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Her Aesthetic May Be Playful, But Tracy Reese Is Quite Serious About Sustainability

For decades, Tracy Reese was a fixture on the New York fashion scene, turning out ready-to-wear collections under her namesake label that embraced color, prints and femininity.

Today, the city and the brand may be different — she returned home to Detroit in 2018 and subsequently launched the slow-fashion Hope for Flowers label — but Reese’s vivid aesthetic remains unchanged.

This spring, she’s bringing that design vision to the Hope for Flowers x Naturalizer shoe collaboration that launches April 15. The collection includes nine styles including flats, espadrilles and kitten heels, featuring scarlet red, sapphire blue and fuchsia shades.

“They’re light-hearted, they’re very feminine, they’re super comfortable,” Reese told FN. “I think they’re going to be tremendously successful.”

The line also embraces sustainability, featuring insole boards made from recycled molded plastic, recycled linings and select fabric uppers crafted with sustainable yarns.

Hope for Flowers Naturalizer Collaboration sandal
The Oleander ankle-wrap wedge from the Hope for Flowers x Naturalizer collaboration.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Naturalizer

Angelique Joseph, VP of design for Naturalizer, said, “Partnering with someone like Tracy who is a champion for change in the fashion industry was incredibly important for us and the sustainable journey we at Naturalizer are on.” (The brand is a division of Caleres, which, among other things, set a goal to use environmentally preferred materials in 100% of its products and shoeboxes by 2025.)

For her part, Reese is championing sustainable and ethical production not only through her own brand, but as vice chairwoman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Here, she discusses her efforts to build a purpose-driven business and grades the industry on its work thus far.

How is the fashion industry doing when it comes to sustainability?

“Not very well. There are a lot of small brands where responsible design and production is front and center in everything they do. But they’re doing it in a micro way. We need more big brands to make this a priority to talk to consumers about the importance of it. It’s the only way we’re going to beat down this whole fast-fashion cycle that has devastated the supply chain. It’s very abusive to workers, and from an ecological aspect, it’s just as incredibly harmful. I am really encouraged and impressed with the work that Ralph Lauren is doing. That’s a big brand that is investing in innovation that can affect the whole industry.”

Do retailers have a responsibility as well?

“The retailers have to get on board. It has to be important to them. They have to seek out these resources. They have to lift up the people and the brands that are making inroads into sustainability and responsible design and production. It’s all of our responsibility to make it attractive to consumers.”

Hope for Flowers Naturalizer Collaboration sandal
The Sage metallic sandal from the Hope for Flowers x Naturalizer collaboration.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Naturalizer

What role should CFDA play in advancing eco fashion?

“There’s so much the organization is already doing. They’ve created volumes of information for members and nonmembers to learn about what they can do to make their products and processes more sustainable and responsible. Right now, they’re working with the state of New York to be the industry’s voice in the New York Fashion Act. They’re meeting with the legislature and lobbyists to make sure the industry is heard, but also make sure we can make good on all of the promises that are made.”

Do you have personal goals in your leadership role there?

“It’s about how can we make [sustainability] as easy as possible — because it’s already a bit of an extra lift for most people. For instance, how do we make accessing biodegradable poly bags easier? How do we negotiate with retailers to not require everyone to ship on plastic hangers that they throw out immediately? There are all kinds of micro things that we can do to make a huge difference.”

Hope for Flowers Naturalizer Collaboration sandal
The Sunflower kitten heel from the Hope for Flowers x Naturalizer collaboration.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Naturalizer

How has Hope for Flowers been received in the market so far?

“It wasn’t the worst thing in the world to launch at a time when the world was slowing down. It gave us a moment to find our footing. Right now, the collection is available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Hudson’s Bay, Anthropologie, Tootsies. We’ve got about 30 specialty stores throughout the country. We’re growing in a nice, slow and steady way that’s manageable, but will allow us the financial security to continue with the brand and with the programming we have here in Detroit, including our Art Enrichment Programs.”

What led you to work with Naturalizer on this collaboration?

“Part of our business strategy is collaborating with other like-minded artists and brands. I didn’t know much about how to even design responsibly produced shoes, so it was a real education for me. They did a lot of sourcing on my behalf to try to bring the vision to life. We wanted to work with color and pattern — those are very important to my brand ethos. But I worked with Naturalizer constructions to start because it’s much more sustainable than starting a whole new last or creating a new construction.”

Any favorite styles from the line?

“There was a fuchsia shoe that got away from me once that I didn’t purchase. So I was like, ‘I have to have a fun fuchsia sandal.’ I designed this sport sandal look and they called it Firecracker. I cannot wait to wear that.”

Hope for Flowers Naturalizer Collaboration sandal
The Firecracker sandal from the Hope for Flowers x Naturalizer collaboration.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Naturalizer

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