Sustainable Brand The Wasted Collective’s Designers Say Fashion Needs An Eco-Reinvention

by Aaron Royce

“Sustainability” is on every designer’s lips right now, as it should be, but what actually makes a brand sustainable? We asked Jesse Leyva and Ronald Akili, founders of new eco-conscious athleisure brand The Wasted Collective, who know a thing or two about building a label while keeping the environment in mind. The designer duo, who are alumni of Nike and Potato Head Beach Club, talk finding inspiration in Bali, producing clothes during a pandemic, their new partnership with Dover Street Market, and how fashion can become a more environmentally friendly industry. 

How did each of you get your start in the fashion industry?
Jesse: I was very fortunate to break into the industry right out of college by working at Nike, primarily working on Nike’s classic sneakers, artist collaborations, and with skateboarders. This experience gave me a great foundation and balance of innovation, cultural storytelling, and solving the needs of the athlete. I was also a part of Nike’s first Nike Considered team.
Ronald: [Laughs] Am I really in the fashion industry? I just built on an extension of what I was already doing.
How did you meet, and how did you decide to come together on The Wasted Collective?
Jesse: We met on a collective trip to Bali. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I went to Bali, but, as soon as we landed I fell in love with the vibe, the people, and the beautiful island design. When I first met Ronald, we shared a lot of the same feelings on design, the environment, and food. So it was a natural conversation when it came down to collaborating on The Wasted Collective.
Ronald: We wanted to utilize the approach and mindset developed in hospitality and in Bali. We see how people get inspired when they come here to visit us, and thought we could build on that idea translating to The Wasted Collective.
What were some challenges you faced and overcame while creating this brand?
Jesse: Like anyone working in our space, the pandemic changed everything we knew about designing, sourcing, collaborating. For the actual production of garments,  the process of sample developments, the fittings of garments, and meeting with craft experts to make our product was a huge challenge. Everyone was very flexible and open to the changes, that we were able to figure it out. As a culture, it’s amazing how resilient creatives are. We worked a little slower, but made smarter decisions.
Ronald: The biggest challenge we have faced is understanding the market of fashion and where we stand during the pandemic, being to produce sustainable clothing at a high quality that means our team’s standards.
Why did you choose to base the Collective in casual wear? Was it accelerated by the pandemic?
Jesse: Our design ethos is based on redefining classics, so the idea of fleece and t-shirts were on our plan from the very beginning. The staples which are now known as casual wear are items we’ve always lived in.
Ronald: We were designing The Wasted Collective, but the idea was accelerated by what has happened this year. We don’t think things are going to go back to normal. Instead, we really see new pathways opening up, channels for us to do better when it comes to living in sync with our planet. It’s about starting on a new foot. We always want to provide something that’s really beautiful, that’s fun, and that’s made with as much of a sustainable focus as possible.
What was the process like to create and produce your first sustainable collection? Were there a lot of learning curves?
Jesse: Finding like-minded partners created a new learning curve. However, I’ve always believed in doing more with less. It was something I learned early on at Nike with my then-creative director, Richard Clark. I believe the best designs are rooted in the classics, have a sharp focus on material, always incorporate a balance of the classics and the moment’s go-to color, and a silhouette that is distinctive but easy for everyone. For the Wasted Collective design team, designing into sustainability isn’t a “special pack” or “special initiative.” For The Wasted Collective Design Studio, sustainability is at the center of all things we create.
Congrats on your new partnership with Dover Street Market! How did that come to be?
Ronald: We are lucky to have a relationship with DSM through Potato Head, where we have been selling some of our sustainable clothing over the last  several years. Through that relationship and our shared visions about how we can keep moving the world forward, they supported us from the first season, which we are very grateful for.
Your second collection is dropping in a couple of weeks! What can you tell us about these new pieces?
Jesse: Our second collection is a continuation of season one with new colors in our fleece. Because of the pandemic, new styles in season two are really still part of season one , we are just delivering them a bit later. This season, we introduced into our collection pieces made in Japan. We are using more Washi fabric, organic cotton, and new hardware made from recycled fishing nets.
What are each of your favorite pieces you’ve designed so far, and why?
Jesse: Our ReCraft jacket is my favorite piece to date. Chore jackets have been a staple in my wardrobe for years. Being able to create what I think is one of the best-fitting chore jackets I’ve ever worn, by re-crafting fabrics from garments that would have otherwise been thrown into landfills or destroyed, is really amazing. Huge thanks to the whole team that made this jacket happen.
Ronald: I really love the t-shirts, once of my favorites is the Good Times Scribble t-shirt. I also love shorts because of childhood upbringing.
Let’s talk about sustainability. Why is sustainability important to each of you?
Jesse: I have two kids, what this planet looks like for their kids is something that terrifies me—but I’m an optimistic person by nature, so I really believe we can solve this massive challenge our planet faces. My oldest son is getting his BFA in sustainable design this year. My youngest son wears vintage almost exclusively, because re-using is how he feels he’s helping make a change.  The fact that designers are now required to have a strong sustainable foundation adds to my optimism. I’m a firm believer that designers can change the world.
Ronald: We saw that there was a need for a significant shift in the way businesses conduct themselves, both in terms of environment and community. We sought to set new industry standards and infuse our love of creativity and design into sustainability to show others that, to truly inspire, we must reinvent ourselves and what we bring to our customers.
How often do you think collections should be produced for a brand to be truly sustainable?
Jesse: Seasonalities are a real thing. For most of the world, you need to evolve your looks two to three times a year.
However, there are staples that are season-less. We are approaching the collections this way. We have items that will be available year round, in the same colors. Our approach to color will also allow consumers to wear products from any season together.
What advice do you have for designers looking to make their brands more sustainable, whether they’re emerging or established?
Jesse: Understand what your brand is famous for, and make those styles better through sustainable practices. Real change is going to happen when the biggest styles in the industry are re-imagined.
Ronald: Take it one day at a time. Good Times, Do Good.
What’s coming up for the brand this year?
Jesse: Sneakers!

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