BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Clothing designer Olivia Cheng is painting vintage leather – an activity not uncommon in her Crown Heights apartment, which downstairs doubles as her studio. She the vision behind her sustainable and certainly colorful fashion brand – Dauphinette.
“The mission of the brand is to bring about this kind of event gardeist statement-making style that doesn’t need to take such a toll on the planet,” Cheng said. Cheng traces her business to a shopping trip to Paris for vintage clothing while she was attending NYU. Some furs from the 1940s and 50s caught her eye, and the idea for Dauphinette was born.
She decided she would repurpose old clothing and textiles, creating new fashions while helping the environment. She recycled vintage furs and leather and then expanded to items she scavenged from thrift stores, small textile mills, and even her mom’s closet.
“There is such an abundance of this type of product out in the world, and yes, the sourcing is difficult because I can’t walk into a tannery and ask for 50 hides of like cognac lambskin, but it is available to me, and I think functional for other people, and I’m excited to share,” Cheng said.
Her business plan is unique: According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than 1 percent of textiles used to manufacture clothing are recycled to make new garments. Despite the materials of Olivia’s pieces being sourced from all over the world, she still makes them right here in Brooklyn or at a factory in Manhattan – a decision that Olivia says was a no-brainer.
“Because my factory is in New York, I can literally go there whenever I want and make sure that things are being made in the right way and ask them like please don’t throw away the scraps for this, this is usable,” Cheng said. And now she’s celebrating the first anniversary of her company by releasing a new collection.
As for the name of her brand, Dauphinette, it’s a play on Dauphin, French for the male heir to the throne. The 21-year-old wanted to take a powerful word and make it feminine. “My ideal customer is somebody who is very self-assured, who knows what they want and they are willing to be in pursuit of that thing,” Cheng said. And what Cheng is pursuing is to build her brand and inspire other designers to work sustainably as well.