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Slow-fashion advocate Baily Rose in her element, wearing a gown she designed.
Slow-fashion advocate Baily Rose in her element, wearing a gown she designed.
Courtesy of Baily Rose

Colorado Creatives: Baily Rose

Fashion designer and slow-fashion activist Baily Rose grew up in the Colorado Rockies, a background that infuses her loose, sensual, ecological and ethical styles, which she handcrafts and often models herself against stunning mountain scenery.

Back in Colorado after two years of pursuing a master’s degree in sustainable fashion in Berlin, Rose is inviting designers to join the slow-fashion revolution through the Tailors Union, a virtual meeting place and directory she created where like-minded designers everywhere can find one another and offer skills and services in the sustainable market.

Why does Rose so fiercely and radically support this quest? With the loud voice of a political protester, the designer lays it all out as she answers the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.

A caped silk dress designed by Baily Rose.EXPAND
A caped silk dress designed by Baily Rose.
Matthew Novak

Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse? 

Baily Rose: The earth and sky untouched by humans, first and foremost. Embodied goddess spirits: My wifey, Heather Penhale, has been a constant muse/friend/source of support and insight for over ten years. Anyone who has creatively worked with me in the past, many and any of the friends who have worn clothing I have made; Matthew Novak's magical picture-making, lovers and filmmakers.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party and why?

My Grandfather Rose, because I never met him before he died at 44.

Madame Vionnet. I would like to ask her what she thinks about the current fashion industry.

Esther Hicks, who embodies the consciousness Abraham, to ask her for advice on how to heal the fashion industry and the collective consciousness surrounding the way we dress ourselves.

What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?

Best: Jack Makovsky's Denver Design Incubator and Ralph's Industrial Sewing are immensely helpful resources for designers, and have been supporting the rise of the fashion industry here for decades. Also, I just started as adjunct faculty at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design (RMCAD), and the chair of the fashion department, Nicole Bartet, has been amazing and very supportive of sustainable fashion ideas and efforts. The school provides a lot of resources, discussions and workshops for the students and the public for free.

Worst: People making things that don't need to be made, including myself. We are on our way to 7.8 billion people on this planet, and we are currently making about 150 billion garments a year, while only consuming 80 billion garments a year, and countless items of clothing and textiles are already in people's closets, thrift stores, etc. Yes, the fashion industry will continue making things, and consumers will still want to buy them, but if  something is being made and bought, it needs to be 100 percent sustainably and ethically created, consumed and cared for. This means designers need to be making things 100 percent sustainable, or not at all! This means consumers need to drastically change their buying habits. I am, of course, saddened by the coronavirus, but I'm simultaneously glad. I can see how something like this will make people change. It needs to be drastic for people to wake the F up.

How about globally?

Best: The Fashion Revolution Campaign. Educating the public on sustainable fashion and equipping fashion revolutionaries with tools to create change, urging people to ask "Who made my clothes?" and "What's in my clothes?"

Worst: Samesies. Transparency, secrecy and the unwillingness to collaborate/work with others also plays a big role in these issues.

Baily Rose's simple strapless tube dress.EXPAND
Baily Rose's simple strapless tube dress.
Matthew Novak

What are your goals as a designer interested in slow and sustainable fashion?

My life purpose is to help heal the fashion industry and the collective consciousness surrounding dressing oneself. Of the clothes I have made in the past, people will say to me, "Oh, I love that, but I could never pull it off!" I tell them, "The only thing you have to do to pull something off in fashion is to put it on!"

People are so uncomfortable in their bodies, and obviously feel confined when they want to dress a certain way, but feel they can't. It's all a feeling, and they are feeling confined in their bodies. The way they dress shows this: They are clothing themselves in chemicals and slavery. It's a both a metaphor and real thing: They feel confined, as they support enslaved workers (unknowingly).

I want to help people feel comfortable, safe, protected and expressive. Most conventional clothes are full of toxins, from the pesticides used to grow the fiber to the dyes and finishings on the garment. We are literally making ourselves sick by wearing new clothes, while using and supporting slave labor that is oceans away from us, polluting the earth in the process. How can we call ourselves free if we clothe ourselves in slavery? A lot of people don't know. Educating the public on sustainable fashion is a need because the fashion industry is so non-transparent. My ultimate goal is to be of service to people and the planet. I found purpose in helping to heal the fashion industry.

Currently, my master's thesis project is my road map to helping heal the industry: the Tailors Union, "The Airbnb of Slow Fashion," to connect slow-fashion artisans with the public. The Tailors Union focuses on supporting sustainable fashion creation, consumption and care practices by creating a directory of slow-fashion artisans that the public can connect with to sustainably consume and care (mend, tailor, upcycle, etc.) for their wardrobes. The sustainable fashion creation aspect supports artisans by giving them a space to advertise their sustainable fashion care practices offered and their own creations to the public, like Airbnb has done for people to list their spaces for rent to anyone looking for a place to stay. The TU is currently in the iterative phase of creating an online directory on the website. The goal is to have a fully operational app platform like Airbnb. The Host in the case of the TU is the slow-fashion artisan. The guest is the person looking for a care service for their clothing or textiles, or the shopper looking to sustainably consume fashion.

