There is a duality that radiates from clothing designer Gingi Medina. She is a determined, audacious business owner, who also cares deeply about the world, and minimizing waste. She struck out on her own, in part, because of the massive overproduction she saw in her industry. After a dozen years working in fashion, Gingi became disgusted by the excessive wastefulness in the manufacturing process, and thought there must be a better way to produce beautifully made garments, without littering the planet.
She began brainstorming ways to use materials that utilized the entire plant, animal, or raw substance. After years of making clothes, bags, and goods, Medina founded the lifestyle brand, Equites. The company, which is known for its leather, uses reclaimed and raw materials that are sourced ethically, she says.
In deciding to make leather goods, Medina argues that it's an emission-less process. Leather is a "conscious material" she says, because it's sturdy, durable, and long lasting. "It's a forever piece," she says. "If I make a bag out of leather, it has a far less, if any, carbon footprint left on the planet." Leather, Medina claims, does not require much processing because it utilizes a material that is taken directly from a natural source, versus a synthetic piece or garment-- including vegan leather-- which is manufactured and produced with emissions. She says her goods can last a consumer’s lifetime, so a buyer will need only one of her bags for example, rather than multiple synthetic bags that eventually wear out and need to be replaced. "The carbon footprint from a manmade item is far more extensive," Medina says.
Medina didn't always know she'd be a conscientious designer. As a child growing up in Los Angeles, she imagined she'd be "an astronaut or the next Madonna." Magician also made the list of what Gingi thought she'd do one day. By the time she was 9 years old, she began calling herself "a designer." She recalls watching her first fashion show and thinking of predicting trends, sewing, and being able to say, "I made that." Ten years later those predictions began springing to life, and she entered the fashion realm as a fit model for petites. One day a designer asked her what she wanted to do, and she replied, "your job." That not so quiet confidence, that some have called "crazy", has served her well.
During her younger years, while partying in Hollywood, she says she encountered a well-dressed guy. Upon learning he was a designer, she offered to be his apprentice, working for free. Everyday for a year, beginning at 7am, Gingi set out to learn all she could about design. She learned how to construct leather, metal and denim. She made clothes for rock musicians, and clothing for tours-- most notably Ozzfest.
Medina’s work has also included her dressing celebs, working on TV shows, and ensuring certain designers' wares were featured prominently via product placement. She's worked as a buyer, and also in private label-- offering clothing styles to retailers who then put their own label on the garments. Medina has worked and studied fashion overseas. It was during her travels abroad and also mingling with and being inspired by people who've worked abroad, that she had some of her most successful innovations. She designed the Von Dutch "No More Landmines" tee-shirt after Angelina Jolie did mission work with the Halo Trust, which deactivates land mines in war ravaged regions. It was also during this time, that Medina began to reflect on the inefficiencies within fashion production and wondered, "Am I harming or helping... in my career." She remembers seeing freight containers filled with the previous fashion season's discarded garments and the subsequent feelings of what such wastefulness does to the planet. She noted that her clothes, and other finely made garments, were items consumers could have "for a lifetime", and even be "passed down", minimizing some of the waste. The ideas for change were within her, still she said it was, "hard to keep focus when the world is crumbling around you."
Ultimately, Median created her own brand, Equites, in 2011. She describes it as a "five tier label where performance meets fashion." Her line includes leather goods—pants, bags and jackets—but also cashmere, performance gear, and transition wear. She says her clothes serve as a "smart garment" that allows customers to segue "between worlds" and be just as comfortable and coiffed wearing riding pants, for instance, in an equestrian event as one would be at a premiere. Her line's leather pants, for example, are made of 17 panels sewed together on top of a water wicking, breathable legging, making it suitable for multi directional athletic endeavors and fitting to wear throughout the day.
When she initially showcased these designs, Gingi says her "idea was turned down by every label," so she produced them herself. Still committed to minimalism, and anti-waste, Gingi sought out hardware for use in buttons, and researched international communities that use the entire animal, and where she could also use their skins for her leather.
She found the Eid al-Adha, or the Festival/Feast of Sacrifice, in Indonesia. This global Muslim holiday commemorates Abraham's willingness to obey God, and sacrifice his son, who was ultimately spared, and a ram was sacrificed in his stead. During this multi-day festival, livestock—cows, goats, sheep, and camels, depending on the region—are sacrificed, and the meat, in part, is given to the poor. After the festival, some temples will sell the animal skins to Westerners, Medina says, which she considers ethical.
Gingi describes the “ethical use of a skin" as being "when the entire animal is used and not only sought out for its skin to make a product." Her company Equites, she says, searches "far and wide for leather or a fur that has already been used," to then "recycle or upcycle the piece into something new. [We] make sure we know where it's come from.” Medina asserts that she doesn't use slaughterhouse leathers, and does “not support, nor purchase from major manufacturing facilities,” but rather acquires her animal skins and materials in “smaller, traditional ways,” like from temples. The fabrics are naturally woven, she says, and there are no chemicals used in the dying process, which further eliminates waste.
Once she gets the rawhide materials back to her factory, the leather is treated with natural ingredients like oils and rocks. Occasionally vegetable dyes are used, when a customer requests a special color. Much of her items are bespoke—made to order. Turnaround can take between 45-60 days, Gingi says. She says her method of manufacturing is less wasteful and more supportive of the planet. She claims there are no companies quite like hers. In an environment where most fashion lines are “being gluttonous and over-producing,” Gingi believes her company is “doing a better job.” Although she’s unfamiliar with any manufacturers creating clothes in the same manner and impact as she does, Medina welcomes competing brands. She wants to encourage companies to elevate their corporate responsibility.
Medina would also like to form an alliance across industries. Fashion is seen as a “status industry”, but Gingi also has a passion to “do right by the earth”, she says. Her warehouse is slated to use a Tesla Powerwall battery—which stores electricity and solar energy for later use—and she wants to partner with other companies that have a similar vision and commitment to the environment.
Medina’s company Equites is headquartered in London and the line will be available to the masses in Fall 2017. Her wares will be available in Harrods, Harvey Nichols, boutiques, country clubs, equestrian specific stores, and on her company’s website. During the company’s soft launch, Equites currently has jewelry and wearable art, bags, and boots available at equites.co.uk and on their Facebook page. The company is also offering an invitation to its show at London Fashion Week in September of 2017 to its first one hundred customers purchasing "diamond tier" levels of the selection pieces available pre-launch.
Alexandrea Thornton is a journalist and producer living in NY. A graduate of UC Berkeley and Columbia University, she splits her time between California and New York. She's an avid reader and is penning her first non-fiction book.