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For her collection in this season's New York Fashion Week, designer Yuna Yang didn't want to focus on just creating beautiful clothes. She also wanted to raise awareness about climate change.
“When [Trump] decided to exit out of the Paris Agreement, I was very confused,” Yang told NBC News. “Many people can argue about whether the President is good or bad, but climate change, that issue is a proven fact. ... For me, climate change is a fundamental issue, and it’s really scary that we aren’t prioritizing it.”
“Designers have a responsibility — we should always think about social movements, especially in the society we are living in.”
According to a 2017 report by The Boston Consulting Group and Global Fashion Agenda, the fashion industry is an "obvious contributor" to stress on natural resources, including land, energy, and chemical usage, water consumption, and waste creation.
Believing that environmental sustainability begins at the design process, Yang said she is determined to create a fashion business that respects both the planet and the people producing the clothes.
Her latest collection, called "Save the Earth," is made in New York and uses Korean silks, recycled organic cotton, and lace and hand beading from India, she said. The designs take on the shapes found in nature such as flowers and features the color green.
The Yang also said that she's proud that she personally knows the people who make her clothes, which are produced a few blocks away from her design studio.
“I feel really honored and excited to be able to contribute to jobs here, where I am based. We have become a small family,” Yang said.
Yang has also resisted growing her business unsustainably, she said.
“We are more like a high-end company, so we don’t do mass production,” Yang said. “Though I prefer to [keep my business model] this way, some investors want me to make more money [by making] more product. But this is not my goal.”
“I want to have a fair partnership with the people I work with, do interesting collaborations, and create a unique brand identity that builds a movement, a voice, that will steadily rise with time,” she added.
"For me, climate change is a fundamental issue, and it’s really scary that we aren’t prioritizing it.”
Yang credits her global experiences for shaping her social awareness and sensibility. Born and raised in Seoul, she was educated in Milan and London before moving to New York City almost a decade ago.
In Milan, she learned to respect the culture of artisanship while doing business with a family-oriented approach, Yang said, and in London’s Central St. Martins art school, she was pushed to develop her socially conscious design concepts.
“Having experiences in different countries has helped me to see different points of views. When I moved to the United States, it was very different from what I expected — in both good and bad ways,” Yang said. “As an Asian immigrant woman launching [a business] in New York City without knowing anyone, I constantly had this feeling that [there were prejudices against me] because I was a woman, and because I looked younger…[because of this], I wanted to speak louder through my clothes.”
Yang noted that she also wants to challenge stereotypes, including the ones that exist within her own industry. She said that while the fashion industry commonly thinks of South Korea as a manufacturing country, she proves that the country also produces quality design.
She also aspires to collaborate with female artisans from countries like Bhutan in order to preserve the culture of their handmade textiles and clothing while developing a business that empowers the local community.
“Designers have a responsibility — we should always think about social movements, especially in the society we are living in,” Yang said. “I want [future fashion designers] to think about the original intention behind fashion: to not only make beautiful clothes, but also promote a better life for all people. It’s hard to change the world as a designer, but we have a power to contribute to a movement.”