Eco-Chic: Our #PinayCrush Krystalrae Mamaril of Ethical Fashion Label CHAN + KRYS
I first met Krystalrae Mamaril at a rooftop party at the Maritime Hotel in NY's Meatpacking District about five or six years ago - one of those chill, super Cali Azn R&B type of joints (I think SoSuperSam was spinning) through mutual friends, and we hit it off from the get. She was super down and real, and we immediately connected on some like "girrrlllllllll" vibes. She was also stunning in a sheer patterned tunic from her own line, all dimples and shiny black hair flowing down her knees. Our shared background of both being Pilipina and fashion designers led us to quickly become close friends, making a point of having a boss lady meetup every month or two with another designer/entrepreneur homegirl, to talk about our careers and give each other encouragement, ideas, and realtalk advice. When I think back on it, seeing Krystalrae doing her thing, creating her own line and working for herself was a major inspiration for me when I made the leap myself in 2016. She moved to SF a couple of years ago, but I've been blessed to watch her continual evolution as a woman and as a designer, from her eponymous collection KRYSTALRAE to her current project, eco-brand CHAN + KRYS.
Whatever she's working on, her concepts and designs are always thoughtful and innovative. She began her career in the fashion industry in 2004 and has worked with some of the industry's leading designers such as Peter Som, Derek Lam, and Tracey Reese. I remember when we first met I was obsessed with the clothes she designed for her own brand - they were like paintings, artfully combining bold, sometimes psychedelic prints and patterns with easy, wearable knitwear shapes. They were sold online and at Dalaga in Soho (RIP!!), a Pinay-owned NYC womenswear boutique.
In 2015, she partnered with designer and friend Chantale Regnier to establish CHAN + KRYS, a collection of "ethical essentials for dapper dames" offering up stylish, sustainable separates and accessories focused on comfort and simplicity. Ditching the traditional fashion calendar, CHAN + KRYS offers mix and match pieces that reinvent and extend the conventional wardrobe with seasonless, simple basics made for cool and casual women to use as building blocks - basically, the complete opposite of the dubiously sourced and produced, wear-it-once-and-toss-it philosophy of fast fashion brands. With CHAN + KRYS, the designers use ethically sourced, natural, biodegradable fibers such as organic cotton, hemp and Cupro, and their pieces are made locally in both the New York Garment District and San Francisco in both made-to-order and small batch production. They are also committed to a Zero Waste Policy, recycling and repurposing excess materials from their production process into super inventive accessories.
We spoke to Krystalrae about the importance of sustainability in the fashion industry, the challenges of keeping it eco, and about getting Hella Pinay kamayan-style!
Hella Pinay: You know I love you and have always been a huge fan of your work, and been grateful for your constant encouragement in my own career. What made you want to be a designer and how did you get started?
Krystalrae: You are too kind lovely! Still here to support you in whatever you do!
When my father taught me how to color, I knew I wanted to be in the arts. When my mother would take me to the mall she didn’t want to buy certain things, because she believed and said “We can make dat!” So then she taught me how to sew. After learning to alter, handstitch and style my own clothes in high school, I won the best-dressed superlative. For college I graduated from FIDM and Art Institute of Philadelphia and walked away with the Outstanding Achievement Award for my collections. Then the rest is professional history...so I guess in a way I was guided all my life to be what I am today.
Tell me more about CHAN + KRYS - what is the philosophy and concept behind the brand? How did you guys meet and decide to work together?
CHAN + KRYS is a bi-coastal operation: Chantale is based in Brooklyn, NY and I’m based in San Francisco, CA. We produce a women's sustainable, contemporary collection that is focused on texture and comfort. It also includes zero waste accessories handmade by us, which are created with fabric scraps from our collection.
Chantale and I met about 9 years ago. Since then, individually and simultaneously, our love for fashion has been a roller coaster. And let's just say we have been there for each other the entire ride! When we met, each of us were beginning our own lines. Realizing fashion was a difficult career, we became each other's design accountability partner. Through sharing our different but similar experiences, we helped each other along the way. We came to a point where we collaborated on a capsule for a boutique - Dalaga actually. Going through this journey, living parallel fashion lives, we finally decided it was time for CHAN + KRYS. We both agreed "two heads are better than one." Two years later, as our lives unfold with opportunities and we work to create a supportive environment for each other, we agree more than ever we were born to be designers and entrepreneurs.
Aesthetically, CHAN + KRYS is quite different from the super colorful, print-heavy collections you were designing for KRYSTALRAE - is this a reflection of your and Chantale’s collaboration? What’s it like working with a partner vs solo?
