This week, DETA Knitwear launches their brand new collection all zero waste knit on the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator’s Shima Seiki knitting machines. Previously based in Germany and known as e.a. seawear, this line of quirky and contemporary swimsuits has a history in the handmade arts. Founded by Anna Berger, the brand was originally inspired by a crochet bikini handed down from her mother.
“She made a few of them which I really liked and was wearing a lot, especially when I was a teenager. Then when I was in art school in Berlin I thought it would be cool to redesign the crochet bikini.” Anna couldn’t crochet herself, so the brand began working with local grandmothers who hadn’t lost the art of hand-crocheting just yet. “It was a funny sort of image to have grandmothers crocheting little bikinis” Anna remembers, but it turned out to be a big hit in Germany.
Nowadays, Anna is living in New York and is working to capture a new audience. Rather than continuing on with her made-by-grandmothers business model, she wanted to do something different and to incorporate sustainability into the new line. Enter: the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator. As a Member of the BF+DA, Anna has been able to meet new people and learn new perspectives on designing for sustainability. She began taking meetings with the s.LAB and p.LAB to discuss new designs and new ways of production that have a lower impact on the planet.
“What is super cool [about working with the Shima Seiki knitting machines] is that you only have one thread and you basically knit the whole piece in one, so there is zero waste,”says Berger.
Anna has enjoyed working collaboratively with the knitwear team to create a design that fits her style, budget, and desire to incorporate sustainability into her new brand, DETA. “It has been pretty cool to work collaboratively,” she says of the design process. The BF+DA “has a really good yarn library so they told me which yarns I could use on the machines and then they made a swatch with me to test the tension for different patterns we could knit.” Anna then worked with the p.LAB to design a style that could be knitted completely in one piece on the machines.
“Usually with cut & sew you have to cut the piece out of fabric but with knitting on the machines it’s cool, you sort of knit with the form of the body.” This creative process was perfect for deciding on a new style with a retro-but-modern vibe, which Anna then deconstructed and reimagined to create additional styles for the launch of DETA. As a small designer, Anna has to incorporate some creative “hacks” into her design process in order to get off the ground. She took her first style and ended up cutting it in half to create the bikini version before adding special details and embroidery. That’s the reality of being a small, upstart designer, but Anna is excited about what the small production run has yielded and is excited to begin designing for next season.
“Inspiration I get kind of from everything,” she says, including old swimsuits from the 70’s and 80’s, and even from the color of a pot of peas boiling away in Anna’s Brooklyn kitchen. “Unfortunately the design portion of the process is really short, everything else is mostly marketing, selling, and all of this other stuff – but the design is my favorite.” Anna is especially inspired by new and interesting ideas. She says that she would love to eventually experiment with different types of materials, ranging from recycled polyester yarns to yarns made from milk or even from locally-sourced wools.
“I would like to find a sustainable yarn but it’s really tough, the problem is that it’s much harder than with fabric,” says Anna of sourcing more sustainable materials to create DETA’s zero-waste swimsuit designs. “The thread from recycled fishing nets and other materials always comes out white,” so she would have to find a way to dye the finished suits after they are knit. This is a classic trade-off that sustainable designers must make often, deciding between sustainability and affordable production with one process vs taking a risk on potentially incorporating more sustainability at a higher cost and with more processes along the supply chain.
For now, Anna has decided to stick to small runs and therefore has to work with the available yarns that will provide small quantities per color. Though there are only a few styles and quantities are limited, DETA’s new collection is nevertheless swoon-worthy. The vibe is clearly inspired by vintage styles but incorporates a contemporary color palette and a fit that is flattering for multiple body types. Anna has also managed to bring in an element of the handmade irony that originally inspired this journey – the embroidered peach bikini top has special details hand stitched by Brooklyn-based grandmothers.
This marriage of handmade with zero-waste machine technology, the juxtaposition of modern colors with a retro style, and the balancing of sustainability with affordability makes for the perfect cocktail of cool, cute, and conscious that comes through in DETA’s first collection. Sustainability aficionados, patrons of art and design, city girls, and nature lovers alike will all fall for some element of DETA’s brand.
Come try on DETA’s new collection and meet Anna this Thursday at the brand’s launch party! Learn all about her journey, ask questions about the process, and hear her hopes and dreams for the future. If you’d like to learn more about production with the BF+DA’s zero-waste knitting machines, get in touch with our knitwear department!
Faye Lessler is a New York City based, California born advocate for sustainable living, a writer, and a community organizer. She has worked with brands like Patagonia, THINX, Eileen Fisher, and Pratt Institute and has been featured in Glamour Magazine. Through her blog, Sustaining Life and as Events Coordinator for the Ethical Writers & Creatives, Faye documents her own journey towards sustainable living and encourages the eco-curious to follow in her footsteps.