Project Gaia NYC launches in the Flatiron District

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Project Gaia NYC

Farah Javed, Copy Chief

With New York reopening and environmental issues becoming prominent in public discourse, Danielle Salinas and Shriya Bisht Misra launched Project Gaia NYC on April 13 to promote global luxury brands’ sustainable merchandise.

Misra and Salinas are veterans in the fashion business, having met during their time at the Parson School of Design and then starting Maison de Papillon, a luxury womenswear brand, in 2013. Since then, their business has expanded to 200 stores worldwide, including luxury hotel properties, concept stores and boutiques.

However, Maison de Papillon initially did not have environmental fashion as a top priority.

“We didn’t speak much of sustainability at first, but we did focus on social responsibility,” Misra said.

“That’s why we created reversible garments that last long because of their quality and then less is needed because you buy two garments for the price of one. We encouraged customers to buy less and buy better.”

By the time the pandemic broke out, however, Salinas and Misra had started the complete transition to environmentally-friendly fashion.

Misra had been in India during one point in the pandemic and started talking to artisans there, which led to their first collaboration with MDP x Amrit, a fashion company.

They also worked with other female founders of environmental brands, such as the skincare brand Knesko. Partnering with Maison de Papillon, Knesko produced collagen and silk masks while Maison de Papillon packaged them into one set.

“The idea was to use up the resources we already had. She had the product and we had the silk fabric which was in stock,” Misra said.

These collaborations led to the creation of Project Gaia NYC, an initiative seeking to give designers and artisans alike a space to sell products that focus on sustainability.

The flagship store, located in the Flatiron District, opened on April 13. Since then, it has expanded to include more than 20 brands and artists, but the initial idea of using what is available to reduce waste remained a cornerstone of the project.

For instance, Salinas and Misra used resources available to produce masks. While other fashion designers and clothing producers also shifted to mask production, Project Gaia NYC examined the supply chain process and managed to produce masks that did not cause any extra waste.

To ensure that new brands are supporting waste-free production, Project Gaia NYC asks a simple question: What’s the brand’s sustainable story?

“Whether it be working with small factories or upcycling, whether it’s working with all-natural ingredients, materials, dyes, how they even are sourcing their packaging, if they’re using biodegradable packaging, reusable packaging, reusable plastics, all this matters when it comes to our carbon footprint,” Salinas explained.

Project Gaia NYC features the vegan footwear company O2 Monde, which uses leathers made out of recycled material like pineapple and apple skins.

While O2 Monde is an example of repurposing, one’s sustainable story can even be as simple as producing goods in small batches, which would effectively reduce waste since only materials needed in a given time are used.

Salinas and Misra strive to not shame brands, but rather to educate them.

“All we do is ask the questions and hold designers accountable and that’s where sustainability starts,” Salinas said.

Besides focusing on the environmental consequences of using certain products or packaging, Project Gaia NYC also hinges on reintroducing artisan craftsmanship.

“The other day I was walking down the street with a friend of mine and we were looking at the beautiful crown mouldings in Manhattan and it’s a shame we don’t have masons doing that anymore,” Salinas said.

The brands associated with Project Gaia NYC incorporate old-world techniques in creating their different products.

An example of this is Love, Indus, an opulent skincare and wellness brand that “celebrates my two homes – India and New York,” according to founder Surbhee Grover.

“Our offerings are clean, safe, and high-performance products that combine cutting-edge technology with the best of ancient wisdom, rich minerals, and pure botanicals, some lost, some

forgotten, that are little known outside their native regions within the Indian subcontinent,” she said.

Hence, Love, Indus’ combination of modern technology with ingredients indigenous to India, like ashwagandha powder and the palash tree, echoes Project Gaia NYC’s ethos. Even when it comes to packaging, Love, Indus products come in glass or Forest Stewardship Council certified paper and feature artwork that represents local culture.

Grover also gives back to the community through partnerships with nongovernmental organizations like Amrit Clinics that serve rural and tribal communities in Rajasthan, India.

Project Gaia NYC filters brands in an attempt to see which support its message, but the initiative also provides opportunities for newer brands to grow and learn from the veteran brands there.

For instance, one brand newer ones could learn from at Project Gaia NYC is Deepa Gurnani, a handmade Indian luxury jewelry brand. Its founders Jay Lakhani and Deepa Gurnani trained under head designers of Tiffany & Co. and Alexander McQueen, respectively.

Project Gaia NYC also helps brands that have lost their home during the pandemic and need shelter or creators who are struggling with e-commerce. Through town halls, currently online but soon to be in-person, brands get together to brainstorm and discuss potential collaborations.

“Project Gaia NYC has been an ideal partner for us. The set of designers they’ve curated are really special – each in their own way,” Grover said.

“There is a growth and innovation mindset that we all share – so we’re constantly looking at new ways/methods to expand awareness and make visits to the store memorable for customers.”

Overall, the sustainable yet fashionable approach of Project Gaia NYC has made it a go-to destination not just for brands wanting to grow, but for New York customers too.

Rakhee Sachdeva, a scientist and Instagram content creator for @mylifestylereflections, was invited to Project Gaia NYC on its opening day, and has been a returning customer since.

“I was impressed by the quality of the collection from various designers ranging from apparel to home styling. I hugely support sustainable fashion that draws me more towards brands like Project Gaia,” Sachdeva said.

“They have innovative designs, and the quality is excellent, which I believe is long lasting. I like to invest in pieces that stand the test of time, so I don’t have to worry about buy, use and throw.”