Ears of Buddha’s Sustainable and Stylish Spring/Summer 2021
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years, sustainability is the word of the decade in the fashion industry. Brands are committing to making their collections eco-friendlier in every way possible. Houston-based Ears of Buddha (@earsofbuddha) has been no stranger to sustainability since its inception.
The brand, conceived in 2016 and launched in 2017 by designer Franny Koelsch, has been inspired by Koelsch’s presence in the Texas art scene and inspiration from her surroundings and life experiences, but for spring/summer 2021, the specific theme of the collection is sustainable and stylish.
The brand is inspired by Koelsch’s presence in the Texas art scene
Ears of Buddha
(Photos: Photographer Luis Novoa)
Koelsch’s journey to have her own sustainable focused fashion line was a longtime coming.
She has been at the intersection of art and fashion her entire career. She studied fashion at University of Texas where she also took art history classes. Right after college, she worked for Barneys New York (R.I.P.) and a privately owned specialty boutique in Houston called Tootsies that was very innovative in its early years.
When Koelsch moved back to Texas from New York City in her post-college years, she ran Barney’s New York Houston’s women’s department. At that time, she began to get involved with the Houston art scene primarily through co-workers who were artists or dated artists.
Koelsch started going to The Art Guys Warehouse Studio and hosting weekend art shows for her fashion friends who were also artists. In 1994, she made the decision to move her furniture upstairs in her Montrose home and open an art gallery. She started off very small representing artists from her fashion days and other artists her friends introduced her to. Throughout her career, Koelsch has long been fascinated by artists at the intersection of art and fashion. Koelsch Gallery has also collaborated with Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus to curate art for their display windows.
Koelsch has long been fascinated by artists at the intersection of art and fashion
Ears of Buddha’s history focusing on sustainability dates back to the very beginning when Koelsch met a Vietnamese woman named Kim Ta who was expanding her alteration business into small batch production. Ta’s shop is emission free, with each garment made by hand in a factory that pays fair wages.
“Sustainability is not the most cost-effective means of creating fashion, but employing numerous hard working people while not leaving a footprint is a higher priority than mass produced inexpensive garments,” Koelsch said.
not leaving a footprint is a higher priority, said Koelsch
Recently, Ears of Buddha debuted a new collection of upcycled vintage pieces. Koelsch took pieces from existing garments, old Ears of Buddha samples, and unsold shirts to create brand new pieces that didn’t come with the environmental cost of producing entirely brand-new garments.
Each upcycled garment is one-of-a-kind. Customizing denim has also become one of Koelsch’s favorite projects. She’s found sources for vintage denim jackets that she adds her own collars, cuffs, and embroidery to create original styles. Koelsch also does commission pieces where clients bring her their own jackets and jeans and she turns them into brand new pieces.
Koelsch chooses to make all of her products in the U.S.A because of her father. He was a World War II veteran who believed in the idea of Made in America his whole life and would only buy American cars. Ears of Buddha was named after his memoirs, so Koelsch felt she had to honor his beliefs. She’s also particularly proud about the amount of people she employees not only in the U.S.A., but especially in Houston, Texas.
Each upcycled garment is one-of-a-kind, made in the U.S.A.
Each product is made in a very limited quality of 25 pieces per design, and sometimes even fewer than that. For the sake of sustainability, Koelsch is determined to keep the quantities limited and doesn’t intend for Ears of Buddha to worn by everyone on every street corner.
Koelsch describes the Ears of Buddha customer as someone who “loves art, travel, visual details, unique pieces with a story and a purpose. Ears of Buddha appeals to a person with a stylish sensibility who loves adventure and experiencing the world through art and travel, but also has a sense of depth and desire to give back to society and make a difference.”
Ears of Buddha is for someone who loves unique pieces with a story and a purpose
Ears of Buddha has a very diverse customer base. Consumers range anywhere from 20 to 85, and the price point is between that of mass-produced garments and luxury brands. The brand’s best performing markets are Houston, New York, and Long Island. Koelsch is currently in the process of growing the brand in other markets including Miami, Naples, Aspen, Santa Fe, Jackson, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Despite wanting to grow the brand nationally, Koelsch takes a slow and steady approach to expansion. “We are not looking to be everywhere, we are looking to be special, well made, and contribute part of our sales to better society,” Koelsch said. “We have a program called Buddha Gives, and we are currently donating a portion of our sales to a human trafficking charity called ReNew H Town. Growth is happening, but we are not willing to give up our missions.”
We have a program called Buddha Gives
As for Koelsch’s hopes for sustainability in the broader fashion industry, she said, “The industry is large and varied, the term sustainability is relative. Each company in the industry has to be aware of their part of a bigger ecosystem however each company also provides a service and product that fits their customers needs.”
In the quest for sustainability, Ears of Buddha is one stylish soldier. The brand might be young, but they have solidified their place in a sustainable future.
Ears of Buddha is one stylish soldier