March 31st, 2008 | Interviews

Dan Monick

Linda and Chrys Wong  are sisters. They’re also The Battalion, an eco-friendly fashion line fed up with high-end t-shirts.

Where did you grow up that made you sick of seeing sweatsuits in restaurants?
Linda Wong: We grew up in OC. And being from OC, when I was in junior high, my friends started thrift-store shopping. We were from Irvine, so we’d go to Huntingon Beach to that Savers. I have to admit—I did sport a Betty Page thing, and I have a pin-up girl tattoo on my back! It’s one of those things that’s kind of embarrassing, but also part of your childhood. So we all came from that point—going to Savers, cutting up like a robe. We found tons of good stuff—grandpa golf pants, like ‘70s polyester golf pants, or Kurt Cobain cardigans—I found my prom dress! It probably came from some estate sale—probably in some debutante’s closet for fifty years!
Do you still have it?
Mostly I’m the opposite of a packrat—I’m a total minimalist! I really like to get rid of things. I tend not to look back. I look forward.
Can you remember the first piece that made you and Chrys feel like you could make this happen?
I don’t know one particular piece. After college, I was working for another designer—a well-to-do designer—and I was so sick of looking at turquoise! I love turquoise, but just like these beaded jewel-encrusted t-shirts, completely covered with sequins and zirconia. I was like… oh my God! Not my cup of tea. I realized I wanted to pursue my own stuff. And my sister—and partner—had been working in fashion retail for the past ten years, so she had her take on things.
After ten years, how fast can she size up a customer?
She definitely knows exactly what the customers want, which is really important. Lots of designers end up in their own little world—and I mean, I’m like that, too—I design what I like, but it’s still a business. She’s seeing customers every day and hearing what they want and what their complaints are. She kind of brings in that angle.
Why did you decide to make the company ecologically responsible?
I’ve been an avid recycler, and I’m a minimalist so I don’t wanna buy stuff and waste it. I always wanted to do something more. Still fashion but I wanted a little more than something cute. We started out researching fabric, and that took us a while to understand—we’re still learning a lot. What we do is not yet 100% eco-friendly.
What are you still working toward?
We’d love to have our own factory. We’d love to control the process of production—actually producing garments. That’s definitely a big dream, but just to oversee everything. There’s so much you can do in a factory to be eco-friendly. At this point we can’t control completely what they do—if they recycle all possible elements or whatever. And we wanted to research a newer fabrication that’s even more sustainable than what there is now, which is mostly organic cotton and bamboo. There are so many more possibilities.
How did you determine which parts of the design process you could improve?
It’s definitely challenging because of the fabric we use—someone else could do a similar-looking knit dress, but they could use polyester cotton which is about $1 a yard. That costs us $4 a yard—organic fabric is more expensive than regular. At the same time, we don’t wanna sell it for too much—we don’t wanna be four times higher than something that looks similar. We understand that people wanna be able to buy it. To do that, we have to make our price comparable.
Are there any specific pieces you’d like to discuss?
The one in the shoot is from our collection called ‘Unlock The Mystery’—it’s inspired by Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe—it’s kind of the core of fall 2007.
Are you going to do a hard-boiled noir sequel?
We look at so many different things for inspiration—a lot of times it’s to music! For that collection, we used Starlite Desperation and Lion Fever. Jennifer [Pearl] wanted to wear something for a shoot—we haven’t gotten around to it.
So who is the Bat and who is the Lion?
Chrys is the lion—she’s kind of the tough daughter in the family. I think she even scared adults sometimes! And Battalion as a whole—we wanted a name to represent women who want to join the cause.