Wear Your Values on Your Sleeve

Ari Takata-Vasquez ’11 makes sustainable clothes customers can feel good about

By LYDIA LUM, USF NEWS Posted Wed, 10/03/2018 - 14:50

Odds are, you’ve heard of slow food. But what about slow fashion?    

USF’s Ari Takata-Vasquez ’11 hopes you have because she wants to bring it to clothing stores near you. Rather than sell clothes and accessories hastily made on the cheap in sweatshops overseas, she has made sustainability the name of the game at her women’s and men’s clothing boutique and design studio Viscera. The business has locations in Oakland and San Francisco.

“I didn’t want more poor people to be taken advantage of, so I decided to make positive change,” says Takata-Vasquez, who has been a buyer, visited textile factories, and developed her own brand.

Takata-Vasquez — who focuses on locally produced merchandise, creating jobs in urban neighborhoods, and reducing the carbon footprints of her inventory — made an East Bay fashion-scene splash earlier this year, landing on the cover of Oakland Magazine. Recently, the architecture and community design major launched an ambitious plan to convert Viscera’s entire merchandise line to items designed, produced, and sold in-house — a move almost unheard of in the fashion and design industries.  

Minimal but essential

Fast fashion — inexpensive, trendy designs that move swiftly from the catwalk to stores — is losing popularity among today’s conscious customers, Takata-Vasquez believes, pointing to news earlier this year that fast-fashion giant H&M reported $4.3 billion in unsold inventory.

Takata-Vasquez promotes what’s known as a capsule wardrobe — a few pieces with minimalist details and in neutral colors that create interchangeable outfits year-round. Her collection features dresses, jeans, pullovers, jackets, and other essentials. To ensure that every product has a market, she and her team use a sampling and test-batch approach, prototyping and involving customers in research and development that results in less merchandise going to waste.

Following her passion

Her USF education encouraged Takata-Vasquez to think beyond a 9-to-5 job, she says. She took inspiration from professors who juggled multiple careers — working as small business owners, architects, and designers in fields other than what they studied in college. Maybe that’s why she ended up leaving a job as a construction project manager at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, selling her house, and tapping her life savings to start Viscera in 2014, Takata-Vasquez says.  

As much as becoming an entrepreneur might have been a departure, it didn’t come completely out of the blue. She was always interested in fashion as a child and even considered fashion school.

“I always wanted to help people, especially women, find clothing that made them feel confident, comfortable, and good, just knowing that it’s made ethically,” Takata-Vasquez says.

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