From a young age, Eliana Gil Rodriguez was never swayed by trends and aptly found a passion for vintage clothing and the sustainable notion tied to it. After starting out at American Apparel, Rodriguez moved to Los Angeles and with a career in bloom, she decided to pursue her own brand through Gil Rodriguez with a unique vision of its own. Creating modern essentials – and always, with sustainability at the forefront of her operation.
With ethically sourced fabrics and timeless silhouettes, Rodriguez’s eponymous label is re-defining modern essentials and setting a new standard: dismantling the frivolous nature of contemporary fashion.
First off, can you tell us about Gil Rodriguez?
Gil Rodriguez is my last name and also my company’s name. I built the latter from a place of disillusion with the wastefulness and frivolity of much of modern fashion. I was basically only shopping vintage at that point, but the hardest thing to find was always good basics. I decided to go back to doing what I did best, designing and producing essentials in the United States, but this time on my own terms and from my own point of view. It’s a very personal project.
You started out working for American Apparel in Montreal and moved to LA with the company as a designer. How did Gil Rodriguez come to fruition and was creating your own leisurewear brand always the end goal for you?
Doing my own thing was always in the back of my mind, yes. I’m entrepreneurial in spirit, and I was never very good at having a boss. I don’t know if I would say that making clothes is my destiny, though. I simply enjoy the challenge of making useful things that are grounded in functionality. That can translate to anything. Clothing was just the first thing I learned how to do well, and in my early days in LA, I was exposed to and became very invested in local and ethical garment manufacturing.
You studied Political Science and eventually made the transition to fashion design, career-wise these couldn’t be more different! Did you always have a conscious interest in the creative industries?
I always loved design and I would make my own clothes since I was a kid. But I had other interests that seemed like more practical career paths at the time, and coming from an academic family, I just sort of went to school because that’s what you do. I worked at American Apparel after school and weekends from the age of 15, and by the time I was in university, I was offered the opportunity in LA. I was running away from a lot at the time, not to mention it was February and freezing in Montreal, so I jumped at the chance to escape to California.
I can only imagine the strain that comes from creating your own brand while trying to carve uniqueness into a vast industry of elevated basics and leisurewear. What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far? And how do you keep Gil Rodriguez relevant and with its own inimitable voice?
I knew going into this that the hardest and most important thing was going to be staying in touch with my instincts, particularly under pressure. In creativity, like in business, your gut instinct is everything. I try to focus on staying centered, taking my mental and physical health seriously. I’m not saying it’s easy – this process has broken me at times. It can be very lonely and very scary. But it’s so important to stay centered in yourself, to prioritize and maintain that connection with your gut because it’s where your essence and authenticity stems from. Without it, you can start flailing, overthinking, copying, and generally paying too much attention to what everyone else is doing or thinking. That’s when you lose the magic. I don’t come from money, and I’ve put everything I’ve worked for into this business so that I have the privilege of doing it my way, without oversight. But that also comes with a great deal of responsibility and stress that falls onto my shoulders alone. It’s been a huge growing experience for me to learn how to cope with that pressure in a healthy way.
And on the reverse, what have been your biggest accomplishments?
I feel very proud to be part of a movement towards more sustainable and healthy attitudes with regards to fashion and material consumption. I think the conversation we’ve been having since our inception, about how clothing should not be disposable or trend-driven, is now becoming central in the fashion industry. The pandemic really highlighted the ways in which the current structures are totally unsustainable, with the world being forced to slow down and companies getting stuck with tons of obsolete inventory. Now everyone is talking about fewer collections, less waste, less seasonality, less risk, and ultimately, less consumption. I believe that is the future. You buy something useful and well-made you wear it to death.
The main focus within your clothing line has been transparency around working conditions, and sustainability within the supply chain and design process. What inspired you to create a brand with these values as a focal point?
This is the only way I know. American Apparel, despite its many faults, was groundbreaking in terms of vertical integration, transparency and ethical manufacturing in the US. For all those years, my design office was literally on the factory floor. The idea of being far removed from the people who make the things I dream up and their working conditions is simply unimaginable to me.
Your personal style has always reflected your values. Do you find more people are starting to be more conscious in their buying habits? And what influenced you to start shopping vintage, and sustainable altogether?
I’m not a trend-driven person – I like very well-made, classic things that’ll follow me around for ages. Some of my favorite vintage pieces I’ve had since I was a teenager. It’s a more elegant way of life, to have fewer, but better things. It’s better for the planet but also better for your wallet and for your mental health, to not always be chasing something, to break the addiction of compulsive consumption. I think more and more people are waking up to that reality.
When it comes to vintage clothing and developing your personal style, who were your biggest inspirations? Did you have any go-to stylists or vendors that inspired you to start shopping this way, and possibly pushing your boundaries of sustainability from a personal practice to a focal point within your own label?
I grew up in thrift stores. We were struggling immigrants; we simply didn’t have the luxury of new things. So I’ve always shopped this way, I just became more knowledgeable about what to look for over the years. My most consistent style inspiration is probably Richard Gere in American Gigolo. I’ve dressed like some version of him in that movie for over a decade. I just believe everyone’s style and life can benefit from cutting out fast fashion, and not dressing in clothes you won’t even like in a year. It’s incredibly freeing, not to mention the fact that environmentally, we simply can’t afford to.
With the pandemic affecting many aspects of our lives personally and professionally, how do you feel Gil Rodriguez designs will stay unique with an increase in the leisurewear market?
I generally make things for myself, because I want them to exist. Meaning, when I can’t find something that’s just right – the perfect fit, fabric, style details, price – in the market, I create it. Right now, I’m focusing on quality and staying true to myself and what I love, and I believe the product stands out as a result.
At this point, it comes as no surprise that there has been a massive increase in demand for quality basics and anything comfortable given the attention we’re shining on work from home attire. How do you see your brand responding to this demand, do you find that the current world events are affecting your designs and brand philosophy for the next season? What can we expect from you in the near future?
There’s definitely been an increase in demand for our products but our philosophy has not changed. I believe we were perfectly poised for this moment, and we plan to stay the course.
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