There are certain people you meet in life that shift and help shape the path of your future. Two years ago, I was introduced to Davora Lindner, the Co-Founder, and designer of Seattle-based sustainable brand Prairie Underground. At this moment in my life, I was beginning my journey of investigating the ways marginalized communities can reweave and reimagine their futures through interdisciplinary methods. Fashion has always been a crucial mode of expression, especially for those deemed invisible by the dominant culture. It provides a space to be bold, loud and proud for yourself, and your community.
This was a new approach to ecology. The first time I saw a Prairie Underground editorial was the first time I saw myself, and my community, reflected in our entirety. The pieces looked (and did actually) come from the Earth (Tencel, hemp, linen). This was a new level of eco-consciousness that I had ever seen embedded in the clothing. The faces in the campaign were faces of friends, colleagues, and folx I would often wave to as I walked on Capitol Hill. The models were people who, in my mind, always deserved to be in fashion editorials but were labeled too edgy or ethnic, when in reality, they were the right amount of fabulous.
Prairie Underground sets the standards high for sustainable fashion. Since 2004, Prairie Underground has dedicated itself to cultivating a diverse community while simultaneously raising eco-awareness. The emphasis on the ethical and ecological aspects of sustainability is foundational to their business model. Their garments are manufactured within fifteen minutes of their warehouse, allowing them to pay workers fairly, provide safe work conditions, and ensure agency/mobility for their employees. As many companies and brands are catching up by announcing their pledge towards sustainability, inclusion and diversity, Prairie Underground continues to authentically showcase, and engage with its local and digital QTBIPOC community.
As we continue to live in uncertain times, the CD Team is centering dialogues that provoke deep contemplation. After collaborating earlier this year, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to chat with Davora to discuss the importance of centering care, community, and creativity when constructing a more eco-conscious and inclusive future.
Prairie is a culmination of artistic passion, radical activism, and relationship building. Davora and Co-Founder Camilla Eckersley met when they were in high school. “We kind of had a friendship that was aligned around fashion, but one of two different journeys,” says Davora. While Camilla was getting a degree in fashion and becoming a fashion designer in San Francisco, Davora was an artist in Minneapolis. The two maintained a close relationship, it was only a matter of time until Davora considered moving to L.A. and Camilla proposed that they start a label together.
“So now we sort of discuss what that would look like with structure that was kind of built on her experience in the industry. But then weaving in different ideas that were more aligned with our values and the way that we wanted to create something that was unique and something that was also emblematic of time and space that we had shared,” says Davora.
They developed what would eventually become Prairie, by reflecting on the global events, ideologies, and key figures that inspired them. It was the time of the HIV & Aids pandemic, apartheid, and the queer rights movement. Drawing from feminism, socialism, and the anti-racist work of Angela Davis (who they eventually met and dressed) and bell hooks, they honed in on the type of business they would want to create.
When Prairie launched, the fashion industry had different priorities. Even though discourse about the impacts of climate change and global warming were becoming more mainstream, fashion was not an early adapter. “There wasn’t a sustainable fashion industry when we started. It certainly wasn’t a value that many people held throughout their careers. There were times when we even concealed components of our collection because it was a polarizing time,” says Davora. Although “[i]t was something that was a part of our mission from the beginning. This is also reflected in how brands choose to discuss diversity. “I think it’s a really important conversation to pay attention to and then also to look at the history of a company’s relationship with issues of intersectionality.” This goes beyond who is modeling the clothes, who represents the brand? What are the values of the label? What is their accountability to communities of color?
Where many companies shy away from using eco-language to describe their products, or overly identify with sustainable standards without committing to ethical practices, Davora takes a more holistic approach. “Part of the reason why stores are boutique buyers would respond negatively to the term sort of sustainability,or even just organic cotton, is this idea of some type of dogmatic sort of purity that everybody is supposed to achieve. I view sustainability more as a discipline or an exercise. It’s a reminder to consider thoughtfully your relationship to other humans, other sentient creatures and your relationship to objects.
Much of what Prairie does demonstrates their value beyond the objects they create and moves it into the relationships they build. Being an artist herself, Davora sees the importance of providing opportunities as space or materials to artists at any stage of development. During her career, many of her community-driven projects were funded through grants giving her a keen insight into the difficulties of navigating the art world both financially and institutionally. Prairie supports local artists by opening up their showroom for their artist series. “We produce a lot of offcuts, a lot of textiles that are destroyed by products or waste of art, our manufacturing, and we recycle a lot of them, but we also give them freely to artists.”
By reframing excess material waste as artist materials and their warehouse and showroom as a resource, the Prairie team conjured up their version of an artist-in-residence. They invited their friends and friends of friends to create spaces to gather and mobilize. Since Frank Correa debuted the series with a Los Angeles themed travel log, artists including Kim Selling / Deep Space Fine, Malcolm Proctor (pictured above from left to right), and myself have participated.
“When we moved to a space in Georgetown, it had a history. It’s a post-industrial neighborhood. It has a history of sort of being a space for artist studios and also for people to create. I think there’s always been micro-industries that have been established here. And we wanted to create a space for discourse where there was no there was no sort of level of or no expectation of financial exchange to invite people into our space and share and share the neighborhood along with us.”
Unfortunately, COVID stalled their plans for the next segment of the series. The exhibition meant for Earth Month is a collective showcase. It will include a mix of artists from previous projects and fresh faces. Now, they are revisiting the exhibition and hoping to have it take place within the near future. Following the current pandemic protocol, the showroom is now open with a scheduled appointment (with a mask of course). If you plan to drop by and don’t have a facemask or want to donate some, check out these.