GC: Alternative fashion: Hemp clothing expresses designer's sustainable vision
June 16, 2011 at 1:16 a.m.
What can be employed in thousands of ways, produces one of the most durable fibers, is illegal to grow in the United States, and used by a local fashion designer?
Hemp, while not uncommon to early Americans, is infrequently used now because of exporting costs and the controversy surrounding it, but Victoria resident Mina Hegaard has spent the past decade trying to change that, one tie-dyed T-shirt at a time.
"A lot of people associate it with marijuana, stoners and hippies," the 41-year-old California native said about the textiles derived from the hemp plant. "I liked it because it was just this amazing fabric, and it's environmentally friendly.
"(It's) unlike cotton where they have to bombard the field with poison to kill off the rest of the plant, and then they pick off the cotton. People think cotton is a natural fiber and everything, but it's really not."
Los Angeles and beyond
Hegaard's clothing line, Minawear, was brought to life 13 years ago in Los Angeles. One of her more famous clients, she said, was hemp activist and actor Woody Harrelson.
"I actually knew his wife, and she would come to shop for the family and then get her friends in there, and that's such great promotion," she said. "Then whenever Woody would go do yoga in Santa Fe, he would go to our shop there and buy some of our clothes over there."
Hegaard said her resale store, Nirvana Ranch, doubled as a showroom for costume designers, making it a gateway for TV sightings. When she spots actors wearing her clothes, like Christian Slater in a cameo appearance on "My Name is Earl," she documents it with pictures on the clothing line's Facebook page.
What dreams may come
Hegaard's childhood aspirations of becoming a fashion designer had little to do with hemp and sustainability. That came later, when she saw how much waste came from the fashion and textile industries.
Her journey started, rather, at home reading fashion magazines and watching her mother and grandmother sew.
"It seems like more people sewed back then. My mother and grandmother. And I was deconstructing clothes from thrift stores. I was remaking things, and I always thought I wanted to get into the fashion industry," she said.
"But when I actually got to LA, it was kind of shocking and disturbing how ugly the industry is. Even before LA, I was living in San Francisco and started doing hats. I was digging in dumpsters for scraps left behind the cutting houses. But they would come running out after me, 'You're stealing our garbage!' So it's very competitive and cutthroat."
The secretive, unfriendly attitudes of the fashion world did not jibe with Hegaard's laid-back, genial demeanor. In addition to that, the amount of waste produced was gut-wrenching for her.
"I think by nature I'm an activist sort of person. I want people to recycle and use earth-friendly products," she said. "But I'm not like that huge crusader who will go to a bunch of people who are not recycling and yell at them. I'm not the hall-monitor type."
Instead, Hegaard is an educator, helping to write a book with her brother, published in 2006, called "Hemp for Victory."
Depicting the history and uses of hemp, the book serves as an advocate for the industrious plant, an alternative to many products, including fuel, paper, medicine, food and more. Hegaard wrote the chapter on using hemp for making clothes.
Taking up a larger-than-life endeavor, the fashion designer threw herself into the fashion and hemp industry with the help of her brother and benefactor.
With more than 30 styles - men, women, children and kitchen accessories - and several colors to choose from, Hegaard found herself swimming in shirts, yoga pants, purses, napkins and aprons. By 2007, she knew she'd bitten off more than she could sew.
"I just wanted to reach everybody. I wanted everybody to find something they could wear or use," she said. "My friend, who had a resale shop, said, 'The best advice I can give you is to keep it simple.' And did I listen? No!"
Minawear, for Hegaard, became less about designing, which was the fun part, and more about manufacturing.
After her daughter was born six years ago, something had to change. She sold the company in 2007 and moved to Victoria to be near her husband's family.
Trading a life of traffic jams, higher costs of living and the fast-paced LA, Hegaard said she feels more relaxed.
"People are so easy going and nice here. In California, especially in LA, everybody wants to know who you are and if they can get anything out of you. It's just very scratching and clawing, and people are just living here. I really like that."
Hegaard now spends her time being creative, she said, taking up a ceramics class at Victoria College, learning how to use Illustrator and InDesign, participating in plays like "Vagina Monologues," and involving herself with the Manhattan Art Project, a program that teaches kids how to make art from recycled objects and scrap.
In addition to all that, Hegaard has written a children's book, "Sally Sue Thayer, Your Hair is a Nightmare."
"Back in the day, my daughter didn't want to brush her hair. So it's about a little girl who doesn't want to brush her hair and what can befall you when you don't brush your hair. I mean, it's very imaginary. I take it way over the edge and then bring it back."
After being turned down several times by publishing companies, she is attempting to make the book herself, which is where InDesign comes in.
"So, I've been branching out and doing all these creative things. It's been really good to come here where the stress is - well, there is no stress compared to where we came from. Every now and then, I'll yell at cars in front of me, but when we lived in LA, it was all day in traffic. If you just go to the store, it's like - uh! - I don't even like to think about it. It stresses me out thinking about it. How did we live like that?"
Back to basics
Although it seemed like her adventure into the fashion world was over, more than two years after selling Minawear, Hegaard's clothing line made its way back into her life.
"When the economy went down, and other factors involved, the company ended up going bankrupt last summer and gave everything back."
Now piled on the shelves of the closets and nooks of her house, Hegaard hosts trunk shows around the Golden Crescent periodically to sell off her stock.
And while clothing design still holds a place in her heart, Hegaard said the manufacturing part will be left up to someone else.
"You just send it to China, and it arrives in a box where it's perfect and there are no damages."
As for the hemp part of it all, Hegaard said she will always be a purveyor of the controversial plant.