Meet the Designer: Marissa Heyl

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We recently released a kimono on our web shop in collaboration with Symbology. Symbology "employs women artisans from India and the West Bank, each bringing beautiful cultural artforms to their collections. Symbology aims not only to produce beautiful clothing but also to preserve traditional art forms in each garment — from Indian block printing to Palestinian weaving and Native American embroidery." The custom kimono features Symbology's signature baby cacti print in black & ivory on one side and a vintage poppy flower in a soft cream & grey on the other. The styling options are limitless--throw it on over a crisp button-down and your fav jeans for a casual getup, or pair with a dress for a night out. Plus, it is just the right weight to keep you toasty during the chilly months. Today we're introducing you to the designer of this gorgeous reversible kimono, founder of Symbology, Marissa Heyl.

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I read that you started Symbology on a research trip to India to study fair trade. What got you interested in studying fair trade, to begin with?

I first got introduced to fair trade in high school. While shopping for Christmas gifts, I popped into Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade shop a friend had told me about. I was in awe of the beautiful pashminas and eclectic jewelry, but even moreso about the impact that sales of those products had on the artisans who made them. They could support their families, afford to send their children to good schools. It was so empowering to know that my shopping habits could be used for good, I was totally hooked.

Marissa sips on chai with the women who made the scarves for Rachel Zoe's Box of Style

Marissa sips on chai with the women who made the scarves for Rachel Zoe's Box of Style

Your tagline “making fair trade sexy” is so fun! Can you explain this idea further?

While I love the idea of fair trade, I don’t think anyone should have to sacrifice their sense of style to support it. Until recently, fair trade has denoted a somewhat frumpy style. I started Symbology to merge artisan crafts with fashion forward trends to make pieces that are beautiful, universally flattering and empower women who make and wear them--the ultimate definition of sexy.

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Why did you design the kimono the way you did?

I’m inspired by Japanese fabrics and vintage kimonos, so the kimono jacket was a natural evolution. We made a reversible caftan dress with Johanna Tropiano for Dressember last year that was a smashing success, so I wanted to try a new iteration with Dressember founder Blythe Hill this year. She chose the colors and fabrics that would style well with the Dressember dresses. It turned out beautifully, we could not be more excited.


What is your biggest design inspiration/influence?

I’m most inspired by vintage floral paintings, along with traditional Japanese and Indian textiles. I love perusing the non-Western art wings of museums for ideas.

Symbology incorporates block printing into their designs, like this Triangulate pattern

Symbology incorporates block printing into their designs, like this Triangulate pattern

Symbology's Block Print Artisan, Parvati

Symbology's Block Print Artisan, Parvati

Why did you decide to partner with Dressember this year?

Human trafficking is an issue close to my heart. Prior to starting Symbology, I worked for social justice and human rights causes. While it can get quite depressing, I love the positive, empowering spirit behind Dressember--women connecting with other women around the world using fashion as a platform. I mean, who doesn’t love an awesome dress?!


What is the craziest thing you would do / have done in a dress?

I love to salsa and bachata in my dresses on a regular basis but that isn’t terribly unusual. Maybe sky dive?! Not sure if it’s aerodynamic, but flying squirrels do it! If it’s something you’re planning, sign me up! (Oh, you bet we will Marissa!)

Tell us about a woman you admire!

I look up to many women as inspiration--my mom for her fierce strength, Gloria Steinem for her unequivocal advocacy for women’s rights, and Judy Frater for her incredible work with artisan women in India. These nasty women, among so many others in my life, have inspired and supported me in my journey as a fellow woman and entrepreneur. It really does take a village!

What is something you’re especially excited about these days?

I’m thrilled to be creating a limited edition collection for Belk for Spring 2018 as part of their Southern Designer Showcase, which will debut in stores in March next year. I’m also collaborating with the badass influencer duo We the Birds on an exclusive capsule collection next year. Cannot wait to share those designs with you. Lots of fun dresses ;)

Photo Credit:  We the Birds

Photo Credit: We the Birds

What is your favorite quote?

I love this quote by Herman Melville about our shared humanity:

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results."

Thank you, Marissa, for your partnership and commitment to bringing sustainable fashion to the forefront. We can't wait to see your designs featured at Belk this Spring! If you want to hear more about Marissa & Symbology, we recommend watching her TED Talk below and checking out their handcrafted pieces.


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