A few lucky Parsons students and myself had the chance this week to sit down with Josh Stark – Urban Eco Luxury Designer and owner of Stark NYC – to talk sustainable clothing and the way herbalism is slowly but surely creeping into every facet of our lives, including fashion.
Josh started out in LA, like so many New Yorkers do, with a career in branding and advertising, but despite his ability to construct a public images for clients, he struggled with his own public image because he felt like his clothes never fit him right.
After a few years of being incredibly careful and cultivating a collection of wearable pieces that not only offered that elusive ‘good fit’ but were also made naturally, sustainably and without toxins, he began to attract a little bit of attention for being such a conscientious dresser.
At the very beginning of his entrepreneurial adventure, Josh worked as a stylist and personal shopper, hired by life coaches to help clients figure out their own personal style and how to stand out.
This was a huge step for Josh in building not only his own sense of confidence as a professional but also his authority among his peers. He may not have a formal education in fashion but his street smarts were ripe for the development of his own street wear company.
Street wear, or as it’s sometimes called Urban Luxury Clothing is a sweeping trend that is leading the fight to make ‘High Quality’ synonymous with ‘Ethically Made’ and creating pieces with unparalleled wearability. Stark, Josh’s self named clothing line is the perfect example of what happens when you combine New York Gritty with a heart of gold.
Once Josh decided to take his first big step into clothing manufacturing, he learned not only doing it, but doing it up to his own standards was going to be harder than he thought.
Along the way he went through more than four manufacturing partners and learned a lot of hard lessons. He swears losing his ego somewhere between manufactures 2 and 3 was the best thing that could have happened to him.
Josh learned that when you are the customer you’ve got to hold on to your money until there is finished product in your hands, and a contract will save you from having to accept anything that isn’t up to snuff.
Also paying with a credit card can help you safeguard your payment, in the event that an entire operation decides to pack up and go ghost with your cotton.
Don’t scoff. It happened.
Fast forward to now, Josh is happily working with a cotton farm in Peru, (a location that he’s always seen as his end goal) that is lead by Dr. James Vreeland. If you’re a textile-phile, then you know who he is, but if not you can take my word for it, this guy is legit. The farms offer organically certified cotton as well as alpaca wool and a wide selection of other materials, all coming together in a truly cyclical and harmonious microcosm of shared and recycled resources.
At the center of this microcosm the HUMAN resource is what powers everything. Workers invest their time, not only in creating wearable art, but also in their own livelihood and honing a craft without sacrificing their wellbeing, (something not yet common in the mass agricultural culture).
Despite having found such a transparent and conscientious manufacturer, Josh still enjoys going out there to check on the process frequently and be present. He was quick to check his privilege though, and credits his jet setter capabilities, not to wealth, but to a wealth of accrued airline miles (Thanks Mom!).
While we sipped cold brew and iced teas at Space 194 in the East Village, the neighborhood that inspired his awesome tag lines like ‘East Villian’ and ‘Lower Beast Side’, he passed around a few sample shirts, eager for us to feel the difference in weight and texture. There were small differences that might not matter to the layman, but to Josh there’s a world of difference between Cotton that is certified organic and Cotton that claims to be organic, as well as the Hemp clothing he believes he will be inevitably moving towards soon.
In the future, Josh also plans to explore the Aurevedic practice of incorporating herbs directly into the clothing as a way of bringing health and strength and peace to the wearer. When the larger topic of sustainability has always been “How can we honor the Earth as we do this?” Josh is keeping the personal aspect of fashion alive by reminding people that the clothes we wear should also honor us.