Flora Tenille West, founder of FLORAL SEA, is changing the conversation around sustainability in the fashion industry.
By Brandi Clark Burton, Photos courtesy of Flora Tenille West
What do you picture when you think of sustainable fashion? Likely you imagine muted earthy colors on natural-fiber fabrics that are often boxy and rather formless (and likely on white models). One Austin fashion pioneer is challenging all of those stereotypes, from the color palette of the clothing to the color of the designers and end users. Flora Tenille West is revolutionizing a new point of view in sustainable fashion that is centered on highlighting the presence of Black-Latine beauty, style and culture. “The roots of sustainable fashion run deeper than an earthy, beige color palette and deadstock fabric,” says Tenille West. “It dates back to the era of slavery. FLORAL SEA is utilizing sustainable design practices as a means to conserve Black culture’s presence in sustainability and fashion.”
“Sustainable fashion is Black. Black culture sets the trends; Black culture leads the trends; Black culture is the trend.” For Tenille West, creative expression and individualistic style have served as entryways to breaking barriers and starting conversations about cultural representation and inclusivity in today’s sustainable fashion movement. She laments, “Historically, sustainable fashion has always been defined by its relationship to whiteness, leaving BIPOC representation a mere afterthought.” As an Afro-Latina, Tenille West recognizes that she, along with BIPOC and multicultural communities, continue to be unrepresented and underserved voices in today’s industry. Through FLORAL SEA, her mission is to exemplify the urgency in showcasing and sharing underrepresented and underserved beauty, in every form, at the forefront of today’s movement where genuine representations remain limited.
Sustainable Fashion Is Bold, Bright, Beautiful and Inclusive
The idea for this American contemporary luxury fashion house and multidisciplinary design studio came to Tenille West in a dream after a color theory assignment titled “The New Color.” From this vision, the brand’s core aesthetic was developed as an experimental reinvention of floral print.
Tenille West has crafted a set of unique and colorful floral prints that are then turned into custom-fit clothing, adorable handbags, eye-popping faux-leather sneakers and more. Offering made-to-measure service on their fashion and jewelry lines both fosters size inclusivity and provides the best fit.
Sustainable Fashion Is not Wasteful
The FLORAL SEA collection is designed to produce little to no waste. All of their fashion products and accessories are designed in-house and manufactured through a handmade-to-order system. This is a welcome antidote to the ecological devastation and human toll and misery associated with the production and disposal of fast fashion.
The brand prioritizes materials and design processes that ensure the highest quality and long-term wear for their collections. Not surprisingly, their designs are crafted to be repairable and reusable as well.
Sustainable Fashion Is Transparent
“Imagine shopping for clothing and accessories that you can see being made right in front of you,” Tenille West exclaims, “from initial sketch to in-house manufacturing to final product!” This spring, her vision comes to reality. FLORAL SEA is producing an exhibition titled “once a DAYDREAM, now a new POV,” showcased in partnership with UT Austin’s Building Disciplines Program. It will be a reimagination of fashion retail in a contemporary art space, taking on the form of a luxury showroom display adorned with the aesthetics of a fine art gallery. The exhibition will give direct insight into the many creative processes involved in creating a collection for the brand through displaying preliminary sketches, fabric swatches and product samples alongside the final collection. “Transparency is sustainability,” quips Tenille West. “I want people to come into my exhibition and understand every individual process that goes into making my products.”
The exhibition will center on a new collection of FLORAL SEA’s signature flower motif, an experimental reinvention of the RYB color wheel. Fifteen print designs representative of the color hues found on the circular diagram will be brought to life on sustainably and ethically designed clothing and accessories.
You can follow the developments leading up to the big event in May on Instagram @shop_floralsea.co or check out her online store at floralsea.co.