Fashion Rule Breakers

Inspired By The Problems Facing The World, This Designer Is Making ¢HNGE

"We want to give representation to absolutely everyone. And we want you to reach out to us if you feel like we’re lacking to do so."

Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.

While some people are focusing on a world divided, others are looking to use their platforms to bring people together. Cue ¢HNGE, a fashion company recognizing the issues within its own industry and beyond, and working to rectify them through its collection of gender-neutral clothing aimed at making a positive impact on the world. 

Oftentimes, our best ideas are born from a positive experience, but ¢HNGE founder, Jacob Castaldi, tells A Plus this wasn't the case for him when he created the brand. 

"This brand was, unfortunately, inspired by all the problems still facing our world in 2018. We cannot continue putting the maximization of profit ahead of the protection of our planet. And when we live in a world so divided; divided by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation ... divided by borders, it's hard to imagine us being able to come together to protect our planet," Castaldi says. 

"That's why we at ¢HNGE are existing to represent absolutely everybody. Existing to prove a new model where we give back as much as we make to inspire a new wave of business where greed and maximizing profits is not a priority. And existing to create responsibly by using sustainable materials in everything we make."

In doing so, Castaldi and the team behind ¢HNGE are being fashion rule breakers.

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Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE

"It's irresponsible not to prioritize sustainability as a business," Castaldi says, adding that customers should also hold brands accountable for their practices. 

¢HNGE chooses to use 100 percent organic cotton for its collection, using no harmful chemicals or pesticides. They also claim to have saved over 500 gallons of water for every shirt produced in their initial line. 

"We also used 62 percent less energy and had 70 percent less acidification potential than conventional cotton shirts," it says on their website. "Oh, and we offset all of the carbon emissions from our production and your use (washing and drying) to make these shirts 100 percent carbon neutral."

Castaldi says that his company also ensures that everyone in its supply chains are being fairly paid and working in comfortable conditions, and the brand remains transparent with customers about where its goods are produced. 

But a devotion to sustainability isn't the only thing that makes ¢HNGE unique: it's a brand "build on inclusivity," and it's more important now than ever.

"We want to give representation to absolutely everyone. And we want you to reach out to us if you feel like we're lacking to do so," Castaldi says.

In its latest campaign, artists, musicians, models, and athletes were featured after being chosen over a two day period. Castaldi and the campaign director, Niclas Gillis, met with 40 individuals.

"We got to know each person quite intimately and had 40 different conversations about all the problems facing our world. Each person we cast shared common values with our brand and was passionate about finding ways to bring others together to make the world a better place. It was an incredibly tough selection narrowing it down to the final cast." Ultimately, they chose 15 people total. 

One of those people is model Ralph Souffrant, who has a skin condition similar to vitiligo and is covered in freckles. Souffrant's spoken out about being made fun of as a child for his skin condition and how he's learned to embrace his looks. 

"Love yourself. When people don't understand something they tend to be afraid of it … Shun it. Your exterior is like wrapping paper, people only notice it for a moment," Souffrant told i-D magazine. "What they notice more is what's beneath the surface so, work on your character and your heart. That's what they'll remember you by. Because that's what matters."

Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE

Another person featured is deaf, genderqueer artist Chella Man, who says in ¢HNGE's video that he doesn't "like to say that he was born a woman." Chella Man shares his journey with top surgery and transitioning on testosterone online.

And earlier this year, Mic reported that Chella Man was the only trans or nonbinary model at New York Fashion Week: Men's

"Pride is the foundation of empowerment. I can genuinely say I have found pride in my deafness, queerness, Jewishness and race throughout the years," Chella Man said in a Teen Vogue interview. And now, these characteristics emanate from me, electric and strong. For me, fashion is an entire new universe of expression beyond bodily means, and I enjoy using this to my advantage."

Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE

With all of this driving his brand, we asked Castaldi why he thinks consumers want to make a positive impact through their purchases nowadays. "Wouldn't you?" he responds.

"If you could buy a product of equal quality to the product sitting next to it on the shelf but product A helped others and was made responsibly while product B polluted the environment and didn't give any of the profit made back, which would you choose?"

Finally, Castaldi says that every fashion brand should be putting in the effort to make the world a better place by understanding their supply chains and environmental footprint. With that knowledge, brands can become more sustainable, and learn how to treat workers better. 

"This industry change won't happen overnight but we hope, as a fashion brand, to inspire larger brands to be more responsible, and inspire consumers to be more conscious and challenge their favorite brands to do the same. Oh… and give back. If you're a profitable company you should always strive to give some of that profit back to organizations fighting to empower people and protect our planet."

You can check out more portraits from ¢HNGE's campaign below and shop their website here

Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE
Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE
Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE
Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE
Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE
Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE
Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE
Photo courtesy of ¢HNGE

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