Piece By Piece

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Elizabeth Brunner, creator of SF-based label Piece x Piece and pioneer in creating clothing out of discarded fabric swatches, is a fashion designer. Her feelings toward fashion, however, are ambivalent. “I enjoy it creatively,” allows Brunner, but foremost in her mind are the devastating ecological effects of the garment industry. Over 4,500 swatches of non-biodegradable fabric, she explains, are typically discarded per designer, per season. Worse, clothing companies constantly seek ways of minimizing costs and maximizing profits, which leads to irresponsibly produced, low-quality clothing designed to be thrown out after a few wears. Brunner understands how difficult it can be to resist the lure of the bargain. “Things are so cheap. There’s a $4.99 sale, and you are only human.” For many, she admits, filling one’s closet with more ecological alternatives, such as Patagonia or Piece x Piece, might not be financially viable. According to Brunner, however, the most sustainable practice is absolutely free: “I tell people, ‘Think before you buy. Do you really need another black tank top?’”

An industry rarity, a fashion designer who actually advises against buying more clothes, Brunner has also chosen not to participate in Fashion Week, thus rejecting the frantic pace set by rapid-fire seasons, collections, and runway shows. Rather, each Piece x Piece garment is created exactly in the way the name on the label suggests—one at a time, hand-sewn by local sewers who are paid a fair wage. For reasons of social and ecological responsibility and quality control, Brunner does not plan to ramp up production. Her collection will remain restrained, comprised of a perfectly edited handful of eminently wearable designs that are timeless and season-less, and hence well adapted to the lifestyles of many Bay Area women, including Brunner herself.

On the subject of lifestyles, Brunner’s recently experienced a drastic change with the birth of her twins, which made the ideals of ecology and sustainability even more vital to the designer: “As I was preparing for the babies’ arrival, I had to think about what they might be exposed to, what they should be protected from,” she says, mentioning her search for natural fiber clothes and organic products and the environmentally sound custom-made cribs she ordered. “I think made-to-order is a very important concept,” she points out, stating that significant waste could be prevented if only what will actually be used is made.

Motherhood has also influenced Brunner’s designs for Piece x Piece. Coming soon is a small knitwear collection. “I don’t know any woman who doesn’t love knits,” says the busy designer, citing the ease, comfort, and longevity of knitwear. These pieces will incorporate both new, locally sourced, sustainable bamboo fabric and the brand’s signature donated swatches. Knits may be easy to wear, but the design process has been arduous, says Brunner, as the stretchy nature of the knits makes it tricky to assemble swatches without the resulting garment looking “funky.” Indeed, the constraints introduced by needing to assemble disparate pieces of fabric, most of which measure 8”x10”, combined with the desire to attain a result that is more high style than quilting circle, frequently test the limits of the designer’s creativity. The devising of the Skylark skirt, for example, a voluminous, multi-layered confection that is Piece x Piece’s most complicated look to date, was literally a painful ordeal. The long hours spent poring over patterns, piecing swatches together, and puzzling out the intricate construction gave Brunner severe back spasms. The outcome, however, was worth it: The artful piece is truly a modern classic that will never go out of style, the diametrical opposite of disposable fashion.

For more information, visit pxp-sf.com.

Text by Karena Akhavein
Photography by Liz Caruana

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