Interview with Germaine DeNigris of Arkins
Founder and Creative Director of Arkins Germaine DeNigris and I talk about style, sustainability, and what it’s like to produce clothing in the city that never sleeps.
Germaine DeNigris sits on a faded pea-green couch by a window adorned with tumbling succulents, a lemon tree, and a pot of baby cucumbers. Barefoot, her legs are crossed in a pair of black tailored trousers, a loose bun showing off the neckline of her black sleeveless turtleneck. Past the flora drapes you just make out the silhouette of Chelsea's cluttered streets. Not unlike her designs, the Creative Director of Arkins is effortlessly chic.
Having premiered their first collection just last year, Arkins the label have already made a name for themselves as one of New York’s most elegant producers of modern, sustainable threads.
Founded on the idea that comfortable, quality clothing should be produced in a socially conscious manner, their mission is to exclude the negative impacts of fashion, and to build a sustainable standard through design and innovation.
And by manufacturing in Manhattan, Arkins is doing just that. Each and every one of their garments is made in-house in New York City’s Garment District, allowing the design team to remain hands on each step of the way, from the very first sketch to the very last stitch.
KATHRYN CARTER: It’s so nice to see the ‘Made in Manhattan’ stitching in your clothing; did you always know you wanted to produce locally?
GERMAINE DENIGRIS: No. I actually interned for a company who was doing all locally produced things and I thought to myself how crazy that is, and that I would never do that. But then once we launched Arkins I started learning more about what goes on and it became really clear that this [local manufacturing] was the only option.
KC: And what’s it like making clothing in Manhattan? Do you get to be quite hands on?
GD: Yeah, we’re slowly bringing everything back in house, so it’s becoming extremely hands on. It makes you notice all the little details that much more, all the really tiny things that would cost too much to alter through the factory you can change, and you can make little alterations for people who want something longer, things like that.
KC: Where do you source your fabrics? Are there mills in NYC?
GD: No we do that abroad, unfortunately. We would really love to be sourcing more locally but there aren’t that many organic options. So right now we’re importing a lot from India. They have a lot of organic cotton there and it’s all fair trade, so we feel comfortable buying from there. But we’re really trying to make a shift towards where all of our textiles are 100% sustainable and 100% fair trade. At the moment we’re sort of half and half. It’s just really hard right now to find supply.
KC: Who else (in your opinion) is manufacturing in New York and doing it well?
GD: If you look at savethegarmentdistrict.com there’s a list of designers who produce locally, and we are on that list, and a lot of other great designers, Anna Sui and girls like that. And then there are the brands that we really look up to, like the Reformation, but they produce in LA.
KC: In Australia the slow fashion movement has gained quite a following, do you feel like the consumer is beginning to care more in New York?
GD: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s about educating the consumer. Once they know, they care. It’s just the industry has done such a great job of sweeping these issues under the rug; so people don’t see it. And it’s great when you have documentaries like True Cost coming out, and Fashion Revolution, which are really bringing attention to the cause; I think it’s definitely making an impact.
KC: Last month American Apparel reported that they might go out of business in the next twelve months, what did you think when you heard the news? Were you surprised?
GD: Not at all, I mean, they’re a rocky business. They’re been rocky from the beginning.I haven’t been a fan of them for a long time. They’re not doing justice to what American made really is. They kind of have treated it almost like…like minimalism art. And American minimalism art is terrible… it’ll be like a canvas painted all red, and it’s awful. That’s kind of how I think of American Apparel. Over-simplified, too expensive, and they’re not really in it for the cause. At least that has been my interpretation.
KC: How does Arkins keep in touch with the consumer’s changing needs? How do you know what people want?
GD: I love to look at street style, for me that’s the easiest way to get a sense of what people are actually wearing…And then also Instagram, just seeing people posting their outfits of the day.
KC: Do you think the sustainable fashion movement will continue to gain momentum?
GD: Yeah… I mean I think, again, when it comes down to the education of it people really care. And I think when you understand that we are a consumerist society, like, we are always going to be consuming, the level of how quickly [we do that] isn’t going to change. And we can still consume the way that we are, as long as we do it differently, and make
products that are better. And I think also, from a designer’s standpoint, it’s been interesting the mills react to all the increase of designers requesting sustainable textiles. So there’s definitely a lot more mills that are making that transition to, you know, being sustainable.
KC: The fashion world is infatuated with New York City style. Why do you think that is?
GD: I think it’s always got an interesting flare…[and] I think we remain a little more wearable than the rest of the world, maybe? There’s definitely some fashion in New York that’s crazy, but I think there’s also a lot that is effortless and simple, and that a lot more people kind of appeal to.
KC: How do you start a collection?
GD: I start with designs. Often I’ll start with one thing that just kind of pops into my head, and just take it from there—turn it into a shirt and then think, what skirt would look good with that shirt? And you know, it sort of snowballs. Other designers often say things like “this collection was inspired by a Matisse painting”. My process is not like that, mine is more organic I guess. I grab inspiration from everywhere. I also dream all the time. I’ve dreamt of clothing since I was a kid. And that’s often how I’ll come up with my designs, just [by] sleeping.
KC: So did you always want to be a designer?
GD: Yeah, it’s the only job I’ve ever wanted. I started telling that when I was probably nine… I’m going to be a designer, and move to New York!
KC: As a designer, what (or who) is your greatest inspiration?
GD: I would say my friends, actually. They’re all really cool and stylish, but also very real world. I really just love to dress people like “us”, and design what I think we would like or want next year, or want when we’re thirty or, want forever, really.
KC: So you’re not really of the John Galliano approach, where he is all about the theatrics and the history?
GD: No, definitely not! I approach it from a much more realistic standpoint I think. I hope!
KC: In your own words, what is fashion?
GD: I think it’s really a wearable art. I’ve always sort of approached it from that point. I think ours [Arkins] is definitely more a wearable form, but there’s definitely some fashion that I look at and I just think, that belongs hanging on a wall, it’s so amazing that I would be too scared to wear it. Like, it’s almost too beautiful…I definitely try to think of it that way [as wearable art].
This interview was first published in HESSIAN Magazine, Melbourne, in 2016.