This week, meet the creators of époque évolution, a brand that while it has just launched, already has a lot to offer. I first came across époque évolution through their Instagram account. It caught my attention because of the amount of thought you can tell the designers put in selecting and publishing beautiful content. All pictures beautifully resonate with each other, from the light-pink/grey/white color palette to the shapes and symmetry of the different images. Since they hadn’t launched at the time, I reached out to them, and it was with with great delight that I discovered Hannah Franco and Nancy Taylor, two amazing designers, entrepreneurs and advocates for the greater good – the kind that’s on the light side of the force, of course.
When I was researching the brand before the interview, I couldn’t have imagined the level of depth, of thought that Nancy and Hannah put it. époque évolution was not conceived as just another sustainable organic-cotton-only-made-in-USA brand (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but as an enabler for women to break the glass ceiling, through their clothing but al so education, employment and empowerment.
If you own less, you can be more sustainable, not only because it’s better quality, but in our approach because it has better function.
For époque évolution being sustainable is not just about how you make clothes but also why you make clothes. Sustainability is then considered through the whole production and life cycle of a product. Being sustainable is first a matter of being responsible in the making of the garment: taking the people into consideration, taking the manufacturing process into consideration, taking the fibers into consideration. But then also taking the end use of the garment into consideration: “how many pairs of pants do you need if you have one that does a lot for you: it’s well made, it’s stylish, it’s comfortable and it doesn’t leave marks on your body.”
But first, époque évolution is the story of a life-long friendship, of a pinky swear, that took Hannah and Nancy on a reunion trip to Marrakech, Morocco. It’s in Marrakesh that the idea for époque évolution came to mind. They needed clothes that could see them through the day, through every step, from breakfast to climbing in the mountains, to hustling in the souk and maybe some dancing to finish off. “Clothes that were easy and functional through the day.”
Hannah and Nancy then started designing their brand around the core concept that like any good design, clothes should first be functional. They have to serve a woman’s body as well as her schedule, her obligations and her ambitions. “Good design is a big deal. If you own less, you can be more sustainable, not only because it’s better quality, but in our approach because it has better function.”
Sustainability does not start or end with the nature of the fiber, it’s also about the manufacturing process.
In spite of their extensive experience in the sectors of fashion and athleisure, where they have a combined experience of over two decades, sourcing ethical and sustainable performance fabrics was a huge challenge for the creators. Building up a selection of textiles for the collection was a real treasure hunt, completed one fabric show at a time over a year. Given the small quantities they needed, they couldn’t rely on traditional large-scale retailers. And in any case, with a responsible collection, it’s not as easy as picking fabrics from a catalog: Sustainability does not start or end with the nature of the fiber, it’s also about the manufacturing process. How was it made? How is it that they’re trying to store it? What kind of energy is the factory using?
With that in mind, époque évolution made a real effort to look at every aspect of the manufacturing process. “Having a responsible manufacturer is important even if they’re not necessarily making any sustainable fabric. Sometimes a manufacturer’s fabrication standards are so high that they are contributing equally if not more to cleaning up the industry. People are contributing in different ways and they are all important. I’ve been to many places In Asia and the amount of water they use and pollute to make and dye a fiber is disgusting, even if the fiber is recycled or repurposed. Eventually, what we decided to do was to put our best foot forward and be as transparent as we can.” Loyal to their vision, their website has a page dedicated to their production and manufacturing cycle.
We’re designing to support women on the path to evolving and pursuing their passion. […] We think of her as a cross between Natalie Portman and Michelle Obama, very stylish, purposeful and elegant.
Hannah and Nancy wanted to design clothes for women like them: women who are trying to break through the glass ceiling, in other words, every woman. “That’s very challenging because it’s not like things have been taken off our plate, they’ve been added on to our plate. And so we’re designing to support women on the path to evolving and pursuing their passion.” When they’re not drawing, cutting or sewing, Hannah is a yoga teacher and Nancy is a cyclist capable of “riding 60 miles on the weekend just for fun!” Hannah laughs: “it blows my mind!”
