Feral Childe Represents Women Who Will… Create Elegant, Sustainable Clothing

September 12, 2013

For those following Fashion Week in New York City over the last few days, it’s been a whirlwind of stripes, gauze, and oversized hairdos from the biggest names in the industry. For two Wellesley alumnae, the world of fashion has unexpectedly become their own world as they create quirky, elegant, and sustainable clothing for forward-thinking women.

Alice Wu ’96 and Moriah Carlson ’96 met on campus when Professor of Art Phyllis McGibbon hired them to wash eggshells for an upcoming exhibition. Both Wu and Carlson ended up in New York City after graduate school, and soon their friendship became a creative partnership as they began making clothes in their free time and eventually quit their jobs to design full-time.

“We did not set out to create a fashion business,” says Wu. “That grew organically out of our shared aesthetic and the drive to create a sustainable, creative life for ourselves post-graduation.”

That fashion business is Feral Childe, an internationally recognized, ecologically sustainable brand of womenswear. According to their website, Feral Childe clothing has been featured in Elle, Nylon, on NPR, the TLC show What Not to Wear, and in The Art of Getting By (2011) with Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts. Slate chronicled the growth of the brand in a lengthy profile this summer, writing that Wu’s and Carlson’s creations “exude a maddeningly effortless elegance.”

The Fall 2013 Collection is titled The Ghost Ship Gradient, inspired by “A view of New York Harbor from our Brooklyn studio windows at night. Inspiration from sea to shining sea. Port of Oakland and the San Francisco Bay, Hong Kong, Macau. Container ships, cruise liners, ferries, and glittering bridges and buoys, steadfast tugboats, dredgers, and scavengers.”

Ghost Ship is the latest of many in-depth, allusive themes the designers employ. “Each Feral Childe collection is an opportunity to dive into a new area of interest,” Wu says. “Any topic is fair game and open to investigation through the creative process: From hiphop to electricity, we can explore any subject we desire through the lens of an art project.”

That interdisciplinary exploration derives in part from the liberal arts experience the women shared at Wellesley, both inside the art studios (where they spent long hours) and outside. “Alice and I both had affairs with other disciplines,” says Carlson, “mine was biology with a special focus on the brain and behavior and perception; Alice was literature. I [also] got super interested in Japanese film and literature because I loved Japanese prints so much. When thinking about a theme for a new collection, we draw from so many sources. But most importantly, we continue to be curious. Interdisciplinary education can teach you how to be curious about things, and how to make connections between seemingly disparate subject areas.”

Part of what makes Feral Childe unique is its commitment to both style and substance in the creative process. The designers make every effort to use natural and organic fibers, fair-wage manufacturing in the NYC Garment Center, conscientious application of printing and dyeing, responsible disposal of production waste, use of natural materials in buttons, and production of their collections to order. “Those practices are important to us more or less by nature,” says Carlson. “We think it's very natural for artists to want to reuse or reclaim materials and create new purposes for them. Extending that tendency to garment manufacturing, we try to make the most informed choices about where our fabrics and trim come from, about production waste, about the partnerships with our suppliers, retailers, and customers. At its root, it's just what artists and designers do.”

Other alumnae have brought their liberal arts training into the fashion world. Emily Saunders '06 showed the her womenswear line, SAUNDER, for the second time at New York's Spring Fashion Week this year, and received sparkling reviews from WWD, the New York Times, and Daily Candy

When asked what advice she would offer college students exploring a future in the arts, Alice Wu emphasizes being willing to take on the business side of art. “It's not enough to be creative and make things,” she says. “If you want to become an arts or fashion entrepreneur, you need to love sales or you don't stand a chance in the marketplace. Sales did not come naturally to me, but over the years I've come to love sales, and become more confident as I developed my own way of engaging potential customers. It seems to be working!”

Carlson says, “I think it's important to be able to both ask and answer tough questions. You'll need to know very clearly why you're doing what you're doing. You'll need to be able to continually self-assess. Design is a rigorous process. There aren't moments in art or design when decisions can be made on autopilot. Every small thing deserves and requires careful consideration.”