Alnea Farahbella, Toit Volant Designer

 

About the Designer

Alnea Farahbella, designer of Toit Volant and owner of Nana Atelier, didn’t start her career with the brand. Her fashion background began as a professor at fashion design programs including Pratt Institute New York, Raffles Institute Asia, and MFA design studio manager at Parsons, The New School.

During her 15 years of teaching, Alnea decisively stopped buying new clothes. In order to combat the fabric waste and mundanity of teaching the same curriculum each semester, she decided to collect and add the clothing she constructed during teaching demonstrations to her closet. Through this process, she was able to discover the joy and satisfaction in developing styles and designing pieces that felt personal.

After years of contemplating her future as a professor, Alnea decided to move from teaching and took the leap into creating her own brand – something that she had never tried yet but had subconsciously been cultivating during her years of teaching and now was materializing into a new career path.

 

Toit Volant

Alnea had to learn to redefine the idea of home and stability, especially after leaving a teaching career of nearly 15 years. The nomadic lifestyle gave her a very wide perspective of cultures, lifestyles, people in which she took into her vision for her new career path: Toit Volant. In 2013, the brand was created. Toit Volant (meaning “flying roof” in French) draws upon Alnea’s experiences of more than a decade’s worth of traveling and teaching abroad.

The creation of the brand came after deliberation and contemplation within personal morals - sustainability and environmental ethics always have been at the core of Alnea’s critiques of the fashion industry. After walking through various fabric markets around the world, Alnea experienced first-hand the excessively wasteful and dirty process of garment development and production; now at the beginning of a new brand, these experiences motivated her to deviate from the environmentally harmful norms of mass production.

Our pieces have a signature oversized style not only because Alnea is consistently inspired by such silhouettes to deviate from conventional fashionable norms, but also because she makes sure to design pieces that utilize fabric at its maximum potential to minimize waste. Our pieces are designed first through patternmaking so that there is more control over change and manipulation of the designs though technical skills. Our oversized pieces are a stylistic choice while also being a choice to make sure we are doing our part to be more environmentally conscious.

Toit Volant is about creating a new vision through the hybridization of other worlds, universes, and cultures. It is about women who do not have the luxury of wealth but rich with ideas and life, dynamic in the mind, unique and bold. Style is her expression, her art medium to express herself. It’s about affordability with style. Women who have to move all the time for work. Maybe the oversize TV silhouettes are more of a rebellion but also a realistic take on being extremely comfortable throughout the day.

Our belief is that clothes can’t be precious; it has to accommodate to an active lifestyle. Toit Volant is the mix of masculine-feminine. Oversized, boxy silhouettes with side cut-outs and slits. All black, tomboy style with the occasional ruffle.

 

Nana Atelier

The identity of our brand is closely linked to the purpose of our factory, Nana Atelier. The idea of Nana Atelier developed from a frustration in the lack of cultivation of technical talent and skill in Los Angeles. Upon first arriving in Los Angeles, Alnea started exploring factories and while she saw potential, she also experienced heartbreak from what she found. She asked many of the factory owners if she could sit and use their machines to produce Toit Volant’s orders. Sitting in many of these small factories formed empathy for the day and a life of an operator.

According to Alnea, she had seen large and small factories all over the world but never worked in them: “I asked myself if could work in the settings of most of the factories in Los Angeles 40-60 hours a day. The answer was ‘no.’ I even compared it to an artist studio and a furniture maker where there are plenty of tools and chaos but it isn't the same.”

“I asked my partner if he would help me create a small team to produce our collections as I wanted better practices, better work space to create our garments. We took a big leap. We hired a couple of machinists. I used my teaching skills to teach the operators.” In 2017, Nana Atelier opened.

Nana Atelier’s mission as a manufacturer is not to hail itself as a savior to the garment industry in Los Angeles – our goal is to normalize fair and just treatment of other human beings within this field, an idea that is not a new concept. We aim to bring dignity and strength back to the arduous work of garment manufacturing through fair treatment, fair wages and clean environment. It’s simple to us: if a price of a cup of coffee averages around $6 in Los Angeles, it does not make ethical sense for a t-shirt to be made, by real humans, for less than that amount.

 

Our Philosophy and Company Values

Language

Living in Asia and traveling in Europe, Alnea noticed the cultures referred to the apparel producers as "machinists" and "technicians." In contrast, the producers are referred to as “factory workers” or “sewers.” To us, language is important as it reflects culture. Language comes with connotation and implications. Empowerment starts with the micro ways we treat other humans.

Spaces

What makes a beautiful dress is ultimately the workers. Without production, there is no product. So it only makes sense to us to invest in our machinists. The goal of our factory is create beautiful, mindfully crafted garments in a clean, beautiful space where every participant in the process is treated equally and fairly. After witnessing dozens of sweatshop-like conditions in Los Angeles, Alnea began Nana Atelier with the understanding that space can be a form of oppression. Designers and workers are allowed the luxury of maximum, beautiful office spaces, but some factories in LA are still employing dozens of machinists in 700 ft2 spaces. If designers are not expected to choose between a job or an oppressive space, then their producers should not have to either.

Ethical Treatment

Alnea herself has walked and toured factories in Los Angeles with horrible conditions that designers would never agree to. On top of these conditions, there has been a deepening disparity and gap between the creators and the customers – a lack of empathy and understanding for the real humans behind the products.

We believe in “Made in Los Angeles” and in our team even when we’ve made mistakes. Working in this industry has reminded us of the darkest human side of this business: the oppression and abuse that comes with production and demand. Starting our own brand and working with our factory has allowed us combat these infringements by working in accordance with our principles and values.

Environmental Issues

We do not claim to be a completely environmentally sustainable company – it’s impossible for any clothing brand to be 100% sustainable and it’s unproductive to claim to be. Waste is produced from production; energy and resources are being used. However, through our signature, oversized designs and creating multiple styles in the same fabric, we are actively making sure to utilize what we do have at its highest potential. By working and designing right next to our factory, we have control over where the waste goes to and how it is being recycled and collected. There is currently no way to recycle small fabric scraps, but we donate large, unused rolls of fabric to local schools.