Hansel Huang

a space to communicate thoughts, opinions and ideas on design, culture and change

I’m a Model Now

My Day in Natalie Tillen’s Zero Waste Jumpsuit

Meet Cute

It’s a quintessential New York City love story. I stumbled upon Natalie’s Instagram through a mutual friend’s regram. In the instastory, she’s ironing a piece of crispy white garment and smiling the biggest smile second to nobody except perhaps Julia Roberts. I followed her. She followed back (Insert hearts on face emoji). On a Saturday night early summer, we were brought together to the after-after-party in a one bedroom Bed-Stuy apartment after an extravagant gay wedding (It doesn’t get more New York than this). And I lost it. I wasn’t sure if it was her blue posh hat or her Canadian niceness. Either way I was charmed head over heels. A week later, she asked if she could photograph me in her jumpsuit. Of course I jumped at it.

Photographed by Natalie Tillen, 2019; Styled by Hansel Huang

Photographed by Natalie Tillen, 2019; Styled by Hansel Huang

A jumpsuit embodies the sophistication celebrating both inconvenient glamour (Think Halston!) and mischievous childhood fun (We were all put into onesies at one point, voluntarily or not). But there’s more to the jumpsuit Natalie designed. Hear me out. The first thing I noticed was the details - the unparalleled seams, popping collar, kimono style fastening belt. When I first tried it on in Ludlow Coffee Supply’s restroom, I felt there was something sexy about the volume and weight. Interesting trivia: Raquel Zimmermann was in line for the restroom as well and she said she loved the jumpsuit. I pushed it a little bit and said, who’s the supermodel now? She didn’t get the joke. Meanwhile, Natalie was sitting on the couch completely in awe. In this hype over heart culture, it is an intellectual designer’s great joy to have someone appreciate the craft. 

Photographed by Natalie Tillen, 2019; Styled by Hansel Huang

Photographed by Natalie Tillen, 2019; Styled by Hansel Huang

The Paradox of Sustainable Fashion

This jumpsuit is zero waste. What does that mean? No fabric is wasted in the process of making it primarily through pattern design. There are all kinds of approaches to contribute to sustainable fashion. Zero waste pattern making is one that minimizes waste in the early stages of a product life cycle. Mindful marketing and upcycling, for instance, are techniques that come in the later stages. Before we dive in too deep, I’d like to first raise a question:

  • Can fashion be sustainable?

We have seen brands and magazines bluffing on the “timeless style” - modern & classic basics. I wouldn’t define them as sustainable fashion brands. They are sustainable functionality brands. Because the nature of fashion is obsolescence. The industry appreciates the new and depreciates the old. At the end of the day, fashion is about looking forward even when they bring back 70s flare pants, those are what to wear in the next season. 

Photographed by Natalie Tillen, 2019; Styled by Hansel Huang

Photographed by Natalie Tillen, 2019; Styled by Hansel Huang

The waste in a piece of garment’s lifecycle goes beyond design and manufacturing. It continues to haunt the marketing process. The production of a full campaign in the current fashion industry costs an average team of twenty. On a hot humid summer day, it could mean sixty plastic bottles of water if not more. Even if they are properly recycled, the carbon footprint is astounding. And we are not even talking about straws, Ubers, air conditioning, lighting, the cigarette butts tossed around that will end up in the mouths of ocean life. All of this, just to sell some bags that are perhaps not even eco friendly. However, let’s be pragmatic. Zero waste fashion isn’t impossible but it’s very very hard. One can start by slowing fashion down. Innovation isn't invention, it’s a quest to make things better with a commitment to do over when it gets worse again.

But investors don’t do slow. They want to see growth. So let’s talk about growth. Natalie handmade the entire jumpsuit. Taking into account ethical human labor, is sustainable fashion, if there is such a thing, grow-able? I didn’t say scalable because scaling and growing are different - scaling means becoming more and bigger - profit, employees, product variety, you name it, anything in a sizable sense. Growing means becoming better, wiser and is measured by parameters often times not quantifiable - How strong is your customer network? Are the employees happy? What’s the meaning of your product? We are on a tipping point of redefining the value of growth, particularly in the direction of shaping the economy from linear to circular. 

Photographed by Natalie Tillen, 2019; Styled by Hansel Huang

Photographed by Natalie Tillen, 2019; Styled by Hansel Huang

Telling a Story

So, how? Well, we wanted to tell a story or multiple - a widow walking to the East River to scatter her husband’s ashes; a beekeeper; a Hollywood starlet pretending to avoid the paparazzi; a hustler… One thing they have in common - they are all wearing the jumpsuit and feeling fine. Well, maybe not the widow. 

We wanted to disrupt the binary notion of wearing a jumpsuit and highlight the cool of versatility. As a model, pause for reaction, I felt both masculine and feminine, empowered and vulnerable. I felt flirty and fluid. This inspired our creative direction throughout the entire photoshoot. As someone who’s pretty friggin’ self conscious, I couldn’t feel more comfortable with Natalie. An excellent photographer evidently, she applauded the idea of gender fluidity. We shot in natural light. It was just the two of us. Close to the end, we each had a sip of delicious New York City tap from a public water fountain. It couldn’t feel better. 


Natalie is iterating on the original jumpsuit this summer. She is experiencing with more fabrics and shapes. Stay tuned for more of her work at: http://www.natalietillen.com