Rachael Wang Is Working to Transform in the Fashion Industry With Ethical Styling

TV: You’ve styled Naomi Watanabe and Chloe Sevigny and in the process created looks that allow their personalities and idiosyncrasies to shine through. There’s a playfulness and even an irreverence in some of the imagery. What kind of research on your subjects do you do ahead of a shoot?

RW: Thank you, that is a deeply meaningful compliment to me! I cherish individuality and I do everything I can to nurture a creative environment that allows idiosyncrasy to thrive and be celebrated. As someone who is working to dismantle systems of oppression perpetuated by the fashion industry, I believe irreverence can be an act of resistance. Out of respect for the people I work with, I research them thoroughly in advance of a shoot and oftentimes will ask specific questions in order to be even better prepared. Before going into a shoot I want to understand someone’s body, aesthetic, modesty preferences, gender expression, and any other information that will help me to make the subject feel comfortable. From there, I assess whether they might be open to making a more dramatic statement with their appearance and that’s where a lot of the magic happens. When I am working with people like Naomi or Chloe, who love fashion and creative expression, I have the opportunity to encourage irreverence. Ultimately my work requires intuition and communication that allows me to toe the line between safety and dramatic expression in an attempt to capture the essence of a subject’s idiosyncratic personality.

TV: Do you see the big brands you work with interested in taking on a diverse cast or prioritizing sustainability? Is the industry shifting to be more inclusive and consider the environmental impacts of manufacturing?

RW: Generally I get hired based on the content of my portfolio, which means that because I prioritize ethics and representation in my work, brands that share those same values tend [to] seek me out. I can’t authentically speak to the brands that don’t reach out to me and what their interests are. In society, our youth are demanding transparency, accountability, climate, economic, and social justice and it seems to me that brands are feeling this pressure. Customers are threatening to withhold their spending unless they see progress on representation and ethical manufacturing. In our capitalist society our dollar counts as our vote, so theoretically if people vote with their dollars or withhold spending for the kind of world they want to live in, then hopefully the industry will be forced to change. As a result of COVID-19, slowing down has been forced on many of us, but I think the opportunity to pad ourselves with a little extra time to be reflective, to make thoughtful decisions, to consider the outcome of our actions just might be the magic ingredient to initiate true and lasting progress in the fashion industry.

TV: What is your dream brand to work with? Your dream person to style?

RW: I worship Eileen Fisher and Patagonia as pioneers of responsible fashion. I would love to work with Stella McCartney, who is a trailblazer in her own right for ethical luxury fashion. I think it would be incredible to dress Lizzo.

TV: Do you have any rituals that have been keeping you grounded during this time?

RW: Yes. Implementing new habits has been at the crux of maintaining emotional stability these past months. I am on my third listen of Jeff Warren’s 30-day “How to Meditate” program on the Calm app, which I try to do as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. I have been pretty religious about virtual yoga with Urban Asanas, a Black-owned, body-positive yoga studio in my Crown Heights neighborhood. I am taking lots of time to educate and uneducate myself, which I consider self-care, by reading books from intersectional feminist bookstore Cafe con Libros, also in Crown Heights. I’m lucky to have a teeny patio where I have been growing blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries and lavender, which I kind of mix up together with Oatly in a chia seed pudding concoction for breakfast. Playing in the dirt and growing my own food, even just a tiny bit of it, is such a wonder. I also order organic produce from Brooklyn Supported Agriculture because eating is self-care too!

TV: What steps can people take to be more eco-friendly with their clothing purchases?

RW: Reducing consumption of animal products is the most meaningful way an individual can reduce their carbon footprint, so in the case of shopping, this means leather, suede, etc. Buying secondhand, locally, and/or from small BIPOC-owned businesses. Supporting fair trade. Keeping things for a long time. Finding creative ways to reuse, repair, or repurpose things. Buying what we love and cherishing it. Talking about mindful consumption with our community. Listening to the generational wisdom of womxn elders.

TV: What is your advice for someone who wants to make a career as a stylist or consultant in fashion?

RW: Cultivate a unique point of view. Educate yourself on fashion history in order to elaborate on what has already been done. Work hard. Be kind. And know when it’s not about you.

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