Volume 74, Number 42 | February 23 - March 01, 2005


Villager photos by Tien-Shun Leea

Genevieve Gaelyn, left, and Atom Cianfarani

Co-op helps designers keep it real, and affordable

By Tien-Shun Lee

Like new roommates, the eclectic clothing at WEAR fashion co-op shares space neatly. On one end of the rack are gowns laced with bicycle inner tubing; in the middle is a case of silver jewelry trimmed with bright enamel; on the far end are vintage silk pieces brushed with gossamer fabric paint.

The clothing, and their designers, have come together for economic reasons. Like roommates, the designers share rent and utility bills. In return for one-seventh of a one-dressing-room showroom, each of the seven members of WEAR pays $200 per month in rent and spends one day a week manning the retail space and selling.

“Before I joined the co-op, most of the stores that sold my pieces would mark them up by 200 percent,” said Ariadna Correa, 30, one of two jewelers in the co-op, located at 155 E. Second St., between Avenues A and B. “This made my jewelry too expensive. A necklace would be like $300 — a price people are not willing to pay. Now I can sell much more at prices that are much more accessible.”

Correa hooked up with the co-op after meeting Atom Cianfarani, 34, and Genevieve Gaelyn, 33, at the Designer Lot, a market in Brooklyn where designers can showcase their clothing.

“It’s a result of the market,” said Cianfarani of the co-op. “It’s about young designers’ desires to access the market they’re looking for.”

Before starting the co-op, Cianfariani and Gaelyn — the original renters of the space — used their storefront to showcase their designs exclusively. But with clothing to produce, fashion shows to prepare for and mentoring to do at the Parson’s School of Design, the design team (and former lesbian couple) hardly had time for running a store. They considered hiring somebody to run the place, but then decided they didn’t want to become a regular retail store.

In August of 2001, after a year of searching for suitable co-op members, the pair opened up WEAR.

“We didn’t want to be managers,” explained Gaelyn as she sat in a back room stitching used bicycle inner tubing into an aqua-blue, polysilk gown — one of 40 pieces for an upcoming Los Angeles fashion show. “We wanted people who already had their own thing going on.”

The idea of opening up a fashion co-op fit into Gaelyn and Cianfarani’s portfolio of do-good actions, which includes using recycled materials for their clothing, supporting youth employment and youth education in recycling, and collaborating with the nonprofit group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to put on animal-friendly fashion shows.

“[The co-op] is just a good thing for young designers,” said Cianfarani. “It’s a big jump from making stuff at home to making stuff for show.”

Cianfarani and Gaelyn blame President Bush for turning the world into a place ruled by large corporations, where small businesses find it harder and harder to survive.

“Every industry is run by a corporation,” Cianfarani griped. “Fashion is no different. Bush is making it easy for major corporations to take over the planet…. All I can say is in my runway show for L.A., it’s going to be David Bowie, ‘I’m Afraid of America.’”

Out front in the retail showroom, co-op member Velvet Valentine (her parents were hippies, she explains of her name) agreed wholeheartedly with Cianfarani. Dressed in a knit fuscia top layered over a skirt reconstructed with old beads, Valentine, 29, disparaged department stores as spaces with impersonal products produced by chains of people.

“You go into a department store and there’s 40 people in the middle of the process of that object getting to you,” said Valentine. “You pick it up, and there really isn’t that much energy in that plastic belt.”

At the co-op, each piece has a lot of heart and soul, said Valentine, as she gave a tour of each co-op member’s space: Koki’s work is tribal inspired; Imaan’s beaded jewelery is grounded; Persia’s theme is black and white; Ariadna’s work is silver mixed with feather weave; Lopeti’s fashion is wool, for the moment; Atom and Gena’s work is heavy with latex and recycled rubber; and Valentine’s own work is signature reworked vintage.

“I do a lot of paints and junky construction,” explained Valentine. “I do silk painting on vintage. People seem to like that a lot — to relove things.”

Valentine, who found Gaelyn and Cianfarani through an ad on Craigslist, describes the co-op as a supportive oasis within the shallow world of fashion.

“This has a good vibe, a good mission,” she said. “It’s like a family.”

Correa, on the other hand, described the co-op a little more matter-of-factly — “It’s a very good solution,” she said. “It’s the only way for young designers that are starting to be able to sell. New York is so expensive that if you don’t get a roommate it’s really hard.”

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