It was fascinating for me to unpick all of the individual stories of these women and understand that they brought to the table something completely different and unexpected than to really excelling in different aspects of what men could do for different reasons as well. Randolph Engineering put together a whole female team for the project as well, it's been really magical to have that share this great project together as all women. And there's a definite similar tone of seriousness of needing to get this right, but also enjoying each other and being comfortable around each other, which has been quite an amazing experience, honestly. And quite different from my previous experiences, often working with men and needing to pay close attention to my choice of wording.
For the collaboration, I designed a pullover parka, a boonie hat, and a crossbody bag all made from repurposed C-9 parachute canopies. These parachutes, with their distinctive tricolor design or Bright orange, white, and olive drab, are made from super lightweight nylon – honestly, it was more like a luxury fabric than anything I am used to working with. It was particularly hard to work with, having to cut the parachutes panels apart by color before sending them to the factory I worked with in Vietnam.
Working with this factory was also super important to me for this collaboration. 80% or 90% of garment workers are women, and I wanted these garments to be made by a woman-led factory. This factory in Vietnam is a second-generation family woman-owned business with only 30 employees. All the tailors and the pattern makers are in their mid to late 50s, and they have a skill level that is very hard to find nowadays. I'm so proud of this particular factory because they're just so freaking good. I've been working with them for eight years, and they were the people I knew were the only people who could get this right. The pieces, about 100 of each, were made in their sample room as this fabric was so delicate that much care had to go into choosing the right tools and treatments for this ironically delicate fabric, prone to fraying. I have a lot of new white hairs from this project, but it's worth it. This military story from a woman's perspective is very important to me and I think it's very important for women. It was a really unique and special experience doing this with an all-women team.