In a culture of fast fashion and even faster trend cycles, handmade clothes have become a novelty. For New York-based designer Merritt Meacham, this approach is essential, having built his independent brand off creating one-of-a-kind garments using deadstock fabrics and hand-dyeing techniques.
"I’m just trying to keep my work personal and as close to the source as possible," he says, pulling style inspiration from his close friends as a way to accomplish this mission. "Half of my patterns are unknowingly named after my friends, whether it was a collaboration or the silhouette just reminds me of them."
There’s an ease to Meacham’s unisex designs, which are primarily made in cotton blends and sold in natural tones that emphasize the intimate production process. Whimsical swirls and cutouts are his signature, seen on fitted "snap tops" or striped polos. The brand’s ribbed knit pants and biker shorts look like the type of bottoms you’d never take off — an emphasis on comfort without sacrificing personality.
Below, learn more about Merritt Meacham, who models his own designs exclusively for PAPER.
What perspective do you think you’re bringing to fashion?
I’m just trying to keep my work personal and as close to the source as possible, and I think people really respond to that. Whether I’m sewing or dying the garment myself, the piece has been conceived and manipulated in its own way, which makes the work and myself more accessible to people.
I’ve read that your pieces are all one-of-a-kind? Why is this type of output important to you and what’s that process like from a production perspective?
I’m always struggling at blending the artistry with the business-minded side of things and hoping it doesn’t alter my design process too much. For a while I got the most enjoyment out of making something that felt one-of-a-kind and mass producing it by hand myself. I found it challenging and humorous to replicate something over and over that was intended to exist on its own. Now I compartmentalize more, making one-offs that visually satisfy and producing pieces I can sell more of. I’ve started to outsource some of the production to make that approach more feasible.
How do you feel about the fashion industry’s relationship with sustainability, especially the way it often labels things as such without being truly sustainable. Can fashion ever be fully sustainable, anyway?
My very first job was sewing samples for a small label that described themselves as sustainable, and it really just translated to shapeless architectural basics produced on a small scale with fabric from China and I thought that was so lit. I can pattern a design on the drafting table I built myself, make six samples from scraps and then dye them all in-house with six-month-old fermented mystery solution and still feel like the most wasteful piece of shit. The issue of sustainability is more with trying to keep price points accessible, while compensating for my own labor.
Being that your pieces are handmade and often involve hand-dying processes, what skills or techniques did you need to fine-tune outside of fashion in order to develop your line?
I think what keeps my excitement up about making things still is keeping a little too much on my plate at all times. I also like when the process feels kind of fake or made up or out of my control. It allows me to start something, take notes and leave it alone or throw it away. I think fine-tuning is exactly what I don’t do actually. There was a moment where I started to outsource dyeing or work with pre dyes to make production easier and it did just that, but I ended up coming back to the completely oxidized red wine on my shelf and batch-dying shirts with that instead.
I’m interested in the curvature and emphasis on moving shapes or lines. How did you arrive on that as a fundamental element to your brand?
I don’t think it was intentional, really, but I realized after a while that I always start with my idea of the perfect fit and skew things accordingly to the shape I want, whether that’s through seam work, paneling or fabric bulkage. It came to be what people responded to the most, so the challenge in that has been keeping it playful and exciting for myself.
Is there someone you’re thinking about when designing your clothes?
I’m literally just thinking about my friends. Half of my patterns are unknowingly named after my friends, whether it was a collaboration or the silhouette just reminds me of them. It’s funny how so much of the design process centers around my body, but I would probably never wear many of the the clothes I make.
Photography: Shawna Ferreira