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A Not So Quiet Riot: Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour Walks the Walk

As creative director behind one of the most loved and dynamic ethically-focused fashion brands today, New York designer Hillary Taymour’s story is one of passion, innovation and standing by your beliefs in every aspect of your being. Over the past 15 years, Taymour has quite literally pushed the boundaries of what conscious creation looks and feels like, favoring deadstock materials, small local production and a diverse and inclusive cast of collaborators and family. Checking more boxes than what most expect from a ‘sustainable’ designer, Hillary has long opted out of using the outdated term, instead embracing a more realistic focus on running her business in the most planet-friendly way. She’s not too worried about labeling what she does; less talking, more doing. The Collina gang looks like no one else around – and the fashion landscape is all the better for it. 

Read more about Hillary and her holistic approach to her craft below.

PHOTOGRAPHY + DIRECTOR JESPER DAMSGAARD LUND @jesperdlund @2dmmanagement  
STYLING + INTERVIEW JESPER GUDBERGSEN @yessirjesper 
HAIR LEDORA @ledora @clmagency
MAKEUP ALLIE SMITH @alliesmithmakeup @maworldgroup 
DP BASIL FAUCHIER @basilfauchier
EDITING YELLOW POST @yellowpost.house
SOUND DESIGN + MIXING TRISTAN BECHET @tristan_bechet
MODELS DELILAH @delilahkoch @heroesmodels OYINDA @oyinda @monroe.nyc ROSELINE @roselinelawrence @wilhelminamodels SIRAT @s.irat
CASTING JOE VIOLA @josephcharlesviola

Hi Hillary! Tell us how you grew up and how you see the influence of your Childhood in your life today?

I grew up riding horses and in nature when I was younger. I used to ride horses through the trails in my neighborhood as well as compete. My favorite times in my childhood were on my horse surrounded by nature. I guess that has a huge influence on my work and it shows with my love of nature.

What’s behind the name Collina Strada – and why did you choose not to design under your own name?

When I was in fashion school people didn’t think my name matched my personality. Hillary seemed a bit boring so one person called me Collina which means Hill in Italian and Strada was just an idea after the fact. I love how it sounded like a person but never really was. I was 21 when I started the brand so it didn’t seem right to name it after myself. I also feel like it’s unnecessary since a brand is built with a team and not a singular human.

We share a mutual dislike for the word “sustainability” and how greenwashed the term has become. What does actual sustainability mean to you and why do you choose not to attach the term to your work?

I believe it’s nearly impossible to be completely sustainable if you are shipping garments around the world. If you were trading and producing locally that would be a different story but as a global brand I find it tricky. I choose to not claim things that I believe are unattainable in the way that I interpret them.

What word(s) do you prefer to use instead of sustainability and why?

Conscious and ethical.

In looking through past interviews, your responses to the standard questions for designers are beyond refreshing. I so appreciate the way you demand that we turn everything on its head and look at things in an unconventional way. Do you consider yourself a contrarian and if so – what does that mean to you?

I just think I am very much myself. I am extremely comfortable in my skin and I want to be a good role model in the industry for others. I try not to think too much about it but I do speak up when necessary about issues I believe in. I care too much.

How is Collina Strada different and what makes the brand stand out?

This is a tricky question because I am so close to it it’s so hard for me to say it how others perceive the brand. But I think Collina is a beautiful example of having a small successful business that has values and makes an effort. We do the work so you don’t have to when you shop. I think the brand stands out through its positive approach and loud approach on the runway. I love to do fashion shows, it’s my favorite thing. I love being different and creating a moment that speaks about a topic.

Can you share some of the messages that are at the core of your brand?

Try to make the world a better place within your community. Be a leader for change.

How do you describe authenticity ?

Being a trustworthy human that practices what they preach.

What do you find beautiful?

Nature is the ultimate beauty, you can’t recreate it, only enjoy it.

