Genevieve Saylak and Corissa Santos met while studying at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. With a shared love for nature, respect for artisan craftsmanship, and a commitment to sourcing and producing responsibly the core values of Where Mountains Meet were born. Together they launched an eco-friendly sportswear brand for women with their Fall 2016 collection which includes on-trend separates with an ‘Out West’ sensibility.
You two make such a great duo. What inspired you to start a business together?
Thank you! You’ve touched on the answer already—we balance each other out in all the important ways—temperamentally, aesthetically and technically. We’ve felt from the beginning that the other is the only person we would have taken this step with. Identifying the best person to partner with is hugely critical. Your vision for the business has to be aligned, you have to be able to identify and optimize your complimentary skill sets, and you have to be able to spend hours and hours (and more hours) together. We also both strongly believe that the fashion industry has to change for the better, and we’re committed to being a part of that movement. This, above all else, drives us each day and is the lifeblood of the partnership. Well, that, and our not-so-secret love affair with tacos.
Did you both always want to become designers?
Genevieve Saylak – For as long as I’ve had a career in mind, yes, I’ve wanted to be a designer. I remember going to the Iris Apfel Costume Institute exhibit at the Met as a teenager, and from then on the path was set. It almost didn’t feel like a choice. The creativity behind the clothes mesmerized me. I just had to learn how to think that way. I think that learning is the life-long commitment we make as designers.
Corissa Santos – The career choice was more of a process of realization for me. As a child my mother taught me how to sew clothes, which I loved and quickly turned into a hobby. It wasn’t until high school that I realized I could turn a hobby I loved into a viable career. Since that moment there has never been another option for me! Actually, one of my high school teachers flat out told me I would never find a job in this industry. This gave me a moments pause, but clearly I ignored that “encouraging” advice!
What sparked your passion for socially and environmentally conscious fashion?
We’re both passionate about being responsible consumers and producers in general. This, coupled with upbringings that engrained in us the value and importance of respecting nature, made aligning our interest in best practices with our careers an easy choice. There’s an inordinate amount of recklessness in this industry—wasted natural resources, humanitarian disasters—that is plaguing not only the future of our planet but also the future of fashion. With Where Mountains Meet we have a chance to build a company that’s been coded, from the start, to do better in these arenas.
In what ways does this label apply specifically for your brand?
For us this means three things. First, that we cultivate relationships with artisan mills and textile cooperatives by developing original materials for our collections. The result is a mutually beneficial partnership—one in which the artisans benefit from dependable workflow and exposure to western markets and we, in turn, create a truly unique product offering. Second, that we use fabrics produced through non-toxic and non-resource depleting processes—primarily organic and often naturally dyed. Third, that our entire collection is produced “locally” in the U.S.
What’s been the biggest challenge launching a new business? What’s been the most rewarding part?
Learning, day in and day out, just how much we don’t know. And thank goodness this happened after we’d jumped in head first…if we’d had a clue we probably wouldn’t have started in the first place! In all seriousness though, there is no way to be fully prepared to launch a business. You just have to be prepared to use every resource, connection, former colleague and friend of a friend to solve the problems that come your way. That, and a good dose of moxie. Ironically, one of the most challenging parts has also been the most rewarding—every decision starts and ends with us, it’s at once terrifying, exhilarating and motivating.
You derive a lot of your inspiration from the Pacific Northwest and the Rockies. Does being a New York based brand have any effect on your design aesthetic?
It’s a fantastic challenge, actually, because it pushes us to synthesize those two, very different, worlds. We draw a lot of inspiration from what we’d call living essentially—which is a mantra of the West. Your life and style evolves, and your clothes should be able to keep up. There’s an easiness and effortlessness in the way women dress in the West that we want channel. On the other hand, the energy and modernity of New York pushes us to think more progressively about design. Our aesthetic comes straight from this union—wearability and stylistic longevity meets original textiles and creative silhouettes. Eclectic, enlightened essentials.
Are there any other eco-conscious brands with whom you’d like to collaborate?
Absolutely. We’d love the chance to work on a denim project with Nobel Denim based in Cincinatti, OH, a leather goods capsule with Canoe based in Austin, TX, and possibly even a jewelry collaboration with Lizzie Fortunato based here in NYC. The missions of these brands align with ours, and we’ve always envisioned growing WMM as a lifestyle brand over a fashion brand—which will mean broadening our offering into other product categories.
It must be great to have a partner to bounce ideas off of when brainstorming new designs. Can you walk us through a bit of your creative process?
It is great—invaluable, really. We either 100% agree with each other, or have different ideas and collaborate until we find ourselves somewhere in the middle. This sweet spot always yields a better, richer result. We always begin with color, mood and a faraway place—whether Stateside like Santa Fe or abroad in, say, the Andean salt flats of Peru. Next we deep-dive into those findings, taking a research oriented trip and fully immersing ourselves in the new concepts. The best and most focused collections come from this exploration. Discovering a new muse each season is key as well—typically this is a female artist or creative, like Georgia O’keeffe or Sheila Hicks. Throughout the design process were constantly asking: What she would think of this style? How would she wear it, style it?
Do you have favorites in this collection that will transition to core shapes or styles moving forward?
Our Lander trouser. Perfect fit in pants is hard to come by and we worked hard at perfecting it with this style. We’ll continue to run this pant, bringing forward the slimming, leg-lengthening silhouette and reinventing its look in new fabrics and lengths. We also feel strongly about having an iconic blouse in each collection. For Fall ’16 this was our Georgia blouse. A modern take on a neck-tie creates a soft stand-like collar and the double layering effect adds femininity and versatility—the top can be worn tucked in or out.
Is the brand produced locally? What are the challenges here?
Yes, currently the whole line is developed and manufactured here in New York. Keeping production in the US as we grow our business is hugely important to us. Stateside and New York-based manufacturing comes with a high price tag though. This is, and will continue to be, our biggest challenge. We have to price our goods accordingly to hit margins, while also trying to be competitive at the retail level.
What are the top five retailers you would love to see the collection sold?
From the beginning we knew we’d love to see the collection in higher-end specialty boutiques—shops that curate their buys to illustrate a lifestyle. Bird, French Garment Cleaners and Oroboro, in New York, Vagabond in Philadelphia and Mohawk General Store in L.A. have been on our list from the start.
Who are your contemporaries?
Rachel Comey, Apiece Apart, Rodebjer and Caron Callahan.