A Milwaukee native and New York City implant, a Parsons graduate, a designer, a creative for sustainable fashion, and Virgo among many other admirable benchmarks and fun facts, NYFW designer Elena Velez gives us some insight to her world as if we couldn’t catch her at a more busier time. She was just selected to show her collection at the VFiles runway show presented by Sprite. We find out that sustainability is not a gimmick but the foundation that her brand stands firm on. She has a valuable eye and passes along history and knowledge of how real life tragedies affect us all. The beautiful irony of her collections is that it shows us as a humanity how we can ethically and sustainably recover and evolve.
C$BNYC: Happy 24 years of life! How does it feel to be a year older? What do you plan to do differently or more of to grow yourself now that you have experienced so much from the previous year alone. How do you plan to top that? Congratulations to you!!!
Elena Velez: Thanks! I celebrated a birthday between NYFW and LFW. Growing older has been kind of a scary thing for me. When i was a child i received a lot of attention as a designer for my unprecedented age and i think it’s given me a bit of a complex that I’ve had to work through growing up – that my professional success isn’t directly related to my young age…
C$BNYC: You grew up in a very different environment than where you are now in New York. There’s no place like it. Tell me how has your childhood and upbringing influenced who you are now as a woman, as a designer, and where you want to be short term and long term?
Elena Velez: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the only child of a single mother who worked as a ship captain. My childhood was spent in spaces that were very industrial and utilitarian – ship yards, docks, engine rooms… I’m sure it has influenced my aesthetic. My mom is a woman who has had to command respect from men as a profession. She also had to assume the role of both mom and dad when I was growing up. Her strength, independence, and unconventional femininity have really inspired me as a person and a designer.
C$BNYC: How has New York changed you if any at all?
Elena Velez: New York has shown me unprecedented opportunity, immense disappointment and instilled me with a very true sense of realism. It’s a place where a walk down the right street or a chance encounter can change your life.
C$BNYC: Tell us about Machine Shop and how that came to be and your intentions for the project?
Elena Velez: Originally my film Machine Shop was to be a short fashion film released with my collection but once i began to cast talent and realized what an amazing group of multidisciplinary artists i had access to, i wanted to widen the scope of the project to allow for their talents to shine through as well. Ideally I’d like to do an extensive project like that in my hometown with the launch of every new collection.
C$BNYC: What made you pursue design and what makes you stick to it?
Elena Velez: I’ve been interested in design as a hobby since childhood. Professional ambition is only a recent development. It’s an outlet for me to develop personal skills like entrepreneurship, self awareness, critical engagement, and storytelling while making something tangible, useful, and potentially corrective in an industry in need of serious rehabilitation.
C$BNYC: What do you think of the influence of social media in society today? What are some pros and cons and how do you think they should be addressed? This sort of virtual vs reality world is very tricky especially for someone who is looking for guidance or inspiration in their own life.
Elena Velez: Content is king. Instagram is probably the ultimate advertisement channel. Everything is manufactured and a production: It takes a team of people to compose an image. Instagram is the LinkedIn for creatives in the visual arts industry and followings and engagements become essentially your professional endorsements. It’s nice to be able to have a curated, accessible, one-stop landing for people to engage with your brand, but it also makes the experience one dimensional, glossy, and formulaic.
C$BNYC: In a world that’s always looking for the new or next best thing, how do you plan to keep this idea and concept of sustainable fashion fresh and new? Right now I think you have really hit the sweet spot because you’ve tapped into history and so people generally want to learn but also you’ve created this sort of real life scenario of how fashion and normal lives are affected by a tragedy like war. So is it a continuation of that or do you have completely other different ideas for where you want to take your brand?
Elena Velez: The sustainability component of my brand is not a sales pitch or a special feature. It’s an essential and non negotiable reality of creating a product in the world today. Treating the conversation on conservation and sustainability like a trend is irresponsible and out of touch with reality. What I’d like to do with my brand is to continue to interpret sustainably ingenious techniques applied during other aftermath industries into design for today and tomorrow. I imagine each collection as a discovery of a new bank of techniques that roll over into the next season and ultimately become the codes of my brand. Each body of work is a progressive culmination of its predecessors, evolving and expanding as my brand grows. It’s important to me to offer something of merit to the industry and not to enjoy a comfortable yet self congratulatory career as someone who simply makes pretty things for rich people. •
Many thanks to Elena Velez.
Photo Credits: Elena Velez, myself