On the 14th of April, Reilly Johnson, founder and creative director of Vivat Novum, launched her inaugural collection of sustainable, unisex loungewear from her studio in New York City. Vivat Novum was born from the designer’s efforts to re-skill after Broadway, in an unprecedented move, closed its doors at the start of the pandemic.
The self-taught designer became deeply involved with the sustainable fashion sphere after falling victim to the wave of Broadway layoffs. During her months of unemployment, she volunteered with a New York City-based non-profit working to help detox the fashion industry while designing a collection to help bolster her portfolio for job applications. This work helped the fashion industry newcomer land her dream job at a sustainable apparel tech company and independently take her designs through development and production. Reilly wanted to create a collection that was versatile, but comfortable with sustainability, local production, seasonless design, and labor ethics as core values.
The idea for Vivat Novum was born long before the pandemic. Reilly, a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, recognized that alternative fashion for daily wear was usually designed with a gendered fit. Many of her friends often complained that most unisex clothing was decidedly masculine or understated in appearance. There existed a need for unisex apparel that walked the line between feminine and masculine with designs that were more adventurous than standard basics.
“I just got my pants from Vivat Novum and I am dying! They’re beautiful and insanely comfortable and like the nicest piece of clothing I own now. Thank you for your creativity and brilliance,”
commented Issa, a Vivat Novum customer, on Twitter regarding the Lounge Hakama.
Located in Long Island City with nearly all production occurring in the Garment District, Vivat Novum is an independent brand that specializes in sustainable, unisex loungewear. Vivat Novum (Vee-Vaht Noh-Voom) is a play on the Latin acclamation ‘Vivat Rex’, or ‘Long Live the King. ‘Novum’ is the gender-neutral form of ‘Novus’, an adjective meaning new, unusual, or strange. The literal translation of Vivat Novum, ‘Long Live the Unusual’, is a new acclamation for today’s world. Vivat Novum designs versatile statement pieces that are weird, but accessible and elevated, but comfortable
EcoMogul Magazine had the opportunity to speak with the founder, Reilly Johnson:
-Where do you find inspiration to your sustainable collection?
To start, I am definitely inspired by the fluidity and creative draping of designers like Gnyuki Torimaru and Costello Tagliapietra. I have a strong preference for designs that are more adventurous without being inaccessible. The first capsule collection, Form, explores the idea of garments that selectively alter or obfuscate the shape of the wearers body in ways that are subtle or unexpected. In many cases, the designs are supplemented by modular accents. The combination of fluid shape and modular elements comes from my love of post modern furniture design. Additionally, the collection is unisex, so a lot of my designs begin with an idea of how I want a garment to fit and function. The need to engineer an adaptable fit becomes a key component of the design itself. For instance, a dropped shoulder silhouette looks very stylish on a woman, but can also accommodate men’s broader shoulders and still look correct.
-What are your passion about sustainable fashion and why do you think it is so important in the future?
Like many people, I lost my job at the start of the pandemic. I had been working as a dyer on Broadway and can speak firsthand to the amount of effluent and waste generated from even a small shop working within a limited scope. I also spent five years as a seamstress and during this time myself and many of my peers were not once paid a living wage for skilled labor. Truthfully, my experience in theater is nothing compared to the quality of labor conditions and environmental impact of the apparel industry, but it definitely had a hand in my desire to do better. After Covid forced a shutdown of Broadway, I decided my best bet for surviving the pandemic was to try to transition to apparel.
Early on in my job hunt I came across an internship opportunity with the New York based non-profit Fashion FWD. Fashion FWD is a wonderful organization working to detox the fashion industry through a combination of community education, public awareness, and the creation of market-based incentives to help drive positive change amongst industry stakeholders. During my time as grant writer I learned a great deal about sustainability, non-toxic fashion, and corporate greenwashing. I was definitely disturbed by what I learned. Our planet cannot continue to support an industry that is so short-sighted, toxic, and socially detrimental. I have a dream of an industry that values skilled labor, conscious consumption, and made-to-last quality. My time with Fashion FWD would be a key driver behind the sustainability focus that would come to define Vivat Novum. The designs themselves came from my own efforts to reskill to be more competitive in the job market. I thought that my sewing and fit knowledge would be transferable to technical design, so I used my own ideas to develop technical flats and later full tech packs to add to my portfolio. It was a combination of my work with Fashion FWD and my independent work on my yet-to-be brand that helped me land a job with the sustainable apparel tech company I currently work at today. After landing the job, I thought I might try independently taking my designs through development. The brand and my passion for sustainability grew from there.
-If you should describe your brand with three words – what would that be?
Versatile, Sustainable, Unusual!