When eco-friendliness meets body-positivity: Ella Wiznia of The Series New York’s drive to upend traditional body conceptions and produce upcycled garments
The origin of ‘The Series NY’
Piece includes the following disclaimer: ‘This garment was not designed for a specific gender or body’. The colorful garments created by The Series NY are designed to exist unconstrained by season, sex, or size. Inspired by mid-century American designs and constructed from vintage materials, garments range in size from 2XS to 4XL. The Series NY is the culmination of founder and designer Ella Wiznia’s determination to create a fashion line that occupies the border between sustainability and inclusivity.
Diagnosed with an eating disorder in her final year of high school, Wiznia became disillusioned with the images of models found in the catalogs of high fashion brands. To escape the bombardment from marketing campaigns she viewed as unrealistic, she turned away from boutiques to thrift and vintage stores, falling in love with Levi’s denim. Recalling her hero Suze Rotolo, the 1960’s counter-cultural icon who sewed an extra patch of denim into then-boyfriend Bob Dylan’s jeans to create a proto-bell bottom, Wiznia tried embroidering her favorite pairs of vintage denim, attaching appliques and patches to the jeans.
Vintage clothes: challenging the fashion industry
A formal embroidery class taken at Brooklyn’s Made Workshop. The only student in the class at the time, she found a mentor in Make Workshop’s founder Diana Rupp, learning advanced embroidery techniques in addition to traditional stitching methods. Evidence of devotion to these techniques can be seen throughout the collection as strips of fabric are applied onto tote bags, and patches of vintage are stitched together to create psychedelic chore shirts. Turning the embroidery hobby she had taken up as a tool for recovery into a tidy business, requests began to pour in from strangers.
Recalling her personal battle with her eating disorder, Wiznia decided to create garments and leverage her business into a tool to address environmentally damaging production methods and restrictions on clothing sizes. Parlaying her love for vintage into a promise to use only pre-existing materials and fueled by this desire to challenge norms with the fashion industry, The Series NY was launched with sustainability and inclusivity as foundational principles.
Empathy and re-use
Essential to Wiznia’s design logic is the concept of empathy. Entering university at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, she was tasked with defining her own curriculum. Fascinated by New York City history and enamored by the park advocates’ love for public space, she set out to become a public garden designer. Concerns about the impact of park planning weighed on her decision. «Learning about park design in this academic, theoretical – what does this do about gentrification? If design is not married with policy, how does that affect someone beyond me?». «When creating, I try to see how a 12-year-old or 7-year-old would see this, or how my mentor would see this. I am aware of how this might affect all of these people».
Furthermore, the unconventional ‘role models’ used for look books and online product shots are chosen to represent a variety of body shapes. «When we do castings, I just contact people through Instagram. If someone wants to model and is confident, the job’s theirs». Material for The Series NY is sourced from around the country, scavenged from thrift stores, or tracked down online. Not limited to deadstock items, the brand takes advantage of all vintage fabric. From sofa trims to crochet quilts, any fabric is eligible for use in The Series NY garments, and none of it is ordered from a factory.
Connecting personal meaning with enduring style
Woodstock, the Great Depression Era quilts, and 1960’s West Village. Wiznia chooses not to study the archival collections of major fashion houses. Working from intuition rather than the perspective of a fashion critic, swatches, patterns, and color palettes are chosen ad hoc. Elements from multiple eras or garments are meshed into a single piece. The Series NY displays a puffer jacket constructed from a found Sesame Street comforter next to a Yo-Yo Tank made from vintage 1960’s quilts. At first glance, the use of heritage and vintage materials may suggest a need to rely upon nostalgia to dictate aesthetics. . «The shapes and silhouettes of garments from that time have always been what I look for myself. When you take one quality that was classic at one time and another that was classic at another, it’s going to be interesting.» She does not claim to create new shapes or structures but instead aims to create garments that connect personal meaning with enduring style.
Wiznia chose to recruit one more member to her outfit – Houston-based Grace Wells, who carries the title ‘Head of Production’. Nonetheless, production still takes place in Wiznia’s home in upstate New York. Tucked away inside of a studio space overflowing with quilts, trims, scraps, and threads, garments for The Series NY are handmade, with portions of work outsourced to Grace Wells in Houston.
The unique piece role: connecting and handing down
To ensure consistent demand from customers, buyers look for uniformity among garments. Changes in shape, color, and material among individual items can cause uneasiness among stores and distributors. «Upcycling is a way to guarantee that the consumer is going to get a one of one piece. Someone will see it and say ‘This is what I’ve been looking for’, or ‘That reminds me of my Grandma’. It will stay in someone’s closet longer than a mass-produced garment». Inseparable from The Series NY’s conception of sustainable practices and enhancing value through upcycling is the existence of individual items.
While identical Uniqlo vests may wind up in a landfill, Wiznia contends that unique pieces are more likely to form a personal connection with the consumer, and can be transferred to the next generation. «Kids don’t have to go to fashion school. They also don’t need a portfolio or an incredible technique for draping by the time that you’re 15». The topics she was interested in as a young girl included silversmithing in Boston, the Disney musical movie Newsies, and the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, none of which, she admits, have anything to do with fashion. She insists people will find their chosen calling, no matter the timing. «I could have pursued park construction. Then one day, when I’m 45 years old, someone might say, ‘Do you want to try this other thing?’. Just don’t rush it».
The Series NY
Founded by Ella Wiznia in 2016. Each piece is one of a kind, handmade in New York, created entirely of preexisting materials and genderless. Items include made-to-order puffers, tank tops, knits, and denim