Shaina Mote grew up with a mother who saved a horse and a father who saved a tree. As an arborist, or “tree surgeon,” his father’s job was to dig up, replant, and protect them from destruction; at one point, he stopped a developer from cutting down a 400 ton oak tree, which appears to be the largest tree on the planet.
Respect for the earth – and an understanding of how long things can last if cared for properly – are naturally embedded in Mote’s work as a designer. He launched the line from the quiet, no-frills essentials of 2011, showcasing the minimalist fashion movement and enduring values such as timelessness, simplicity, and longevity before it goes trendy. High school work at a luxury consignment shop has introduced him to the timeless works of Prada, Donna Karan, and Jil Sander; Then, a position at a fast fashion company offers the opposite picture: constant novelty, disposable, cheap materials.
Mote has spent the last 10 years developing its label with a vision of clothing that is trend-resistant and discreet to keep for decades. The collection stood alongside The Row and Yohji Yamamoto at Barneys and Totokaelo before both shops closed, and its calm aesthetic, neutral tone, and subtle details made Mote a cult following in Japan. With each season, more retailers come calling, and in 2019, business is booming. But Mote and his small team struggled behind the scenes; relentless speed and the demand for more collections, more styles and more exclusives became untenable – a feeling familiar to many independent designer.
“Over the last two years, I’ve felt a little pushed by the industry,” admits Mote. “I design 100 collections three times a year, and maybe half of them will be produced. With how fast the cycle is, I don’t have time to think about my options, and I feel like I’m moving away from my core values. When I entered 10 years in business, I had a moment where I said, what am I doing here? What is my goal? What do I add to society, and how can I do my job better? “
The answer is to hit the pause button – he hasn’t shown any new collections since February 2020—And doubling down continuity (although the word doesn’t actually appear anywhere on the site, not even on “ApproachA page detailing how the clothes were made). Mote prioritized organic materials and trend-resistant design from the start, the same credentials that many of his peers might call “sustainable luxury,” but he realizes that doesn’t go far enough. He has no way of knowing the entire journey of his clothes or fabrics, nor is he able to quantify his carbon emissions, and although he does provide his manufacturers with a strict code of conduct, he cannot see how people or animals are actually treated. “I can’t honestly say that I know this is sustainable or ethical,” said Mote. So he found someone who could: Kristine Kim, a value chain specialist Mote got to know through a friend. He hired him to dig into his supply chain, highlight blind spots, and encourage his factories to find out more.