Moda Operandi on Thursday debuted its latest “Made for Moda” exclusive capsule of collaborative knits by Mama Farm — actress Isabella Rossellini and her daughter Elettra Wiedemann’s Long Island community-driven and biodiversity conservation-focused farm and bed and breakfast — and Brooklyn-based, independent knitwear designer Aisling Camps.
The “farm-to-fashion” capsule is the first of its kind for the retailer and includes four limited-edition knit ready-to-wear styles available for pre-order. Each piece of the Made for Moda: Aisling Camps for Mama Farm is hand-loomed by Camps in her Brooklyn studio from sheep wool sustainably sourced from Mama Farm’s flock.
“We have done special ‘Made for Moda’ capsules in the past [when a collection is made in partnership with brands specifically with the Moda customer in mind] but this is the first of its kind because there are three parties involved. Moda has connected a supplier of sustainable raw materials to an independent designer to tell a deeper story. Finding the right designer is integral to the capsule’s success, with Moda — who has always been known for scouting fresh talent — acting as a connector and nurturing the working process between the two brands along the way.
“Our unique platform, with an emphasis on editorial content, allows us to tell the complete story of the creation of a collection like this to a highly engaged audience who is looking for exclusive product with heart and meaning behind it,” said Moda Operandi chief merchant April Hennig.
“This capsule was not engineered to serve a specific trend, or merchandise need. It was purely an organic collaboration between Aisling and Mama Farm that is focused on the beauty of the raw material and took over a year to incubate and bring to market. It’s so special that the aim of this collection was the shared goal to tell a story; it wasn’t just about selling clothes.”
The idea for the concept capsule came to life after Hennig was introduced to Rossellini and Wiedemann and learned of their mission to “foster the next generation of environmental stewardship through Mama Farm’s educational programming,” said Hennig. She added that, through the conversation, the two companies realized there was a “larger story to tell the fashion industry about the importance of creating sustainable sourcing and production locally here in New York,” which led to the luxury designer collaboration.
“Small farms that have flocks of sheep in this country are in a real pickle: they have sheep, they have to shear them [sheep have to be sheared for their own health], yet getting the wool processed into yarn or fabric is too expensive and takes too much time, often up to a year or more. This is due to globalization and the offshoring of mills and processing facilities. There used to be hundreds of mills in the Northeastern United States alone; now there is one in all of New York State and just a few others scattered throughout the region. This results in many farmers, especially those running small farms, to shear their sheep and then burn or bury the wool,” said Wiedemann, executive director of Mama Farm.
“Some farmers we know did try to create simple sweaters and other products with their wool, but the price point was too high for their customer base, who are now accustomed to low-priced products made from synthetic or synthetic blends. In the process of talking with other farmers and weavers and coming to understand the issues, I realized what was needed was to create a truly elevated wool product — ‘wool couture,’ if you will — and to educate consumers about these issues. This is when I reached out to Lauren Santo Domingo at Moda and talked her through what we were facing and asked if she would be willing to collaborate, to experiment together to create a capsule collection that was not only inspired by couture, but also to create something that is truly local and ‘farm-to-fashion.’
“Lauren is such a visionary; of course she understood the opportunity and the challenge. Through her chief merchant April Hennig they got Aisling Camps on board, who is an incredible wool artist based in Brooklyn,” said Wiedemann, who emphasized the importance of not focusing on the negative effects of the industry — specifically fast fashion — but rather utilizing the “tenets of the farm-to-table movement,” and channeling it into the industry.
From there, Hennig was influenced to partner Mama Farm with Camps (who Moda Operandi currently sells) for her appreciation for sustainable practices, creative outlook, distinctly recognizable designs and for being a “one-woman show” running her business, handling all areas from sketch and design to sales and production.
“The main goal of this project was to really showcase the uniqueness of the heritage breed sheep at Mama Farm. Some of the Jacob sheep had their wool handspun locally in Bellport. The colors were separated so I had a beautiful palette to work with; ivory, purply gray and a deep chocolate brown. My team and I were present for the shearing this spring at Mama Farm and we handpicked luscious curls from the Lincoln Longwool sheep. These were washed, scoured and deep-conditioned by my team and we had a bountiful mass of curls to create from. The rest of the wool that was collected was sent to Battenkill Fibers to be converted into yarn that I could easily use in my machines. That process can take several months,” said Camps.
Each piece (as seen on Camps, Wiedemann, Rossellini and model Toni Smith at Mama Farms, photographed by Dan Martensen) was designed with simplicity in mind, in order to let the wool’s natural textures and colors shine. Furthermore, each style is available in extremely limited quantities, based on the availability of materials sourced from Mama Farm’s flock.
The four Aisling Camps x Mama Farm styles, priced $1,590 to $3,990, include a Mama sweater (a slouchy jumper in classic Englishman’s rib with Camps’ signature leather crochet trimmed neckline); Duse set (a matching off-the-shoulder cropped sweater and maxi pencil skirt with fringes and multitexture details), and O’Keefe vest (named after the sheep for its curls, and noted to be a speciality piece of the line). In addition to the exclusive collaboration capsule, a selection of Camps’ 22 latest collection styles have launched on Moda Operandi for pre-order and buy-now in limited quantities.
“We made a chunky V-neck vest but we kept the sides open with ties so it’s easy to layer in many ways. We really did not want to lose the beautiful curl pattern of the Lincoln Longwool fleece. Each perfect curl was selected and hand-woven into a knitted base in a process that took about a week to complete. It really is a labor of love and a lot of care and thought is put into each decision from farm to fashion,” said Camps.
“In general, I hope our audience takes away a deeper consideration of the interaction of fashion, the supply chain, and mother nature,” Hennig said.
In the future, she further hopes that by Moda Operandi taking sustainability a step further with the concept of “farm to fashion,” other brands and potential new designer partners will be inspired by the project’s use of ethically and locally sourced materials with slow production cycles. “Introducing this approach into the conversation can have a powerful impact that we would love to pursue further.”
“This capsule collection is a small contribution, but it’s proof of concept: you can make beautiful clothing without leaving New York State, from sheep to spool and then into a unique garment. Now we need to grow this model and encourage more people to join the movement. It will happen when more designers realize that their materials come from a farm — just like their food — and they become curious about what else is possible and forge a new path forward. The government has declared its interest to make domestic supply chains more robust and that includes textiles and wool. We can all be part of that movement,” said Wiedemann.