Becca McCharen / Katerina Llanes

“I hope to offer viewers opportunities to tap into their own climate optimism as well as archiving moments where my queer community feels safe, held and joyful.”

— Becca McCharen

KL

Hi Becca! Happy New Year!! Tell us a little about you, your swimwear brand Chromat, and how you started in fashion?

BM

Hiiii my name is Becca McCharen, my pronouns are they/she, I’m an artist and designer living in Miami, FL. I’m originally from Virginia, lived 10 years in Brooklyn while starting my future-forward bodywear brand Chromat before moving to Miami (my favorite place on earth!) in 2018. I’m a water baby, I love all water sports and love the ocean, so living here in Miami feels so natural to me.

I started experimenting in fashion in my bedroom in Virginia back in 2009. I was super into fashion blogs and upcycling, and Chromat was born from my training as an architect. I originally created ‘structural experiments for the human body.’ I designed a lot of wearable scaffolding-like pieces using corsetry techniques inspired by the Pompidou Center in Paris, an architectural style that extruded all the interior functions of the building to the exterior.

Eventually this structural language evolved into other wearable categories like swimwear, footwear, fashion technology and ready to wear. Swimwear made for all different body shapes and sizes is where Chromat really took off!

KL

I know you were at the Blue Mountain, Anderson and Oolite residencies last year. How does your practice as a fine artist shape your designs and overall brand aesthetics?

BM

One of the core identifiers of Chromat’s aesthetics is inclusion. Ever since Chromat started almost 15 years ago, we’ve celebrated bodies of all shapes and sizes, ages, abilities, races, ethnicities and places on the gender spectrum in our runway shows and campaigns. It was never a trend for us. Before inclusion became a body positive buzzword, this was and still is our real life. I’ve always designed for plus size and queer bodies because that is the body I inhabit, so making clothes for myself and friends was a holistic and natural process.

My evolution from fashion design into fine art is a relatively new process that was born out of the pandemic. I spent a lot of that time questioning the ways I was participating in capitalism, and re-thinking some of the goals that I had absorbed while coming up in the fashion industry in NYC. I was searching for a way to express my observations around the climate crisis and my cultural and spiritual inheritance that weren’t as tied to mass producing products. Lately I’ve been working on a new series of quilts, cyanotypes, watercolors and collages. This emergent shift into a new creative field is an ongoing journey.

KL

Chromat is prominently unisex, which is rare for a swimwear brand. Can you talk a little about your intentions behind that and how you market the brand and your designs to be gender queer/ inclusive?

BM

In 2020, my friend Tourmaline came to me and proposed the idea of making swimwear for ‘girls who don’t tuck’: transgender women and femmes like herself who wanted swimwear bottoms with extra room and matching bikini tops. When we launched the collection the next year, calling the collection “Collective Opulence Celebrating Kindred (COCK)”, it was the first of its kind. Never before had there been swimwear designed for girls who don’t tuck, trans femmes, non-binary and trans masc people who pack, intersex people, women, men and everyone embracing their bulge at the beach.

I love this quote about the collection from Jess Sims at Instyle: “In less than 50 years, we have progressed from arresting trans people for their sartorial expression to fashion explicitly made for those in the trans community. As the fight for trans rights is literally life-or-death for some people, it may seem trivial to attach such significance to fashion, but the ability to be seen, considered, and made comfortable in clothing is absolutely a part of that same fight.” – InStyle

KL

You clearly imbed advocacy into your practice as a designer. What are the main causes you champion?

BM

Living in Florida, there are a lot of environmental and social crises happening simultaneously, from the climate crisis with rising temperatures and sea level rise, to the governor’s anti LGBTQIA legislation like the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill which makes it a crime to even mention LGBTQIA history in public schools, to the banning of books and history. It feels like Florida is quickly slipping into fascism, which is very scary.

However, there are so many communities in South Florida who are organizing and creating life-affirming and transformative solutions. I try to amplify the work that queer, trans, Black and Indigenous people here in South Florida are doing, like TransSocial, Love the Everglades, Miami Waterkeeper, Miami Workers Center, WeCount! and the Alliance for LGBTQ youth. Through my own work, I hope to offer viewers opportunities to tap into their own climate optimism as well as archiving moments where my queer community feels safe, held and joyful.

KL

You were based in NYC and now Miami; what is specific to you about each city and how does it influence your art and designs?

BM

I am forever grateful for the opportunities that NYC afforded me – it is the center of the American fashion industry and I had access to the best fabrics, sample houses, cutting rooms, factories, everything you could need when starting a fashion business. The best part of being an emerging designer in NYC is definitely the people. I loved collaborating with so many artists, scientists, musicians, lighting designers, choreographers, stylists, photographers, activists, makeup artists. The talent there is beyond, and everyone is excited to experiment and explore. Everyone in NYC is working their ass off!

Now in Miami, I’m in my ‘soft life’ era. I live near the ocean and have been able to decompress in such a major way; I’ve been able to ground myself and come back to my spiritual and emotional center here. I love swimming in the ocean, paddle boarding in the bay, kayaking through mangrove forests, going on swamp walks in the Everglades, snorkeling in the Keys. I hope to learn how to sail this year. Being near the water has been such a vast source of inspiration in my new art practice that centers climate optimism and queer joy.

Lately I’ve been documenting my queer and trans friends basking in the ocean with my underwater camera. I then print these images onto fabric using cyanotyping (sun printing) techniques and have been quilting the prints together to form large oceanic textile art pieces. I love the medium of the quilt as a warm, comforting and safe textile. That’s how I see the ocean, as an inclusive space that welcomes all.

KL

What direction would you like to see the fashion world take in 2024 and beyond?

BM

One of my favorite fashion trends right now is upcycling. It’s so fun to go to Goodwill and buy a pair of pants or a shirt and cut it up into something new. It is such a creative process and also diverts garments from the landfill, giving them a second life. I would love to see more consumers shop second hand or from small designers instead of buying fast fashion.

KL

What are some beneficial ways you can envision fashion and law intersecting?

BM

Protecting worker and environmental rights. Especially in fast fashion, there is a global ‘race to the bottom’: always searching for the lowest wages on the planet to pay workers who produce their garments. I would love to see a world in which worker protections and environmental protections were regulated and enforced globally. Where all workers had a living wage, paid leave, health insurance. And where toxic dyes and fabric processing chemicals were banned instead of being allowed to flow into rivers and oceans. Putting community care and environmental restoration on the top of our to-do list this year 🙂