Getting ready for winter can be a drag in the fashion department. With bulky winter coats, shapeless sweaters, and function-over-form snow gear, it can be difficult to find a balance between staying toasty warm and still looking cute while you’re crushing those black diamonds or hitting the town. That’s the dilemma that inspired Erin Isakov to found her women’s ski and outerwear brand Erin Snow. The brand prides itself on creating elegant and glamorous clothing that not only meets the performance needs for a modern sporting life, but is also eco-friendly and socially responsible to boot.
What does that mean exactly? All of the products at Erin Snow are meticulously put together with every aspect of the process--from design to textile quality and factory production--put under eco- and socially responsible scrutiny. The result is clothing with superior fit, which is completely free of toxic substances, performs at the highest levels, and makes use of recycled material (including fish nets). This fall and winter season, Erin Snow is introducing a women’s snow-wear capsule collection featuring The Woolmark Company's merino wool --offering all the warmth, natural renewability, and biodegradability of traditional wool, plus top-notch moisture management, odor control, and comfort.
Isakov is no stranger to Park City’s slopes -- although she got her start on other mountains.
She doesn’t live here full time, but spends many a winter day cruising down runs at Deer Valley, thanks to her parents’ home in Deer Mountain and her own, more recently acquired, digs in Empire Pass. In fact, the local hills frequently serve as the backdrop for photography of Erin Snow clothes in action.
We chatted with Isakov to find out more about how she’s managed to channel her passion for fashion, the outdoors, and the environment into her company.
Where do you find inspiration for your clothing designs and what inspired you to get into the fashion industry in the first place?
My parents met on the slopes of Mammoth in the 1970s. Because my dad was a ski patroller, I grew up with the incredibly well-dressed skiers of the '70s and '80s, at resorts like Deer Valley or comparable resorts in the Alps. As far as fashion, I took a roundabout way in. I studied public policy and philosophy and was an activist at Brown University. But there was a disconnect. I realized my true passion was design, so I started doing internships and worked at Theory and Elie Tahari, learning fashion on the job. In between, I was going up to Vermont almost every weekend to be on the slopes. For me, there was a big disconnect between my New York City work clothes and the snow gear; the style and fashion I loved from back in the day had really fallen off. I felt uncomfortable in the clothes made for skiers and snowboarders, so, now, I try to emulate the stylish and elegant vintage ski looks I remember from childhood.
When did you decide to incorporate sustainability into your brand?
I have a deep love and appreciation for nature, so I’ve always felt it was my job to raise the bar. When we started in 2003, we were seeking out people aligned with our philosophy. But there really weren’t very many options out there. So, we experimented with a lot of different recycled fibers. In the last two-to-three years, we’ve really seen a big shift in terms of how much people care and the technologies available. We’re always looking to adopt better practices across the board, whether it’s making sure our factories are fair or adding better materials. On the customer side, we didn’t really start highlighting the sustainability angle until 2013, even though we were doing it from the beginning. Now it’s something people want to see.
Why do you think sustainability in the fashion industry is important?
The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters in the world, right there behind oil. There are a lot of reasons for that--chemicals, dyes, waste in production, fast/cheap fashion. For me it’s been an interesting life circle; I started with political, moral philosophy and went into design because it’s my passion. Now, I feel my skills as an activist have come back into my business and I can use it as a vehicle for change. With it, I can do my part to help change how the fashion industry does things.
How do you want your clothes to make women feel?
For me, the point of fashion is to have a transformative experience. I want my clothes to inspire women to get outdoors. When you wear something that fits well and you feel stylish it translates to confidence. Our outdoor looks are really about taking a high fashion sensibility and tailoring it for a sport experience. There are a lot of fashion brands trying to become sports brands right now, but we’re already a ski brand with the technical know-how to create what active women need. And unlike most sports companies, we have that high fashion background to create pieces that keep you warm, feel comfortable, and look good. Versatility and function are key to all of our designs.
With so many cheaper alternatives out there, do you think sustainable fashion can be affordable?
I think it can, but it’s a challenge that has to be worked out at multiple levels. For businesses, they have to realize that sustainability can be economically advantageous and reduce their carbon footprint -- that can be sourcing materials from vendors locally or re-engineering your processes to be more efficient. Personally, we’re not trying to make an inexpensive product, that’s not our route to sustainability. We’re working with the highest standard to come up with a clothing that’s machine washable, that’s going to last, and that you can use, from the airplane to the slopes -- and at the restaurant -- without issues. There’s value in longevity.