The democratization of fashion is being led not only by the information to which technology is giving us access, but also by the designers who are approaching the industry with a different mindset.
Becca McCharen, the founder and designer of the New York-based label Chromat, considers herself to be an industry outsider. Growing up, she didn’t realize that being a designer could be a real job. She went to school for architecture, not fashion. Her introduction to the industry was through Susie Lau’s blog, Style Bubble.
Now, with the fashion calendar in flux, wearable technology working its way toward the mainstream and more diversity on the runways than ever before, McCharen’s outsider approach is getting her brand noticed, and embraced.
McCharen, who founded Chromat in 2008, joined us on the Glossy Podcast to talk about fashion’s exclusivity problem, the art of balancing innovation with clothes people can actually wear and where technology fits into the creative process.
Edited highlights below.
There are two sides to Chromat
McCharen said that she started her brand as a way to experiment with how clothing and technology could serve the wearer. She went on to create clothing that could realistically be worn.
“We’re pushing and always experimenting with materials in new ways with garments that act as tools for the body, and [we’re] focusing on innovation,” said McCharen. “Then we have the side that’s actual wearable clothes. That came later.”
McCharen said that, in her brand’s beginning, she wasn’t thinking about market research or the customer, or even comfort. Even today, many of her designs are outfitted with lasers, LED lights and responsive technology, but those don’t make it to scale — or pay the bills. Chromat’s collection of athletic and swim apparel does.
What fashion looks like as an outsider
With her background in structural architecture, McCharen said that she never envisioned having a career in fashion. Even as a 2015 Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund finalist, she hadn’t adopted the mindset of a fashion insider. According to McCharen, her goal is to use technology to make the industry more accessible. As far as being an aspirational designer brand, she doesn’t expect her customers to buy into any scheme cooked up by a PR person. “I never identified with that ‘selling of the dream.’ I love the accessible side of fashion, and I want there to be more of it.”
Chromat didn’t intend to stand for diversity
McCharen has been a part of the body positivity movement on the runway. Last New York Fashion Week, she featured models of color and different sizes and abilities in her show. However, she was dismayed when her brand received more attention for her choice of models than for the clothing that she spent six months designing. She said that she’s aiming for a day when diversity is not a conversation in fashion, but the norm.
How the fashion show is beginning to mirror the mall
McCharen said that, in fashion, right now is a confusing time for everyone. But as someone who devotes part of her collection to tech garments that will never go to retail, she isn’t fully onboard with the current focus on consumerism. While there will always be creativity in fashion, she questioned the need to feed into the desire for immediacy.
“If you focus on what’s buyable, you run the risk of losing the magic of Fashion Week. It would just be like going to the mall. And that would be not as exciting.”