A new pop-up at Westfield World Trade Center is putting both sustainability and a new crop of up-and-coming designers front and center.
Art to Ware, a sustainable, Black woman-owned fashion brand founded by fashion influencer Lesley Ware, has taken over a space at the Oculus for its upcycled apparel and accessories. The 1,650-square-foot pop-up boutique will feature a selection of pieces curated by Ware from rising responsible designers, including Parron Edwards-Stimola, founder of Parron Allen; Mikaela Clark, founder of Hansel Clothing; Janelle Rabbott, founder of JRat; and “Project Runway” season 6 alum Rodney Epperson, founder of Epperson Studio.
The grand opening will take place on Aug. 11.
“I think coming out of the pandemic, people really want positive change with fashion, and they want to stand out, so I think now is just the perfect time to bring something fresh to the fashion retail space,” Ware told WWD during a preview of the pop-up boutique prior to opening.
The pop-up shop is done in collaboration with Chashama, an organization that not only works with property owners to transform unused real estate, but through its Storefront Startup program, gives small businesses the opportunity to occupy the space for their creative projects.
The Art to Ware store is filled with roughly 250 pieces of upcycled donated clothing, including menswear, womenswear and accessories decorated with airbrush designs, assorted patches and frills; a variety of accents that gives each piece a unique feel.
Ware, whose fashion experience comes from having held many roles including blogging, working in retail and authoring five books, including one published in June titled “Black Girls Sew,” said most of the designers chosen for the pop-up were people in her network with a like-minded ethos.
“I’m really looking for people who are being socially conscious about what they create and thinking about the impact on the environment,” the designer said.
Along with selling upcycled wearables, Ware wants the store to be “a destination for unique and sustainable fashion in New York City.” As such, she has plans to host free, in-person upcycling events in the store for anyone to attend. Set to take place roughly three times a week, the upcycling events will feature designers using an assortment of upcycling techniques to rework items and “give them a second life,” according to Ware.
“People never get to see how their clothing is made, so we want to have live demonstrations,” she said. “We’re going to have someone working on pieces that will actually be on the floor.”
Around the larger topic of sustainability and what individuals can do to help reduce earth’s carbon footprint, Ware says it’s as easy as upcycling your own wardrobe.
“To save something that might have a slight imperfection, I would say just put a patch on it, or a button on it, or dye it. Any simple thing that you can do to give it another life, do it. Don’t just throw it away,” she said.
The new retail location represents the fourth partnership between Chashama and Ware, who initially collaborated in 2021 to open an Art to Ware pop-up boutique in the West Village. Since then, they partnered to open an Art to Ware pop-up in Chelsea from August to September this year, and another store in the Port Authority bus terminal that’s currently still open.
Anita Durst, cofounder and artistic director of Chashama, said she continues to partner with Ware in occupying unused spaces because of her dedication to the environment and to local designers.
“Not only is she doing the sustainable part, but she’s also supporting like 20 other designers at the same time,” Durst said. “If these spaces stay empty, there’s this negative energy, but if these spaces are full, and there’s these small designers giving it life and energy, that makes me really excited.”
Ware founded Art to Ware in 2021 after working a myriad of careers in retail for more than a decade until finally deciding to give her business plan a try.
“It was really a dream come true to be able to give it a go because I’ve always worked for other people, and I would say ‘this is research, one day I’m going to have my own,’ and then it really happened,” she said.
Diana Grasso, vice president of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield told WWD via email that the store opening, “reflects Westfield World Trade Center’s commitment to increasing accessibility for small and local minority- and women-owned businesses” and to “offering visitors a unique and fresh shopping experience on their way through the Oculus.”
In her reasons for operating a sustainable brand, Ware said, historically, there has always been a strong connection between communities of color and upcycling.
“Upcycling is something that has been done for many years, like 1716-1800s, especially something that enslaved Africans had to do out of necessity. For people like immigrants, who came through Ellis Island, this is a thing they’ve always done,” she said. “I am really happy to be kind of re-reclaiming it in a fresh new way by putting a more artistic spin on it, and bringing it to the forefront of fashion.”