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  • 07 May, 2020

    Balancing Ancient Artistry and Constant Curiosity with Emily Ridings

    Taylor Simmons

    Meet Emily Ridings who creates, by hand, baskets, clothing and jewelry from found and leftover materials. A native of Kentucky, Emily studied Fashion Design at Pratt Institute before launching her eponymous brand during New York Fashion Week earlier this year. Having been taught how to weave by her grandmother (our third grandmother reference, including mine, in Renewal), Emily is passionate about and focused on process, releasing small batch capsules and one-of-a-kind pieces that combine her love of woodworking, weaving, fine tailoring and smithing. I was first drawn to Emily’s work when I came across a photo of her senior thesis at Pratt. It was a literal Basket Skirt, as opposed to our fabric ones - a gorgeous, woven, wooden, hoop skirt fastened around the model’s waist with a belt. I was inspired by the way she reimagined basket-making into clothes-making. Emily’s renewal goes much farther, though, in repurposing natural and deadstock materials to reigniting an interest in traditional crafts.

    We sat down with Emily, wearing our Poof Dress in Dark Blue Vine, to discuss her working processes, how renewal is at the core of her brand and dictates much of what she makes as well as her hopes for all of us on the other side of this virus.

    How and when did you begin weaving and was the goal always to start your own company?

    My grandmother started weaving baskets around the time I was born. We made a few baskets together when I was young, but it wasn’t until college when I had the idea of a basket skirt that I really got into it. The goal is always to keep creating, and I’m just beginning to explore how that might take shape professionally. Shifting into a business mindset frames my creativity so differently, so I’m trying to strike the right balance.

    Your first collection includes basket bags, a t-shirt, a jacket, bracelets and a skirt. How did you decide on these pieces?

    Instead of one-offs, this collection was my first time focusing on pieces that could be reproduced in small batches. Two main factors that influenced design were finding reliable sources for repurposed materials and determining how much time each process takes. My pricing is mostly a reflection of time, especially when using recycled materials that need extra care. The collection landed with eight pieces that form one look. I love the versatility because I have a hand in so many techniques instead of burning out from one monotonous process.

    You are making everything to order in line with the slow fashion, sustainable movement - Could you tell us a little about your process? Is there anything that you've never made, but have always had in the back of your mind?

    My process has been roughly the same since I was three years old, grabbing cereal boxes out of the trash to make a headband or bag. I do care about environmental impact, but reuse has always been innate to me. I feel the most opportunity working within boundaries of what I can find, and that often ends up being things that nobody else wants. Materials come from friends, surplus fabric vendors, eBay, the sidewalk. I typically work with simple, recognizable shapes, and then bring in nuances with fit or texture. My aim is always that the material be celebrated; nothing is forced and every detail is a part of the beauty. As for uncharted territory, I’m really interested in upholstery. I love watching the process of furniture building, but I’m not a fan of meticulous measurements and firmer materials. Fabric is the most fluid medium for me because it’s easy to transform, so upholstery seems like a sweet spot to try out.

    As a relaunch, Coco Shop loves the idea of taking something old and making it new again. Could you tell us a little bit more about renewal in your own business?

    Each piece is balanced with familiarity and excitement—old and new—like basket-weaving woven into a skirt, or metal washers that become pendants. It’s a marriage between my appreciation for primitive skills, rich cultural traditions, and constant curiosity for what else could/should be. As long as I stay open-minded, the renewal happens naturally. In the larger scope of industry, exclusivity and oppression is too real and in need of revision. Positive change is no small ask when it ultimately requires a universal shift in values, but I do have hope for a world that uplifts each other with our time and resources. Especially right now, we’re reminded that human connection is essential, through meme sharing or doctors saving lives. Hopefully, we emerge renewed, with more compassion and a stronger understanding of our own power to affect change.

    What makes you feel personally renewed and ready to take on what's next?

    Usually, going outside. I spend most of my time alone or working from home, so physically stepping out, even for five minutes, keeps me present and less likely to become brain mush. As of late, I’m mostly checking in with friends and checking out with Schitt’s Creek.