Meet the Designer Setting the Standard for Sustainable Fashion

February 11, 2020

Despite being a household name in the fashion industry, designer Maria Cornejo wants to get as far away from clothes as possible. That is when she’s setting the creative mood for her sustainable collections. 

She created her eponymous label, Zero + Maria Cornejo, over 20 years ago with the aim to give women clothing that makes them feel good in their own skin. Best described as an effortless, cool-girl vibe materialized in asymmetrical silhouettes and minimalist lines.

A quick scroll through @zeromcornejo’s Instagram feed gives you a snapshot into her world. Luxe fabrics draped just so, prints that are at once nostalgic and new and pops of color so vibrant they’ll transport you from your cell phone screen to a brighter place (we see you, Tracee Ellis Ross).

Get to know the collection on RTR, and what bright splashes of color will be ready to rent this spring.

A preview of what’s hitting the Unlimited Closet next season!

To start off, tell us about Zero + Maria Cornejo and how it all began.

I started my company in 1998 to reconnect with my ideas about cutting and construction, to connect directly with my consumers and to keep every process local. I wanted to know who was making my clothing, have a real relationship with them and know that they were being looked after properly. I was trying to find my own language. I’m still constantly redefining and evolving those ideas and am looking for new ways to provoke and challenge myself.

Describe your brand in 5 words or less.

Timeless, ease, feminine, for every woman.

What’s the inspiration behind this collection?

I was watching the show Victoria and was inspired by that age of innocence and possibility. This collection was a move to reclaim the naiveté and hopefulness of that age of discovery through a modern lens—embracing the future while nodding to the past.

Now, let’s get personal–give us your bio in one sentence.

Sustainable designer, mom, immigrant… I’ve owned my brand Zero + Maria Cornejo for over 20 years.

What does your typical design process look like?

I try to use basic geometric shapes as the building blocks for how I design my collections. I like to use as few seams as possible in the garments. Figuring out this puzzle keeps the design process interesting for me, and then, seeing a simple shape transformed by a woman’s body is the creative payoff!

How do you get into the creative zone?

To feel inspired, I have to remove myself as far away from clothes as possible. I really am my own worst client—I’m very critical, so I have to reject everything to initiate a desire and think to myself, “What do I want? What do I need?” I can begin to create a collection once I start to desire.

Inside the Maria Cornejo showroom in NYC.

What’s your go-to work outfit?

I wear my own designs every day! Our Eco Denim and Brushed Terry Sweatshirts are some of my favorites. I don’t like having to think about what to wear, and I like to keep my outfit neutral because I’m working with color and pattern every day. It helps me focus.

Favorite part of your day?

My morning walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It helps to clear my head.

When the day’s over, how do you unwind?

I love to take yoga or pilates.

Rapid-Fire Q&A:

  • First fashion memory: My grandmother taught me to knit on my grandfather’s big carpentry nails when I was 7. From there, I started knitting clothing for my dolls.
  • Biggest fashion regret: I don’t look at them as regrets, I had fun!
  • Personal fashion icon: Growing up, I loved Vivienne Westwood. She was revolutionary and broke new ground. I currently admire Tilda Swinton for her individual style.
  • Best advice you’ve ever received: Don’t sweat the small stuff!
  • Best advice you’ve ever been given: Focus on the bigger picture.

Watch the full Designer Download video featuring Maria Cornejo on our Instagram!