Turning Cashmere Sweaters to Trendy Bikini’s. An Interview with Los Angeles Label Afterlife

Photography by Aimee Rentmeester-Flynn

Los Angeles is known as the home of creatives, celebrities and the affluent, and its sartorial contributions are as varied as they are fabulous. From couture to contemporary beachwear, bridal & costume design- its fashion breathes a progressive entrepreneurial vibe. It is here where one woman found a way to tackle local industry waste, by turning your old cashmere sweater in to a timeless unique product. German born designer and super woman Andrea Emmerich, launches Afterlife, a playful surf-style label, playing with the classic aesthetic of the dolphin short, made out of 100% recycled cashmere. And that’s not all- her website provides an opportunity to recycle your wardrobe and donate unwanted clothes and textile materials to local homeless shelters and women’s centers, by connecting customers with the right people to instigate change.

Andrea is anything but dull, her life as a traveling chameleon taught her the values that she now sends out to the world through her creations. We meet via a mutual friend, and whether it was the concept- or my personal love of cashmere and Dolphin shorts- it was meant to be. Andrea with all her energy exemplifies the human power, of what you can achieve if you are willing to get out of your comfort zone and pursue your passion.

 

Tell me about you, who is Andrea Emmerich, the woman behind Afterlife?

My friends describe me as a renaissance woman because I have had so many professional and creative incarnations in this life. I started working as a stewardess for Lufthansa upon graduating school because exploring the world is imbedded in my DNA. I have always been kind of an outsider. Meaning: I was never the one to conform to norms- andwas never afraid to express this and never cared for other people’s opinions. This hasn’t changed much, although I look and seem more “normal” now…..whatever that means. I’m a 51-year-old German-American who started surfing at 45, and although I suck at it- I love it! You’ve got to keep the brain fresh, learn new stuff and get out of your comfort zone.

About those incarnations…

I’ve done PR and Event Marketing for a textile group and dealt with all sorts of aspects of the business mostly marketing related. I’ve been doing concert & festival sponsoring, working with major clients, to guerilla marketing and fashion PR with influential designer Walter van Beirendonck. I’ve worked for a photography agency, produced TV segments for German television from L.A and when I had enough of all the hassle I started a Yoga practice. I studied Ayurveda and worked at a spa where I was snatched by French spa brand SUNDARI and travelled nonstop and still do a bit work for them here and there. At some point in my life I’ve even made really cool hats and sold to some awesome stores in L.A.

What has kept you grounded in all of this?

I love my family and have a great group of international friends all over the world. And although I am very social I make sure to get my ‘me-time’ to reflect back. My spiritual practice is very important to me, although I am not a purist. Life is good and I am grateful for the blessings I’ve received. Gratitude and forgiveness are daily reminders to that.

You came to Los Angeles, what brought you here in the first place?

My family moved here in the early 90ies for their careers in the film industry and I visited often- and fell in love with Los Angeles. I found work here on several projects so I returned frequently. After a lifelong gypsy/travel lifestyle during my years working for airlines, I had a hard time living in Germany after I quit. The Californian lifestyle and climate resonated with me and when I decided to move here I had already made lots of friends.

How does a day in the life of Andrea look like?

I make my own rules for my daily schedule, which is one of the privileges of being self-employed. I like to keep a routine morning meditation, by starting with Yoga, a hike in the canyon, then e-mails, scheduling my massage and Ayurveda clients and/or going downtown to my atelier. I always make sure I see a friend or family every day to socially engage. My circle of friends ranges from Musicians to movie people and just some very cool people from all walks of life. I like to explore and visit every part of LA, which is a-typical, considering that people here stay in their own hood, tired of driving. Not me, I am all over from DTLA to Malibu.

Why cashmere sweaters?

I love to sleep in old cashmere sweaters in the colder seasons and I always wished there were bottoms to match it. A friend of mine used to make little bikini panties and I bought a few. Originally the idea was to do this together, but she moved on to something else, so I asked for her blessing to do it alone- she was okay with that. I expanded the concept and there I was- on my own, having to learn the process of how to create a product and a brand. I did it all though- A ONE –WOMAN-SHOW – luckily I have a dear friend who has been in the fashion biz for over 30 years to mentor me. That really helps.

