ARTIST INTERVIEW: Lily Forbes
Company: LILY FORBES
Artist: Lily Forbes Shafroth
Lily Forbes Shafroth founded her eponymous brand in February 2018, marrying her love of design with her ethos around sustainability and responsible globalized trade relationships. Her stunning unisex designs will be on offer at the EPCF for the first time this season.
Drawing from her education, a childhood spent outdoors, her mother’s social activism and her father’s career as a lifelong conservationist, LILY FORBES approaches all design and production through a lens of environmental and social responsibility. She believes that business can be a powerful force in the alleviation of poverty and the protection of the natural world.
The Echo Park Craft Fair is celebrating our 10 year anniversary this Holiday, 2019. Can you speak to how long you’ve been doing the Fair and how the EPCF community has contributed to the evolution of your work and business?
This is my first year participating in EPCF and I am so thrilled! I respect the other artists and the EPCF community immensely, so it is a true honor to be included. I first heard about it from my friend Laura Schoorl, who I briefly interned for in 2014. I have been so inspired watching Laura grow Pansy and other artists like her within the EPCF family, and have learned a ton from them. I am sure that I will learn even more this December!
Please tell us about the current work you will featuring this Holiday and speak a bit to how you/your work as evolved over the last decade?
My company is only a year and a half old, so I have kept my collection very succinct–robes and jackets in a variety of thoughtfully sourced textiles. I started with handwoven and naturally dyed denim and have been slowly building the textile repertoire from there. This Holiday I am excited to be debuting my new handwoven silk robes! I work with a fair trade silk weavers group out of Bihar and their work is quite stunning. I will also be showcasing some one-of-a-kind robes and slip dresses from recycled or remnant fabric and my denim outerwear collection.
LILY FORBES is really a culmination of years of research and past fashion projects, including my previous company Artful Scout. My work has evolved from being more accessory angled, youthful, and utilitarian inspired, to focussing predominantly on outerwear (mostly robes) with more elegant textiles. I have been growing up and my work reflects that. Over the past year and a half, I have really enjoyed working with hand weavers and artisans to make the cloth for my designs, as well as sourcing recycled materials to further minimize the footprint of my company. I have embraced designing lifelong pieces, as opposed to cute things, as my philosophy toward sustainability has deepened.
The ethics of production are on our minds a lot recently – questions of sustainability, fair labor, location, and artistic integrity. How do these concepts come into play in your craft and your business? What choices do you make that take into account these ideas?
The ethics of production are at the center of my decision making as a designer and business owner. I believe that business/design can be a vehicle for positive change particularly in regards to poverty alleviation and environmental stewardship. My undergraduate degree is in geography and poverty/development, and I intentionally angled a lot of my academic background to highlight issues pertaining to sustainability/responsibility in the fashion industry. In fact, I initially started working in India through research on fair trade production for my minor. All of my pieces are produced with a fair trade production house in Delhi, India that employs women facing gender and caste discrimination. I also sew some of the pieces myself at my studio in Detroit.
All LILY FORBES fabric is intentionally sourced, with the environment and worker-wellbeing at the forefront of decision-making. The cotton pieces produced to date are 100% hand woven and naturally dyed. The silk pieces are produced from recycled and ethically sourced (AZO free) handwoven silk and woven with a fair trade company in Bihar, India. I work with a family-run natural dye house, heritage hand weavers, and source recycled and remnant fabric as much as possible. I have visited all the facilities I work with and have personal relationships with my team in India. Transparency and trust is fundamental to me.
I also approach sustainability from a design standpoint. I am of the philosophy that less is more, and thus strive to design lifelong pieces intended to be passed down. My love of robes is actually rooted in inheriting my granny’s silk robe. My pieces are constructed with high quality textiles and timeless silhouettes so that they become more beautiful with age.
Can you speak a bit to your process? What inspires your work? What techniques do you use to produce your designs? What is the history behind those techniques, and does that inform how you utilize them in your process?
I work partly in my studio in Detroit and partly with my team in Delhi. I was there for two months last year and one month this year. When I’m in India I do a lot of fabric research and sourcing, and then work directly with my team at the production house on developing patterns. When I’m in the states, I source recycled and remnant materials and sew them myself.
I am inspired by traditional, timeless silhouettes across cultures. I am particularly in love with robes because they are so versatile, unisex, and can be private and public. I am the youngest in my family and grew up wearing a lot of hand-me-downs from my brother and sister–a lot of old soccer uniforms–and have been inspired by unisex clothing from a young age. I love the idea that my granny and my boyfriend could wear the same article of clothing.
I am also incredibly inspired by the textiles that I get to work with. Sourcing from artisans in India is a dream and I feel totally spoiled. The cotton fabric is woven with the Ali family (four generations) outside of Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, India. Heritage weaving is an important part of the local economy and history, and sadly, is a dying craft. I love working with hand weavers because the work is beautiful, but I also feel compelled to support heritage industries that are disappearing.
What is your underlying philosophy/core vision for your work? And what impact do you hope your creative work will have on your community?
I believe that design can be a vehicle for joy, education, and positive change, and I strive to inspire that. Ultimately I want people to feel connected to themselves and to what they care about when they wear my pieces. I hope to inspire resonance. I also hope to inspire curiosity and to educate my clients on more responsible consumer behavior. I hope that my pieces become instilled with story and memory, and that the many hands that have dyed, woven, stitched, and ironed them live on in this beautiful link of worlds.