Teach a tomboy how to sew, and she’ll grow up to become one of the South’s emerging voices in sustainable fashion design.
Or at least she will if she’s Allyson Ansusinha, an independent fashion and textile designer based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Sure, the bright lights of the runway are a long way from the second-grade sports she played—but they’re not so far from the high-schooler who would mainline coffee to stay up all night and sew an outfit to wear the next day. “Although I was really shy and quiet growing up, I always felt like I could express something to people without saying a word through the clothing choices I was making. That’s what’s so powerful about fashion,” she explains. It turns out that Ansusinha would have a lot to say—about the environment, about responsible business, about the impact of consumer choices—and that apparel would become the most impactful way to share her values.
Pins and Needles // Allyson Ansusinha’s interest in eco-friendly fashion began in a high school design class. Since then, she has studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as crafted her own line of sustainable clothing.
In high school, Ansusinha took a fashion design class where a teacher first sparked her interest in sustainable, eco-friendly fashion with one gripping story: during the terror of September 11, people escaped from the Twin Towers with clothing melted to their bodies—because it was made with synthetic fibers. The tragic image has always stayed with Ansusinha, but it wasn’t until she wrote a college thesis on the fashion industry’s impact on the environment that her passion for sustainable, natural textiles and fashion was truly cemented.
An Illinois native, Ansusinha studied at LA’s iconic Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising right after high school, but soon hungered for more creativity. She boarded a plane to Bangkok, where the threads of her career would start coming together. She interned for a company that partnered with Thai women to preserve their traditional craft of hand-weaving. “I became really interested in an earlier stage of clothing design, which is the design and development of fabric,” she says. In love with weaving, she returned to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago to finish her degree in fashion design—but she took some classes in weaving, too.
Stitch Perfect // Allyson Ansusinha’s sustainably crafted designs— partly inspired by traditional wrap garments associated with her Thai heritage— earned her the Emerging Designer Award at Charleston Fashion Week this past spring.
The next unexpected turn in her career as a maker came by way of machine. Research for her college thesis had first introduced her to the South as a pre-NAFTA textile manufacturing hub. Eager to learn more about the textile industry, she moved down to Asheville after graduation and began work for Appalatch, a small start-up located in the progressive Echoview Fiber Mill. She was introduced to the company’s automated knitting machine, which produces “fully-fashioned knitwear” in a process that eliminates labor and waste because the machine knits out a garment’s shape directly, with no cutting required. “To me, this machine became a powerful marriage of all the ideas and values that were influencing what I wanted to create,” Ansusinha says.
As a weaver who had a hard time swallowing the 20 percent fabric waste standard in clothing production, she saw opportunities for sustainability through the machine. So when Appalatch moved on, the knitting machine stayed in Echoview—and Ansusinha convinced Echoview to keep her on with it, turning out garments and textiles so graceful it’s hard to believe a big, boxy machine made them. From January 2016 until early fall 2017, she worked as Echoview’s chief designer, directing the design and development of a product line that included home goods, fiber art, and clothing.
Success accelerated quickly for Ansusinha. Her Fall/Winter 2017 collection for Echoview earned her the Emerging Designer Award at Charleston Fashion Week, along with the confidence to step out on her own and focus on designing her independent clothing line. The winning collection, which she describes as “an exploration of vertically-integrated manufacturing, closed-loop sourcing, and natural materials” synthesizes her heritage, her process, and her values.
“An important part of my philosophy is to make clothing that will last a long time— consequently, through many stages of life,” Ansusinha says. She often expresses this value with looser, open-size styles that grow with the wearer. Half-Thai, Ansusinha found inspiration for the collection in traditional Thai garments that wrap around the body, Japanese sashiko stitching, and Mid-Century style. “I was also looking at Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock art, which means ‘floating world,’” she explains, “and that phrase influenced the airy, hazy color palette and the breezy, fluid way the garments drape on the body.”
The collection—a grouping of soft, muted, elegant styles that seem to seamlessly complement each other—is beautiful in a quiet way. But as the Emerging Designer Award proves, quiet isn’t the same as silent. “If people responded this well to the clothing I created based just on the way it looks, it made me feel hopeful that I can continue to find success as a designer trying to be sustainable, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible—simply by making it inherent to my design,” Ansusinha says.
That’s what you call a statement piece.
For more on Ansusinha’s work, go to allyson-ansusinha.squarespace.com.