Recently, news came out about several companies that were creating and developing new ethical materials – leather alternatives being one of them – shutting down due to lack of funding. Have you worked with bio-materials and if so, what was that experience like?

Yes I have worked with many bio materials. I love them! There are some leather alternatives I love like VEGEA and the alternative I used with my UGG collaboration. That material was UGG owned and developed internally. However I have worked with some of the materials that do not have the best quality unless they are mixed with a ton of plastic. Sometimes these materials end up being 60% PU and that defeats the whole purpose. What happens is they tend to rip at the seams and wear too much and the customer cant justify the price. We are a few years away from perfecting the best 100% bio based formula that can be produced on a commercial level and in this economy it’s hard for investors to keep injecting money. I do think it will happen, Tomtex is doing great work.

Are you interested in developing your own materials and what does a dream material that does not exist yet look like for you?

I would love to. It would be a dream to have something that’s sheer and intricate that is organic and comes from a byproduct of another industry.

What are your thoughts on using recycled / ocean-bound / repurposed plastic in your collection?

I think plastic is never the answer. We have used it in the past but its not something Im trying to source.

In the past, you’ve talked about the collective responsibility to do better on an individual level, changing our habits, and taking steps to minimize the impact on our planet. In recent years the conversation has shifted and many like minded caring individuals are fed up with the focus on the consumer and want the corporations and governments to accept responsibility and incorporate change. What are your thoughts on this ?

Those people should start lobbying for change or start boycotting brands you don’t believe in. It all starts with the consumer. Remember ten years ago there were no vegan options on menus. Now you can go to any restaurant in the world and people will accommodate a vegan, a gluten free individual, etc. That change was all based on consumer demand. Money talks and if you collectively shift where you spend your dollars the corporations will start to take notice if they haven’t already. Obviously it would be great if the government would set up laws and corporations would take more responsibility, but that hasn’t happened yet. Until then protest with your dollars.

You surround yourself with a family of like minded spirits and we explored the idea of muses for the visual part of this story, choosing people to model your clothes that all have a history with the brand. Describe your collaborators/muses, how you work with them in person daily and what this means for you personally and the brand?

I am so fortunate to have so many extremely talented people in my life. Everyone who has ever worked on a Collina project brings their own personality to the table and it’s amazing. Most of these connections happen naturally through mutual friends or we follow each other on instagram. Or I am just a fan. Everyday I am collaborating on some level whether it’s texting my best friend Sara Hiromi who models for the brand if she likes a shoe in a certain color or calling Charlie Engman the art director constantly to solidify artwork for a graphic. Every person plays their own role and it all happens organically.

People who don’t share your values, don’t care about veganism or flat out deny the climate crisis etc – how do you deal with them and is it important to you to change someone’s mind?

Typically I don’t come across these individuals often however I always try to lead by example. I also love to throw in a few haunting facts about the meat industry over dinner right before they order a burger.

“Compassion fatigue”. Activism – even on a quiet personal level – can be very emotionally and physically draining. Do you have any advice on how to educate ourselves and actively make changes while also taking care of ourselves?

I think everyday is a new journey. Always make sure you have space for yourself even if it is just 10 minutes clearing the noise. I set up google alerts on topics that I want to read about and I scroll through daily so I don’t need to search on news sites. Share any information that speaks to you to help spread the word and don’t be afraid to go against the grain on issues you believe in.

Where is CS going next and can you share what excites you about the year ahead?

Every year is different. This year we have a ton of new collaboration drops that I love. Being able to make the brand more financially accessible to others is very important to me when we can do it in a safe production environment. Honestly every day is a new day and I never know what’s around the corner. That’s what makes me love my job.

How would you like to be remembered?

I would love people to remember the shows, have their favorite Collina memories and continue the journey of ethical fashion.

Lastly, I’d love for you to share one or more charities, non-profits or philanthropic efforts that you love and want more people to know about ?

The Or Foundation Cool Earth : Working with Indigenous People to Protect Rainforests