ML Dreams: Megan Ilene Lagueruela, a Fiber Artist and Founder of the Megan Ilene Clothing Line, North Carolina
Megan Ilene is a made-to-order brand of clothes and accessories using slow and sustainable practices. All fabrics are dyed by Megan using natural materials.
Made Lokal: Who, or what, inspired you as a child in terms of your fashion aesthetic?
Megan: Whew, taking it way back! I took over the responsibility of my sartorial decisions quite early in life. My mother loves to tell the story about how I had to wear a skirt every day in kindergarten. My inspirations were probably cartoons, books and whatever I could sneak out of my mother’s closet.
Made Lokal: Where did you learn your sewing and dyeing skills?
Megan: Until high school it was a hodge-podge of self-taught, summer camps, books and whatever my mother knew. Home ec. was where I learned to read a pattern. I gained the confidence to start experimenting more. Looking back those creations were terrible but at the time, I was so proud of the outfits I made. Later, I went to art school and was formally trained in fashion and textiles.
Made Lokal: Why and how did you start Megan Ilene?
Megan: This is so hokey but I had to create. I was a little pendulous after college and didn't make much for several years. One day I walked into a fiber shop, got to talking with the owner and walked out with a floor loom. That started the ball rolling.
Made Lokal: You are dedicated to using natural or low impact dyes in addition to creating as little waste as possible. How are you able to do this?
Megan: A lot of my technical inspiration is historical garment construction. The concept of waste is a modern invention of the industrial revolution. When people were making their own clothes, you didn’t have waste. You used every scrap of material available and after the garment’s life was ended, it was incorporated into something else, a quilt, another garment or rags for various needs.
Also, its good business sense. I've already paid for the fabric, why would I throw 20% of it away with each garment? The same thought process is involved in my dying. There are rivers in India that are poisoned for hundreds of years from the chemicals and heavy metals used to dye garments sent to the US. We have laws and regulations preventing that sort of thing here so you don't have to see the damage done to make that button-up. All of the dyes I use are safe for our water supply. Some are even made from food waste so you could eat off your outfit! Our skin is our largest organ, we know its permeable (we sweat) so why would we want to put toxic chemicals against it every day?
Made Lokal: From what materials do you use for your line?
Megan: All my materials are naturally derived to ensure that the entire product can biodegrade. So much of our fashion waste is oil based and just sits in a landfill for thousands of years. Some of my fabrics include silk, hemp, cotton, wool, linen and bamboo. When I weave, I’ll incorporate angora, alpaca and other protein fibers.
Made Lokal: Your collection is handmade. How long does it typically take to complete one item?
Megan: Oh, that depends! I know when people aren’t familiar with how their clothing is made, they see the purchase of a $5 shirt as being a great deal, no questions asked. If you were to look into how that shirt was made: from the farmer in India growing the cotton, the mill in Indonesia spinning/knitting/finishing the fabric, the workshop in Bangladesh sewing the shirt and then the shipping company getting it to the store, it doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize someone, somewhere in that supply chain is losing out. Washing, ironing, cutting, sewing, dying and finishing a complete garment can take me a few hours.
Made Lokal: What is the biggest challenge about leading a conscientious clothing line?
Megan: Ironing! No, but really, sometimes it takes me a little longer to come to a great idea because it’s just my brain instead of a collective. That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with individuals who inspire you to think creatively.
Made Lokal: How would you describe your personal style?
Megan: Relaxed, texture heavy, vintage inspired and mostly black or blue hues.
Made Lokal: You offer a made-to-order collection in addition to your stocked assortment. How does the made-to-order collection work?
Megan: When you go to a store, you see a selection of items that the store has ordered from a manufacturer or design house. They have worked with their merchandising team to determine a figure of how many of that item they think will sell in a season. When you buy something on sale, it’s because that figure was wrong and the team bought too much. If the item still doesn't sell on clearance, it can eventually end up in a landfill, a perfectly good, brand new garment, thrown in the trash.
With made-to-order, I only make a garment when it has been purchased. It’s a slower process because I’m starting from scratch every time but it helps me in several ways: I have less money tied up in inventory, there is less waste created in excess inventory and I have more control over each item as I know exactly where it’s going and what’s needed.
Made Lokal: How long after someone orders a custom made item would they receive it?
Megan: I always shoot for 1 week but depending on the garment, between 1-3 weeks.
For a sampling of Megan's work, see below. To place an order made-to-order, naturally dyed clothing from Megan Ilene, visit Megan’s website.
To support Megan’s work by following her on Instagram. @megan.ilene
All photos courtesy of @megan.ilene