How does the process look like- from hand picking the cashmere to an Afterlife piece?

I select the pieces at flea markets and second hand stores. I inspect the cashmere items for quality and condition for purchasing, then I clean them thoroughly: washing and steaming. I lay the colors out to design the combos and need two sweaters for one pair of shorts. I prep the cutting and sewing lists and hand them over to my production team. Finished pieces are photographed or prepped for a photoshoot, and it all goes on online. My website is also a tool to show wholesale clients the boundless possibilities and sizes- enabling buyers to customise their order from available colour combinations. I ship the shorts in a branded drawstring bag and hangtags, fitting to the concept of my product.

Why do you think people throw away so many clothes, even in good condition?

I think we have become a throw-away-society. All those discount manufacturers of fast fashion make it so easy to replace a wardrobe for little money and little attention to quality. And the value of clothing is not like it was in the old days, where you fixed a hole in a sweater to extend its life. When you go to third world countries- where most of our clothes are made today- people don’t have the same funds and resources to do that. And actually- although it might sounds cliché: most of the time, those people there are happier with less, because they are not focused on possessions as we are.

Our perception of luxury has changed and continues to do so. How do you perceive luxury?

There are brands that produce luxury items on a large scale but have managed to honour their traditions and artisanship over time, like Hermes and Chanel. There is however a huge gap in price-point today between luxury and normal products, this has been developing in the past twenty-something years. But there will always be a value for those traditional labels. I for one love my 70’ies Emilio Pucci velvet skirt that I inherited from my mother. You can see that the label is hand-sewn into the garment. And now a new kind of luxury is on the rise, with a focus on sustainability and recycling. There’s this guy I run into when sourcing my cashmere, we call him MoMo, he makes one of a kind products out of used materials, so detailed and beautiful, it requires hours of hand sewing and there’s only a handful of his work available- but they are sold for thousand’s a piece at Maxfield’s.

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On your website you say that your life experiences and travels have contributed to the birth of Afterlife. In what way?

I have benefitted from all my journeys, having been exposed to many cultures, arts and colours, and I have learned a lot from my rather versatile career path and the people I have met in doing so. But perhaps the most importantly is the eco/human aspect that has inspired me most, through seeing the conditions in other parts of the world, where fast fashion factories are based for example. It taught me mindfulness and awareness, with regards to resources and the journey of a T-shirt to retail shelves. This inspired me towards recycled fashion, using local, donated clothing and textiles to create my pieces.

Your shorts have a contemporary Californian youth and surf culture feel to them- is that something that resonates with you?

Absolutely! I spend my weekends with friends out in Malibu, I love the surf/beach culture here and the fresh creative vibe of its people. My life has always been driven by my love for music and I have had a great interest in various genres. I attended many concerts from an early age, frequented clubs and had DJ friends from St. Moritz to Ibiza starting my late teens. You could say that this ‘feel & vibe’ is evident in my work, but for my shorts, I love to play with the classic style of the dolphin.

How has the response been so far to your product?

I have allowed to everything happen organically, considering that, the response has been amazing. Friends love it and recommend me to shops and so far all of them have wanted to take my product. I feel blessed! I need to carve out more time to expand and reach out to those stores I’d like to be in. What I don’t want is to push things. I only want to work with stores that really love my pieces and who respect or share the chore philosophy of my brand.

What is your focus for the future and what can we expect from afterlife in the near future?

Definitely not lacking ideas for the future! For one I’ve been thinking about the rest materials of the cashmere’s I use. Next will be accessories, like fingerless gloves and sporty wrist warmers, which I’d like to make from the sleeves of the sweaters. I am also contemplating a kids collection and I have been asked to create bottoms that are more conservative and covering. There are also men who ask about special men’s pieces, although I consider the dolphin to be unisex. For now I just want to establish the brand and it’s core aesthetic, the dolphin as a classic.

Got some sage advice for fresh entrepreneurs and perhaps those who are exploring the sustainable fashion branch?

Break the existing business model and do what you feel is right. Don’t start out with a big overhead and expenses. Keep it small and grow organically. Be authentic so you feel good about what you’re selling.