In the future, I would really like to see more local fashion design businesses based on upcycling. When I was last in Denver, people would bring me their old textiles (sheets, shirts, even wedding dresses!) to commission me to upcycle their old beloved textiles that were no longer serving a purpose into something that did. The initial inspiration for the app (I came up with the idea before grad school, about six years ago) was to be able to create a space where more upcycling fashion designers could connect with people to upcycle their textiles. Sustainable fashion was not as popular at that time, and it was harder for people to wrap their heads around creating new fashions from something they would otherwise hoard in their closets or give away. After I spent years as a host and guest on Airbnb, and then as a tailor in Vail, I knew I could expand this app idea to serve sustainable fashion creation, consumption and care practices on multiple levels.

It has been difficult for sustainable fashion artisans who are typically one-person businesses to handle everything on their own, especially when competing with large fashion corporations that have huge advertising and marketing budgets. The Tailors Union will give a space for individual artisans to market their creation and care offerings, while the public will know exactly where to go to find sustainable fashion consumption. Right now sustainable fashion is very disjointed — full of greenwashing, and confusing to the wider public. Sometimes there isn't even the chance to shop sustainably, or to care for textiles when one hasn't spent years perfecting the craft (which should be well-compensated). TU gives the public a chance to buy locally, sustainably and ethically — giving the public a resource to mend, alter and commission custom pieces, creating a community that honors the craft and supports local artisans by highlighting them.

Let's give the public a chance to buy locally, sustainably and ethically, as well as a chance to have custom pieces mended, altered and commissioned. I am looking for investors, marketers — any help I can get, if anyone reading is interested! If there are any slow-fashion artisans reading, go to tailorsunion.com to list your services or brand.

Colorado Creatives: Baily RoseEXPAND
Matthew Novak

Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?

This is quite the loaded question for me….

I love Colorado, it will always be my heart home no matter where I am physically. Both sides of my family have been here for more than 120 years (120-plus years on my Sicilian and Italian side in Pueblo, and 150-plus years on my WASPy side: Settling in the San Luis Valley in 1870, where my family's ranch still resides with a cemetery full of my ancestors, where I will join them someday). I have a strong connection to the mountainside I grew up on in Red Cliff. It is my favorite place in the world.

As far as Denver goes, I love it, but will I be able to stay here? We will see. The last time I lived here was six years ago in the spring of 2014. I had to leave. Marijuana had recently become legal, and my landlord at Awaken Healing Center wouldn't renew my live/work flat atop the building, because she wanted to make more money on the property, renting it on Airbnb. I was devastated. My community was enraged. I was the first of a string of artists to be pushed out/displaced. The same week I had to move out with one month’s notice, there were headlines in the papers that only 1 percent of rentals were available in Denver.

Luckily, I had been cleaning out the family cabin that had been rented and trashed by ski bums, and my family was able to move me up there until I found a job in Leadville working at Melanzana as a production seamstress, then tailoring in Vail and then to Berlin for grad school. Now I have found myself back in Denver wondering if it will last long. I have been teaching at RMCAD, but it doesn't pay all the bills. I was about to be looking for supplemental income when the current pandemic hit. I have no idea if I'll be able to sustain myself here.

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

Mama Gaia. We have never paid her well, we tramp all over her, profit off her, enjoy her, rape her for oil, trash her, and she still keeps on creating beauty for us to take freely. I feel she has lost her patience with us a bit, so she's giving us the coronavirus to attempt to wake us the F up and give her a break for a bit.

Colorado Creatives: Baily Rose
Courtesy of Baily Rose

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

Keeping afloat, contributing to my community by building out the Tailors Union, and offering my services wherever possible.

Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

Sustainable fashion is finally coming to the forefront of things. When I last lived in Denver, there were barely any brands talking about sustainable fashion on social media except me, and designers like Deb Henriksen of Equillibrium. Now there are a lot of people with profiles and brands promoting it — that may or may not be greenwashing, or sidestepping the truth about materials being used. I think people will (or should) realize they don't need as much stuff as they think they need. Which, unfortunately, will take a toll on the arts and fashion industry. But perhaps it will force us into a circular economy, where creators create for what is needed. Instead of supply and demand, it's demand and supply: make for what is ordered, and that's it.

Like the mask-making movement going on right now (a lot of which is being done for free, which perpetuates the public's perception on how sewn goods should be either cheap or free, when health-care companies and the government should be funding this type of manufacturing). We all need beauty and inspiration in our lives. It's a part of what makes us human. Creators need to consciously create and offer society and their community things and ideas that serve the community and environment, instead of letting their egos run wild producing things we don't actually need, that are not sustainable. 

Learn more about Baily Rose’s slow fashion at bailyrose.com and on Instagram. Join the Tailors Union at tailorsunion.com and learn more on Instagram.

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