Join us on December 10th and Meet the Maker!
Meet Magdalena, the mastermind behind Magdalena Concepts
, a Brooklyn-based sustainable t-shirt company that creates designs conscious of history and current global issues. All t-shirts are printed and tagged individually by hand at their studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
Q/A with Magdalena about her process and new collaborations:
TRUNK: What does sustainability mean to you?
Magdalena: Sustainability means that when a process is seen at its largest scale, it is something that can be maintained, that will not be maxed out. So we use water-based ink with disposal best practices, because when we zoom out, it means our prints last, and it means we’re not cumulatively poisoning the ocean. It also means the people making our ink over in Australia have lower health risks. We use shirts that are manufactured with safe working conditions and paid a fair wage. This point is always hard, because the truth is we can’t fly to Egypt or the Dominican Republic and visit the actual factories (yet), but we always look for suppliers whose values and prices reflect the fact that that is a priority for them. Again, zooming out, sweatshop conditions destroy families and communities; they make countries where manufacturing is their primary domestic product entirely beholden to their customer. That creates cyclical poverty and dismantles opportunity for the next generation to attend school long enough to have another option in life. I don’t want to contribute to that.
TRUNK: Why is it important for you to design and produce locally?
Magdalena: I think there is a sacred trust between consumer and supplier. I like to know exactly who I’m working with, and how they work. On a very basic level, it says a lot about a business if they’re not comfortable with an in-person visit. More than that, I promise my shoppers transparency, and I do my best to procure that. If I know how my rivet supplier works, my ribbon supplier, if I get on the phone with my ink manufacturer, I learn about my supply chain and if it falls in line with the values I’m promising to my clients. Local is a means of achieving transparency.
TRUNK: Your designs often feature political motifs, how does political agency and activism play a part in your business and overall design process?
Magdalena: I believe we each have agency, period. We make thousands of choices every day, and they each have ripple effects. I was lucky to see how different socio-economic and cultural groups live when I was still developing my consciousness as a teen, and I think seeing how United States culture and policy influences the globe – in beautiful ways and ways that aren’t so helpful – became deeply engrained in my subconscious. When you don’t just “know of” manufacturing conditions, but are related to someone who has worked in manufacturing in the developing world, it changes how you relate to pricing and consumption back home. I believe we have a shared history and shared responsibility as human beings, across all boundaries. So I don’t agree that history should be segregated – “women’s history” “black history” “European history” etc – I think we should learn from each other and celebrate achievement regardless of where it comes from. That was one of the ideas with the American Virtue series. Fortitude is fortitude no matter who is exemplifying it. You don’t get a monopoly on fortitude.
TRUNK: What inspires you in selecting materials, prints and designs?
Magdalena: I’m inspired by everything, haha. Lack of inspiration is one thing I have never suffered from; on the contrary, I have a hard time filtering down to keep things cohesive. When making art was my main squeeze, I always started with materials: texture, color… and those would start to take shape in my mind. With the shirts, it’s similar. I need to have a shirt in my hand before I can decide if a design will be right for it. They must work together and fit one another. Is it heavy or light? Smooth or varied? For the prints, I pull from everything that I love. That is the coolest, most selfish part of this business: I get to take things that I love for personal reasons, and make them over and over again for people to partake and love together with me. This really gets to the meat of why I started this business: at its core, what I wanted to do was create art with limitless quantity so it could be worn by everyone who wanted it.
TRUNK: What is next for Magdalena Concepts? What will you focus on going forward? Any exciting projects?
Magdalena: We’re going to keep bringing in new collaborators. We started with artist Thomarya Fergus from Montreal on our King Frida design this past Fall, for Spring we’re going to be working with Brazilian artist Evandro Angerami, and we have a couple more collaborations on the horizon that we’re really excited about. Beyond that we’re going to keep seeking out awesome community-impacting small businesses like Trunk to work with, and keep preaching the Gospel of Good Tshirts. Long term? We’re keeping our eyes peeled for a manufacturing opportunity where we could build up our process with peak transparency on a macro sale.