Fashion with a conscious-driven purpose is Elissa Martin’s goal.
But as measured as her tailored designs appear, Martin’s track to pinning down her career took many alterations.
“I have always wanted to be a fashion designer. When I was 11 or 12, my mom bought me a sewing machine,” she said. “I was told by family members and other people that I couldn’t be a fashion designer – that it was like a fairytale, a dream, it won’t happen. So I didn’t do it.”
Instead, she became a teacher. But the dream of fashion design never went away.
After leaving her job as a teacher, Martin, an alumna of Onondaga Community College and Cazenovia College, returned to Cazenovia, graduating in 2021. While completing her studies at OCC for drawing and painting, Martin, 35, became hyper-aware of the harmful impacts fast fashion has on the planet. That’s when she dreamed up Altered Eco.
“Things happen in life, and I think sometimes life pushes you in the direction when you don’t go,” Martin said.
In addition to building her fashion brand, Martin works at Syracuse Stage as a dresser. The aspiring costume designer also contributes her creative talents as a dresser and wardrobe supervisor at Redhouse Arts Center.
Martin lives by the power of manifestation, reciting affirming words of encouragement to herself: “I keep telling myself manifestation is everything. I am going to be a costume designer at Syracuse Stage.”
In this Q & A, Martin shares with Central Current her journey to creating a sustainable brand and sharing its mission with people who see and wear her clothing.
Stewart: Do you consider yourself a full-time designer, professionally?
Martin: I have a lot of jobs. I am a costume designer for Redhouse after-school and middle-school kids, and I do wardrobe-working backstage for Syracuse Stage, the Landmark Theatre and Redhouse. And then I design, that’s my passion. Whether it’s doing costume design or fashion design, I just like designing. So that is my goal, to be a costume designer for movies, for theater. I feel like when you design for a play you’re still designing a collection.
Stewart: What inspired you to create a sustainable fashion brand?
Martin: School. In school, they started teaching us about how damaging fashion was on the world, especially since fast fashion has started, like H&M, which I didn’t know at the time. I’ve stopped shopping at H&M. I actually haven’t bought clothes for myself in two years, since I graduated college. I just repurpose stuff; there’s so much stuff in my closet, I don’t need to buy anything.
… School taught us that just with the dyes and everything going into the ground, there’s certain fabrics that once they go into the earth and break down nothing can grow there. So, just from there, I thought, ‘Man, I love fashion, but I also love our planet.’ So, I was just thinking, what could I do to combat that? My senior collection was eco-friendly. I would have my T-shirts donated from one of the places I interned at, FLAX. They’re very eco-friendly, too. They use all biodegradable packaging. Their buttons are made from beans. Even their clothes, they’re all made from linen, all-natural from the earth.
Stewart: What kind of clothing do you make?
Martin: I make things that – they’re not trendy things, but they could be trendy. I want to be a trendsetter, so I’m making trend-setting clothes. Most of my stuff is for people that are part of ‘team overdressed.’ I like dressy clothes, but you could also dress them down. Everything in my collection goes with everything.
I make my pieces versatile. The next collection is going to be a little more casual stuff and more menswear.
Stewart: Are the clothes you create handmade, or do you go to a thrift store and select the clothing?
Martin: Both. I’d say about 50% of my stuff, I’ll take it apart and put it back together. Like, I’ll take a dress and I’ll take it apart, and I’ll make it look like something else.
Stewart: For your jewelry collection, are those items also repurposed and handmade?
Martin: I have made jewelry metal-smithing by hand, like rings, and I made some earrings.
I make crowns with stones with wires. But I also take stuff from the jewelry store, so I’ll go and get a whole bunch of jewelry and take it all apart.
Stewart: What is your creative process like?
Martin: A lot of the time, I don’t find the clothes, I feel like they come to me. People donate stuff to me.
It’s really hard, as an eco-friendly designer, to make a collection, because you’re not starting from scraps, you’re starting from other things, so trying to put them together is really difficult. But I enjoy it. I like a challenge.
Stewart: What do you want people to learn from your fashion brand, The Altered Eco?
Martin: There’s so much beauty in your closet. Just look to your closet. I just want people to be more conscious, like thrift. I thrift all the time. Half the stuff in my closet have the tags on it. I mean, there’s so many new things at the thrift store that still have the tags on them. I want people to be more cautious about what they do. Fast fashion right now is disposable. Clothes are made to wear one or two times and throw in the trash. You should want quality over quantity.
Martin’s current fashion show event roster includes presenting her collection at Miami fashion week and in New York City, along with designing for three plays. She is in the process of preparing for the Altered Eco’s fall 2023 collection.
Martin’s fashion collection, The Altered Eco, can be found on Instagram @the_altered_eco and online at shoprestatement.com
She also makes custom-made clothing and jewelry, which can be requested via the website.