Local ‘green’ fashion designer infuses Buddhist teachings into her clothing and bag line
Spirituality and fashion. They seem so … out of style. How often do you run across an article in Vogue about a leading designer who’s focused on putting a spiritual spin on the construction of his or her garments? Praise God and wear high heels? Follow Buddha and slip into something slinky? It seems like an unlikely pairing—as unlikely as wearing a trench coat in the dead heat of summer. But there are some fashion designers who are trying to make a difference with their creative work by way of constructing fashionable attire that offers a positive message. Case in point—Anastasia Keriotis, the 51-year-old founder of Dharma Love, a wildly successful local “green” design company whose wares can be seen in stores around the county and in numerous Whole Foods markets.
“Buddhism has helped me more than anything in life,” Keriotis says. “I try to live as close as I can to those teachings.”
And that was the impetus for naming her line, “Dharma Love.”
“My mother-in-law came up with the name,” Keriotis adds. “We were thinking of a name and filed a trademark for Baby Love but received a letter that another company owned that name. I didn’t want any negativity. Dharma Love had a positive message and was non-offensive with ‘dharma’ meaning ‘spiritual teachings,’ and [adding] ‘love.’ People often say they love the name.”
Keriotis didn’t discover this path to fashion design until later in life. Her story begins as an artist. She graduated from an arts and crafts college in Oakland in 1996 and during her studies there her emphasis was in mastering photography, printmaking and ceramics. Keriotis moved on to the Lake Tahoe area where she established herself as an artist and art teacher.
“When the economy went down, people weren’t buying art,” Keriotis says. “They were trying to hold onto their homes. I wanted to work for myself and wondered what could I come up with that people would buy, and I had to make it affordable. People buy baby clothes. I started exploring that and looked into what I could do to reproduce my artwork, but have a wearable, conscious product.”
With a few hundred dollars, she bought some materials, got a seller’s permit and started making reproductions of her paintings, prints and photographs and began transferring them to things like onesies and baby T-shirts. She discovered hemp companies that specialize in hemp-based products and she made purchases from American Apparel, a company that creates its clothing in the United States. She hunted down fair trade products and expanded her line to include adult clothing and an array of totes and messenger bags, all emblazoned with some form of her artwork.
There’s the $74.99 hemp traditional “Messenger Bag” in a chocolate color with a photo of a black and white bicycle on it; there’s the “Girly Tote” with its catchy oblong shape and utilitarian style, with an image placed on the side. There’s the “Beach/Market Tote,” the “Diaper Bag,” a variety of hemp purses, coin purses, city bags, exercise camisoles, and men’s T-shirts. She also makes greeting cards featuring her art, which is what helped her get her start locally.
“Before I came to Santa Cruz, there were a few stores carrying my cards,” Keriotis says. “New Leaf in Felton carried my cards so I went in there and showed the general manager my baby line and they decided to carry it. From there her line entered Greenspace, Way of Life, and other New Leaf stores. Nowadays, Dharma Love has a presence in 19 Whole Foods stores in California.
While the demand continues to increase, Keriotis keeps things minimal on the business side. She and an assistant handle everything from printing the products, pulling items, shipping, taking orders, managing accounts, and so forth.
“Our belief is that we want to put out a positive message,” Keriotis says. “I don’t want to contribute to the demise of the planet in our production. … We’re not contributing to a kid in a sweatshop. It’s an original piece of artwork, and a customer walks away with a good product. Our studio doesn’t contribute negatively to a person or to the planet.”
“A lot of people would think it’s a hip, artistic, groovy person [who buys Dharma Love products],” she says. And while that’s certainly the case, and she designs for “every kind of customer,” she admits that her creations definitely lean more toward the artistic nature of fashion.
“I do read fashion, but I don’t feel I follow the trends,” Keriotis says. And she’s proud of that. “The artwork comes from my soul. … When I hear a woman tell me how much she loves her bag, or what the image on it means to her, I love it.”
Dharma Love is located in a 1,000-square-foot space in the Rio Del Mar area. In the future, watch for the company to continue to boom, whilst keeping a focus on being green. “We are not going to put more things in the landfill,” Keriotis says.
To learn more about Anastasia Keriotis and her spiritually-inspired fashion line of T-shirts, baby clothes, men’s items, coin purses, messenger bags and totes, visit dharmalove.com.