Yes agreed, super different! Chantale and I both had colorful collections. And at the same time we both realized we don’t even wear our own designs. So when we started working together there were a lot of fun growing pains. Each of us were on our own before, and were both leaders in our own businesseses. We quickly learned each other’s strengths and how to divide and conquer. Now we’ve achieved more things together than we’ve ever done separately by combining successes. And most importantly, we wear our own designs!
Why is being an ethical, sustainable brand important to you?
Fashion is the number two pollutant of the world. In addition, it’s very popular for being unethical. We couldn’t continue to turn a blind eye to the negative effects of the industry on people and the environment. And after a growing mutual frustration with the unsustainability within the fashion industry we knew we had to change our lives and create awareness.
Tell me more about your design process - what inspires you, and how do you translate that inspiration into clothing?
It's quite simple. We design separates that each of us wears every day. For example, Chantale wears sweatshirts and skirts daily, while I can wear tanks and sweats all day long. We wanted to share our wardrobe staples with ladies like us. Women who want to look and feel good while doing good, without ever sacrificing quality and style.
What are some of the challenges you face in being an ethical/eco fashion line?
In the beginning we faced a lot of challenges! A big challenge was that we wanted everything to be ethical and eco. Most ethical and eco clothing that’s out there is considered “hippie” and we wanted to be a little more “hip and modern.” The materials out there were very limiting. So we learned along the way, and agree with Stella McCartney who said, "I’m a firm believer that doing something small is better than nothing." So, one year passed and we decided to be more focused and start little by little. Now we are producing locally in each of our cities, use sustainable fibers and fabrics, and strive to be zero waste!
What’s your family’s migration story from the Philippines to the US? Where in the Philippines does your heritage draw from?
My father was recruited into the Navy by a lottery draw, and my mother came to the United States with two other nurses. They met in Chicago and when they moved to Virginia Beach they had my brothers and I. Now they own a successful assisted living facility called Lavm Adult Residence and have 21 patients. My mother is Tagalog from Manila, and my father is Ilocano from Aringay.
What was it like growing up in Virginia Beach and what’s the Pilipinx community like out there? (There seems to be a huge Pinxy population out there based on the amount of ppl I’ve met through you lol)
LOL! Yes there is a huge Filipino community in Virginia Beach. I actually lived on the border of Chesapeake and VB, so it wasn’t until high school when I met a ton of Filipinos. My family knew some Filipinos, but weren’t a part of any group/organization, it was nice to float to parties though. Filipino businesses and organizations are even more prominent around town now, so it’s nice to visit home and see Filipino businesses flourishing.
Does your Pilipina heritage inform your work?
Here in SF, we have a small Filipino community called SOMA Pilipinas and it was nice to be introduced and recognized as a Filipina business owner during one of their meetings. Trying to find other like-minded business owners in SF, I stumbled upon a SOMA Pilipinas meetup - which was even better, because it was like-minded Filipino business owners! There's a section of SF that has a growing number of Filipino businesses that’s South of Market (SOMA), so they call it SOMA Pilipinas.
Currently it's our city cultures that inspire us. Thankfully we both live in innovative cities: NY, the fashion capital of the US, and SF, leading in tech and sustainable businesses. So we get to see a lot of new brands exploring their environmental impact in creative ways. For the immediate future collections we are looking into fabrics from Haiti and the Philippines. For long-term future goals, we hope to give back to our own countries one day.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman, particularly a woman of color, in the fashion industry?
As a woman not so much, but as a woman of color yes! I’ve found that being a different race makes for the unknown amongst the majority. They don’t know what to expect. So I’ve had to exceed expectations in order to be recognized. For example, during work presentations, instead of reading from cue cards which was commonly done, I memorized my lines which took more effort etc.
Are there any eco fashion resources that you love, for those who want to support more ethical sustainable brands?
You probably already wrote about her, but our girl Ruby Veridiano has a great sustainable fashion blog. Another one is Elizabeth Stillwell. Lastly, The Sustainable Fashion Handbook by Sandy Black [of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion] is a great book and beautiful for your coffee table.
Do you have any advice for other young designers looking to start their own labels?
Find your niche, create and ship. Find a mentor, and don't hesitate to ask lots of questions. Any young designer can reach out to me with any questions too, so please don’t hesitate to ask!
What makes you Hella Pinay or what does that mean to you?
As a Filipina-American, the closest to being Hella Pinay is basically when I’m with my family! And as a family all we do is eat. So when I’m eating tocino, eggs and rice with calamansi, patis and tomatoes for breakfast - I’m Hella Pinay. For lunch when I’m eating sinigang with rice and an entire dried mango package for dessert - I’m Hella Pinay. And when I’m eating kare kare, rice with bagoong and halo halo for dessert - I’m Hella Pinay. But it’s when I eat with my hands, that’s when I am super really feelin' Hella Pinay!