Susan Soderberg, a fashion designer hailing from Wyoming, speaks about her love affair with all cultures, the feeling of connectedness among the people in the vast American West, dishes about her newest and hottest 2014 line of clothing, as well as how and why she uses a “green-er” fur in her designs in a phone interview by which yours truly was truly charmed . 🙂
When speaking with Susan, it is abundantly clear to see how Fashion and Western American Culture are simply an ingrained part of who Susan Soderberg is as human being – she fairly gushes at the heartfelt love she feels when mixing together inspiration from different cultures in her chosen art. Not wanting to re-invent the wheel, an already fantastic article detailing her story, travels, and their role in her fashion designs can be found on the web.
Unsurprisingly, Susan’s passionate story quickly made the front page of the Laramie Boomerang – her own community newspaper. A victim of itchy-feet and wander-lust, we can be thankful that in her travels the inspiration Susan has found is reflected into her own magnificent designs.
Her newest line of textile designs, also use pallu’s (pronounced pal-oo) – also known as saris along with many other names, that have been lovingly hand-picked for their exquisite workmanship. I asked Susan what exactly it was about these designs that spoke to her in order to create the “folkloric look” that permeates her line this season:
“…as much as I like to use American Made materials, I feel a deep connection ([sic]with Indian peoples) and want to support their economy and help them…, there are no social services like social security or DFS. No job equals begging, or sex-work for a lot of the women… and there is such a huge workforce, it is simply impossible to employ everyone…”
Susan also added, almost with pride, that India is one of the poorest countries and is still considered a developing nation, but that their textiles are their fastest growing GDP. (gross domestic products). She spoke of the exquisiteness of the patterns that are made under some of the most primitive of conditions and how the making of most of these fabrics is taught through word-of-mouth, handed down generation by generation, going back thousands of years. She especially loves the special intricate border designs that are found on the warp (going up and down/vertical) side of each fabric made, and incorporates that into many of her designs.
In true haute couture fashion, the Western-wear clothing designer is always on the lookout for silk, luxury, and fine craftsmanship with a story. It’s not easy for an emerging designer to find finery in fabric – especially when she lives nowhere near any big fabric suppliers (she’s 40 miles from one in Cheyenne, Wyoming and 60 miles from another in Ft. Collins, Colorado). Susan relies heavily on online sourcing. Some have criticized Susan for trying to make it in the ever-competitive industry, but to that she says, “… well how many people wear clothes?!” In order to make it, she continues to stay on-trend by watching/following pins and boards on Pinterest, scrutinizing fashion weeks, and using those things to continually reinterpret her own Western Style.
Susan’s newest line involves the use of the Mongolian/Tibetan lamb (or “Earthsheep”) that is used as a primary protein source for the people that live in that country. Citing a verse she loves:
“God gives us richly all things to enjoy” 1 Timothy 6:17
People in that part of the world (China in this case) “just aren’t wasteful”.
Susan is well-educated about the better use of fur in fabric and greener choices, and was able to open my eyes to the widespread and myriad of issues surrounding the controversy of fur in fashion. She describes the trim as a long and curly wool, about 4” or more.
Clearly, Susan puts the same keen eye for finery and detail in textiles into the very trim of her designs.
Ranching and hunting wild game is simply a way of life in Wyoming, where she followed her family from Iowa to at the age of 21. Her father would hunt deer and antelope in the “snow-capped mountain ranges” of Centennial. “It’s just a way of life here…. people just don’t understand the kind of connection those of us in the west have with each other. You have to be a part of the culture here (in this part of the country) to understand”.
I can say I absolutely understand this, having grown up mainly in Colorado, and having lived here in New Mexico for the last five years. It’s just “one of those things”… you have to simply be a part of it to understand the Wests’ unique culture. People, to include myself and Susan Soderberg, adore the great big western sky, the sprawling plains, the Rocky Mountains. I remember growing up barefoot and playing in the forest, while still learning to respect nature: all you need is to come across a rattlesnake or to hear the distinctive sound of a cougar echoing throughout the valley or range you happen to be playing in. Camping was a way of life – I always thought myself a bit of a rebel, and wasn’t as into the hunting bit as others around me, but there is a distinctive attitude, real appreciation and unique understanding of life and the many cycles of nature. Ranches are many and simply exist – understanding well life and nature in their own unique way. I never once, myself growing up in Colorado, met a Rancher, hunter, or otherwise that wasted any part of an animal, or didn’t have at least a basic respect for life and the beauty surrounding them… it was through these people I was first introduced to basic ideas of Native Culture – albeit at times stammered to my young ears fairly bashfully, though a deep secret was being revealed to me. Though never, at that time, and perhaps even still, were words like “Social Responsibility”, being “green” or “green-er” ever uttered. Lol
A wonderful Native American perspective on Native ways of life (and even their influence on our very governing structure!)
Some other relevant resources on Ethical Fashion:
THE ETHICAL FASHION FORUM : I first heard of these guys at a forum hosted by them at #MAGICLV in Las Vegas this year
<3 yours truly,
Amanda Marie Caserta
Assistant Executive Producer