, Australia, the uniting theme between all of them is Lauren’s love, appreciation and respect for nature. It’s no surprise then that Lauren suggests the following when visiting the island to take in the protected natural beauty of Martha’s Vineyard: Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary, Menemsha Hills Nature Reserve, Great Rock Bright Preserve, and Lambert’s Cove Beach.