Salt Lake City fashion line focuses on helping single mothers
Published: June 27, 2013 12:27PM
Updated: July 1, 2013 12:35PM
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Courtesy of Tricia Abegglen Local designer J.R. Holbrook, center, poses with models at the Olanova fashion show held in May 2013.

Sonia Thomas is out to change the world one stitch and one fashion statement at a time.

Thomas, a daughter of an impoverished single mother, is the founder of Olanova, a 6-month-old venture headquartered in Salt Lake City that hires local single mothers to complete all of the sewing for its line of eco-friendly clothing. In addition, the company donates sewing machines to impoverished mothers globally.

“The older that I get, [the more] I understand how important it is, as humans, to give back in any way possible,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that while growing up in poverty, she saw the challenges that come with a lack of resources. Olanova is the product of her desire to help those in similar circumstances.

Olanova takes donated clothing and other fabricsand “refashions” them into one-of-a-kind new products such as skirts, blouses and vests. It also has a line of organic cotton T-shirts. Each is designed by Thomas, who is now selling her clothing online, but hopes eventually to establish her own chain of boutiques.

“Every person is unique and so your clothing should be unique. So, that’s what makes [Olanova] fun,” said J.R. Holbrook, a Utah fashion designer and friend of Thomas.

Holbrook was the emcee for an Olanova fashion show late last month at the Azevedo Studios in Midvale. All proceeds, which came from ticket and products sales, went to help women in need.

“Sonia is so clever because she’s really good at balancing exactly what needs to go where” in her designs, Holbrook said.

For model Mona Nyang, working the Olanova fashion show was different from what she usually experiences walking the runway.

“I liked wearing the clothes because there was a purpose behind it,” Nyang said.

Holbrook, who said that “green is the new black,” sees Olanova as playing a role in the growing eco-fashion movement, which he said used to be only for the “granolas” or the “earthmuffins,” but now is becoming more mainstream.

Advances in technologies, he said, have helped create more durable organic cotton fabrics and also opened up new marketing opportunities.

“If you’re making fashions that no one’s going to wear, that’s not green either because you’re just making more junk. You need to make stuff that’s functional, that’s beautiful, that can be re-lived and have a whole new life,” Holbrook said.

“Humanbeings live their life in fabric, in fashion,” he added. “Fashion is more than just clothing. It’s behavior and being elegant.”

Thomas echoed Holbrook’s sentiments and noted that happiness is not based on a dress size.

“Olanova wants to show the fashion world that [women] can be beautiful, confident, smart, powerful, fun businesses, be writers, be a size 16 and be happy,” Thomas said. “We have been bombarded with so many things as to what is beauty and what is acceptable, that we cannot see beyond that.”

Holbrook believes in Olanova’s philanthropic goals because he sees giving single mothers resources and making them feel powerful as a necessity in society.

“Women have just this maternal instinct and this silent power that we need more than ever right now in our society,” he said. “Men are guided by women. No matter how powerful the man is in any station in society, men defer to women a lot of times for their fashion sense, for their behavior, for even their sense of self-esteem.”

Holbrook and Thomas believe that single mothers are an often-forgotten demographic of society that not only needs help but is an important group to help.

“How advanced can you claim your civilization to be if you can’t even protect your women and children?” Holbrook asked.

For Thomas, it is important to have all of Olanova’s clothing made in the United States and to have Olanova’s work benefit single mothers around the world. She modeled her ideas for Olanova after Toms, a company that donates shoes to children in Africa, matching the purchases of their customers. She hopes that more people will purchase items from Olanova for the charity involved, much as people purchase Toms.

“You don’t buy [Toms] because they are cute shoes, you buy it because you are sending a message,” Thomas said. “You know that when you buy a pair, a child is getting a pair.”

Tribune reporter Steve Oberbeck contributed to this article.

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