Meet Dawn Oakes, Founder Of Modernation
I have long believed that abundance stifles innovation. When less is more, when resources are limited and stakes are high, we are challenged to iterate, instigate, and innovate to keep moving forward. Modernation - founded by Dawn Oakes - is a testament to the notion that creativity can thrive under resource constraints.
Working with vintage, upcycled, and deadstock materials she has built a capsule collection that enables the modern woman to shop timeless silhouettes with minimal impact. We loved connecting with Dawn to hear more about her move from interior design to the fashion industry, the inspiration she’s found in the built environment, and the ways in which limiting their materials has slowed growth and fostered creativity.
You’ve built a beautiful line of ethical clothing for the responsible woman. What’s the story behind the brand? Where were you before Modernation?
Thanks so much for the kind words! I was first introduced to sustainability efforts through interior design. Throughout my studies, we had projects where we focused on categories such as sustainable building materials, water efficiency, and environmental quality. There’s a system for rating environmentally friendly buildings and gaining LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credits under the U.S Green Building Council.
While working my 9-5 interior design job, I realized I was wearing the same 10 or so pieces of clothing and wondered if there was a similar rating system for sustainability in the fashion industry. After thorough research, my views towards the fashion industry changed and I conceptualized the modernation brand. This brand is our way to share up-cycled pieces, encourage minimizing consumerism with timeless capsule collections, create awareness of the issues of fast fashion and normalize sustainability efforts to become a more “modern nation”.
Up-Cycled - Timeless - Slow Fashion - Sustainable
Producing responsible pieces for an ethical lifestyle, Modernation is committed to using vintage, deadstock, and sustainable materials available in California. How has this managed to reduce your environmental impact and what has been most challenging about honoring this commitment?
By re-using vintage to upcycle and using deadstock fabric to create limited edition pieces, we are keeping waste out of the landfills and have less environmental impact than a standard production cycle for fabric and resources. The most challenging aspect would be the restrictions this places on sizing and availability for our customers.
While we like our vintage/upcycled pieces to remain limited and one-of-a-kind because we love the idea of being able to treasure that one piece forever, our solution for our capsule collection is offering pieces that can be worn small/medium or large/extra large for a relaxed fit. Our designs showcase minimalist clean lines and relaxed silhouettes for an effortless and timeless style.
Let’s talk more about that. Capsule collections have provided a distinct outlet for sustainable brands to market their values. What other trends do you see in slow fashion? How is Modernation responding?
Hopefully in the near future, capsule collections won’t just be synonymous with sustainable brands and will become a normalized idea for all of fashion. We’d like all of fashion to be sustainable. It’s important for us to push awareness and encourage a mindful attitude when making purchases. With that said, sustainable brand values should be shared in a fun way, instead of sounding self-righteous while including innovative ideas to slow down waste and evolve the “quality over quantity” assurance.
A few innovative ideas we currently see include ”borrowing the runway” or offering a limited warranty to repair damages on clothing. We think it would be fun to offer our customers the option to send us something older from their wardrobe that they’d like to get upcycled. There’s always the cost-benefit equation to think about and the practicality of sustainable purchases to motivate customers in making it a priority. We’re constantly brainstorming ways to evolve our resources while maintaining our values.
Oftentimes limited resources can be a catalyst for creativity. Working within the constraints of vintage, deadstock, and sustainable materials, how would you describe the Modernation style and what inspires it?
We curate neutral colors, subtle patterns, light and airy fabrics. The Modernation style is best described as contemporary, relaxed, effortless silhouettes with timeless aesthetics. Romantic and minimalist. It’s for the trend-free woman unafraid to mix vintage styles for a contemporary look. My colleague said it best:
"It is a challenge, but I think that instead of limiting creativity it forces us to find new paths. We now know that creating a design for the fabric instead of finding the right fabric for the design is the most effective."
Curating a brand can sometimes feel like a natural extension of curating your own lifestyle. What has been most challenging about living slowly and reducing the social and environmental impact of your way of life? How have the values and priorities you’ve embedded in your business been reflected in other areas of your life?
As an advocate for sustainability, I reflect upon my values and I make sure that in every decision I make, I approach and live consistently with those. My greatest challenge living slowly is trying to influence close friends and family to have the same values and support for sustainability as myself without being too preachy. I realize that you can’t change others opinions in one conversation but, you can help inspire people to make better choices that might be better for the environment by staying aligned with your values and setting a daily example to those who surround you.
There are so many ways to reduce environmental impact and design/fashion is our way of leading an example. We’re proud to be living in Southern California, where the sustainability movement is pretty strong and availability for organic, locally-farmed food and small shopping is encouraged and accessible. However, I still wish there were more opportunities for walkable zones like Barcelona’s “superblocks”. I’d like to see our urban design encourage more foot traffic rather than automobile traffic. This is one of the main reasons we’d like to stay e-commerce and only continue to do occasional pop-up shops - to limit overall energy use compared to traditional brick and mortar stores.
What impact can your customers expect to make when purchasing a Modernation product?
We’re on the non-traditional side of releasing collections and pieces. Since we’re on a slow fashion pace, we’ll continue to have less waste in landfills by staying resourceful with our fabric selections. We use less energy compared to mass or outsourced production, and our Capsule Collection is entirely made of sustainably sourced fabrics using Tencel from textile factories in Japan. We only ask that you’ll truly treasure the one-of-a-kind pieces we create and we thank you for supporting our ethically-minded small studio in Southern California.