IN CONVERSATION: A CHAT WITH HEAD DESIGNER JOYCE LEE AND LA RÉUNION’S SARAH NSIKAK
At Madewell, we love a meet-cute. And when it comes to the origin story of our Madewell x La Réunion collab, well, it’s pretty cute. We wanted our head designer, Joyce, and La Réunion founder, Sarah, to tell it in their own words and they did just that. Plus, they touched on the importance of sustainability in fashion, finding inspiration during a pandemic and shopping for anything but sweats—all while wearing their favorite styles from the collection.
Joyce: I'm always on Instagram looking for inspiration. During COVID, I also found myself looking for something to buy that wasn't a sweatsuit. A friend DM’d me an image from your account and said, "Oh my God, look at these." I was obsessed from the second I saw it. It was one of the first photos you posted of your dresses and I thought, "That's beautiful." So, I reached out to you to commission something. I remember I told you, "Do whatever you want." Then my dress came and I loved it. It's just so pretty. And then, it dawned on me—we should definitely work together for Madewell. So, we started talking about it.
Sarah: This is definitely the biggest collaboration I’ve ever done, which is exciting. It feels like it's giving more people the opportunity to discover La Réunion. It's a bigger audience. And because everything in the collection is made using deadstock Madewell fabrics, I want it to start a conversation about how we can be more thoughtful when we make purchases. Also, for all the Black women like me who love Madewell and have seen Black representation through your imagery and models, which is still pretty rare for a company of your size, I think it'll be a breath of fresh air to also see something made in collaboration with a Black woman.
Joyce: We were so excited when we decided to do the collab. One of the first things we discussed were the silhouettes—how we wanted them to look.
Sarah: I wanted to establish a new body that felt like Madewell and like things I've seen you wear, Joyce. So, I pitched the idea of a wrap dress. My initial design was maybe too voluminous. But you helped refine the shape and make it more like what I think reflects both of us.
Joyce: And like you said, the whole idea was to take Madewell deadstock—fabric that we don't end up using—to create the collection. So, we gathered all that up, then worked back and forth to land on the actual styles and colorways.
Sarah: Then the pieces were made at our factory. We love everyone who works there—they’re like family. And there were times during COVID when they had to shut down during the week, which they've never had to do, because they just weren't getting enough work. So, this was huge for them to get all these pieces to sew and have this work sustain them for a couple of months.
Joyce: That's another reason why it's so exciting for a brand of our size to partner with a smaller brand like yours, and to do so in a sustainable way. Everyone in this industry is trying to figure out how to become more circular, reduce waste and continue the cycle. We want to make things that people can have in their wardrobe forever—not just something they wear for one season and it's gone. I think partnering with La Réunion and being able to do that really aligns with the values of both of our brands.
Sarah: When I was younger, I remember thinking Madewell clothes were classic. You do a really good job of making things you can keep wearing and wearing. My company is also all about that. I want to make special pieces that people will love and wear for a long time. To me, sustainability doesn't have to be this really dramatic, "Oh, you're using the same shirt and cutting it up and making a different outfit every day," type thing. You can invest in pieces and feel good about them when they’re made using responsibly sourced material or in small quantities. I think doing it in an honorable way to everyone involved is sustainable.
Thanks for letting us eavesdrop, Joyce and Sarah (!). Ready to shop the (very limited edition) collab? It’s all right here.