Being active women is part of their DNA, so as they conceive their collection, they ask themselves how to create a wardrobe that would help women that are as ambitious and passionate and how they can support them through every life experience. “The woman we’re designing for maybe wakes up at 6 in the morning to work out, meets a girlfriend for morning coffee or heads back home to pack lunches for her family. Then she heads into work, shows up, will go meet her girlfriends after work to have a glass of rosé, head home and take care of her family, and maybe she’s got an event that weekend and she wants to go out and dress up for. We want to support her full 6 am to 11 pm life. She wants to be professional all day long but she doesn’t want to wear anything constricting or uncomfortable. At the same time, she is stylish, she has great taste, and she’s definitely very classic. We think of her as a cross between Natalie Portman and Michelle Obama, very stylish, purposeful and elegant.”
Their customer is someone who values quality and craftsmanship. During their trip to Morocco, the level of craftsmanship inspired them to build an artisan component around the core line of the brand. As such, limited edition pieces will be created where artisan craftsmanship can be leveraged to create modern pieces. The objective of this secondary line will be to support local communities through work and then use the proceeds of those creations to give back to non-profits. The first is Build On, which focuses strongly on education in the US and abroad; and the second is the Center for Domestic Peace in the bay area, a front leader in women advocacy and violence prevention. Future goals are to take this artisan collection to places like Morocco where traditional artistry can be leveraged to create the collection, and the proceeds will feed back in to each local community they work with.
It’s very difficult to create an environment where women can have families. We want to support more women in continuing to break that chain.
If they’re committed to breaking the glass ceiling, it’s partly because of their awareness of their own privilege, and partly because they’re still working on breaking it for themselves. “What we’ve chosen to do so far is to approach industries and organizations that support specifically women in business. So we’ve received a lot of support because we’ve chosen to put our business in front of people that are supporting women. At the same time, we’re just used to the corporate world of ploughing through and assuming that as two blond women we’re not going to be taken seriously. But that’s one of the things we’re trying to change too: it shouldn’t have to be that way. And that’s part of the reason we’ve included the partnerships with build on and the center for domestic peace.
We really believe that we are lucky and it is our job to give back to people who do not have the same opportunities. What we’ve noticed is that there’s a lot of ageism and prejudice against women with kids in our industry. It’s very difficult to create an environment where women can have families. We want to support more women in continuing to break that chain through giving them clothing that helps and by donating to causes that help women through education, through employment and through empowerment.” Hannah and Nancy think about empowering women the same way they think about sustainability: it’s not just about helping women get a degree, or get a job. You have to have a holistic approach and look at all the ways women need support, from school enrollment all the way to childcare.
It’s not the first time that Nancy works with the Center for Domestic Peace. As an entrepreneur, she has personally committed to supporting the Center in the past by employing women and helping them go back to school. “The irony of it all is that we were working on the brand for about 6 months when the President was elected and we were devastated. But then we spent an entire night redesigning the entire project to make sure we made a difference in our little way. We were really passionate about it, and the election lit a fire inside of us.”
How do you tell yourself “this is gonna be this difficult” and then do it anyway? Well, you just have a little melt down and then you’re fine.
My favorite part of the interview was probably when I asked what advice they’d give a younger self or a younger designer. Their enthusiasm is contagious! “A couple of things: be aware of how hard it’s going to be because it’s going to be hard. Don’t let that stop you. Go in with your eyes open. Know it’s going to be challenging. There’s gonna be high moments and low moments but if you believe in it and you love it, it’s amazing how much fire you got to carry yourself through.” And if you asked Hannah, like I did, how do you tell yourself “this is gonna be this difficult” and then do it anyway? She’d say: “Well, you just have a little melt down and then you’re fine.” Nancy agrees: “I have this saying in front of my monitor: “everything you want is on the other side of the fear”. I realized that when I don’t think I can do it, it’s just fear that’s coming up inside of me. Just keep going. Fear is a sign of growth.”
One last thing: “remember that you just need to start somewhere. We’re two very esthetic human being and we want everything to be beautiful and perfect. We want to have the most responsible fabrics and all these criteria but at the end of it you just need to start and improve as you go along. Starting is the hardest part but just starting somewhere is the most powerful motivator. We’ve been working for 18 months and now we actually have garments we can sell!”
The collection is launching soon, go to époque évolution and subscribe to their mailing list to be the first to shop the brand and in the meantime, them on @époqueévolution to catch glimpses of their collection!