New York-based designer John Patrick has a taste for rouge gamblers. He also approaches his clothing like an artist, a scientist, a politician, and an activist. From growing his own organic cotton, to building fair-trade, sustainable industries, to voicing skepticism of materialism, GMOs, and Free Trade policies, John Patrick is a force to be reckoned with. His vision of new school freedom and sustainability speaks to young people in a way that addresses the invalidity of tired, self-important cris de coeur. I interviewed John Patrick recently about his clothes, his involvement with the Green Revolution, and his plans for the future. Here is the interview:
DB: What is it about clothing that keeps your driven?
JP: Its one of the last “personal” spaces we solely occupy. but even then the consumer is dictated to as to what they are able to choose to wear. I am driven to keep the choices open and to create a dialogue that also includes the thought “you are what you wear”. Stop and think about it; textiles drenched in chemicals and dyes. 500 years ago you were lucky if you had a piece of cloth to wrap yourself in and a wooden or metal utensil to eat. So “you’ve come a long way baby” is still relevant, but creating relevant 21st century choices that are “smart” is what drives me.
DB: I’ve heard you grow some of your own organic cotton, how did this come about and why?
JP: I worked with 10 farmers in the amazon jungle who grow not only cotton but fruits and vegetables and roots. The jungle is the last “supermarket” to the world and needs to be protected so slash and burn farming doesn’t take over any more than it has. Free-trade agreements are disrupting the natural order of things drastically and the farmers know it outside of the USA. They know that cheap corn from North America will come, and so will GMO seeds and chemicals. We guaranteed a higher price for the 10 farmers for 5000 kilos of cotton, and in turn another 190 farmers were able to command the same price from bigger buyers who the year before paid very little per kilo. So, it became a win-win situation for an entire region. I am working on securing funding to make the project bigger in the future and hire an engineer to live and work in the jungle and help the farmers protect WHAT IS THEIRS. They are the stewards of the earth and without them the “green movement” is meaningless, in my opinion. I will be traveling this spring/summer to Georgia, and visiting a conventional cotton gin and trying to see if I cant start a small project with the gin to encourage them to transition to organic cotton. 1/100th of 1% of the cotton grown in the USA is certified organic. Small percentage, right? This is an area we need to change if we truly want to be able to say there is a Green Revolution.
DB: What was the inspiration behind the menswear in the Fall 2008 collection. Do any artists, writers, philosophers, etc.. inspire your work?
JP: My main inspiration was a rogue gambler who had a huge heart – who was compassionate about living life to the fullest and not being afraid to lose sometimes because in the end it was a huge win. Joseph Bueys is a great inspiration to me because he had many obstacles to overcome, yet there was a profound message in his work that is still being revealed today. I think that he was very forward in his use of organic materials in his art and traveling to New York and staying in a gallery with a dog. His “menu” is even more relevant today than ever.
DB: How have other people (including press and other designers) responded to your use of organic, repurposed materials and your vision?
JP: I hope Organic inspires people to work hard on the ethical aspect of the design industry. From LEED Certified buildings to supporting CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). I am just doing my work and what I believe in.
DB: Who are your clothes for? Do you have an agenda?
JP: My clothes are for the people who make them and the people who wear them. My agenda is to do the next right thing that gets put in front of me.
DB: You mentioned you have three offices and no computers. How do you keep it together?
JP: Good orderly direction.
DB: I noticed there was no fur in your collection. What is your opinion of the commercial fur and exotic animal-skins trade?
JP: I support the Animal Rights people.
DB: It seems there is an entire generation of young people who want accountability and to redefine that “cool” is more than just the way things look. What is your definition of cool, of chic, and of luxury?
JP: In my opinion, those adjectives are from the late 20th century and have no relevancy in The Now. The Now is about sustainability, individualism and mindful thought as to how we are living. We can be who we are if we think about it. It takes thought to be a responsible consumer and citizen. The Now Generation has rejected the old school materialism in favor of a new school freedom. Just look at the streets of Williamsburg.
DB: If you could change one thing about the fashion industry, what would it be?
JP: It seems perfect in its imperfection. It allows everyone to do what they feel is right. There are a lot of amazing young designers now working and emerging who will push the change in the next 100 years.
DB: What was the most recent book you’ve read?
JP: Ways of Seeing by John Berger. A quote: ” seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak”.
DB: Where do you see your focus and creative development heading in two years?
JP: I want to continue my archeology and dig more and more and more and find the things that speak to me.