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LOTI's Sonoma dress.
A dreamland where where breezy California style meets Peruvian craftsmanship, fine art and environmental responsibility is what Lottie Bertello has created with her infinitely beautiful brand, LOTI.
The trained textile designer from Lima, Peru, launched her label this year, but first started toying with the idea of creating a brand about three years ago, when she was working for a large fashion company in Los Angeles. At the time, sustainable fashion brands were just coming into the scene, and Bertello, who already had an interest in climate change activism and social justice, said designers' creativity with sustainable materials and manufacturing methods opened her eyes to a new form of garment production: one that didn't involve creating waste.
LOTI's Sonoma dress.
While working in the industry, she said she learned how many big, fast-fashion companies operate and "how they push overconsumption" and pollute the Earth by creating product they know ahead of time that they will not sell.
"All these things just started feeling off to me," Bertello said, explaining that during her time studying at the Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) she wasn't truly taught about the negative impact the industry can have on the environment, so she had to learn about it herself once she was out in the professional world.
"I think it's time for schools to be teaching that to their students so they can be fully aware of what they're going into," she said.
LOTI's Calistoga dress.
Eventually, Bertello left her job, went to scout out artisans in Peru, and started LOTI from her home in LA, with a goal to create unique, feminine, zero-waste pieces to go with the laid-back but polished vibes of the East Coast.
Today, her Calistoga dress, Napa top and zero-waste bucket hat are some of her bestsellers. Each is made out of discarded men's button-down shirts and screen printed with a delicate, graphic flower print designed by Bertello. Light summer blues make up most of LOTI's color story, though some styles also come in a fresh, citrusy green.
Sustainability was top of mind for Bertello from the moment she started building her brand, and the way she landed on upcycling is both relatable and inspiring.
The designer remembers the day, some years ago, when she was shopping at Goodwill, hoping to find some pre-owned vintage items for herself. As she sorted through racks of clothes, she was drawn to the men's dress shirts. "It was so beautifully set up and all the shirts felt like they were brand new," she said. Suddenly, with no real direction, she picked up more than 300 shirts, payed for them and took them home.
"I knew I wanted to find a specific item that I could deconstruct and reconstruct, and it just felt like an 'Aha!' moment," she recalled. "I told myself I would have three to six months to kind of experiment with them and see what I could do—and I quickly loved it."
LOTI's Calistoga dress.
There was a lot of experimenting in those first few months, the designer said, but those trials and errors are what ultimately shaped LOTI. Bertello said even if she chooses to use different fabrics and techniques later on, upcycling will remain at the core of the brand, and she'll always continue thinking of ways to transform men's shirts into statement pieces for women.
Because of Bertello's commitment to upcycling, the materials are what drive her color choices and designs.
"I think a regular clothing brand has no limitations, in the sense that they can just pick whatever fabric they want and put whatever print and pick whatever color," Bertello said, "and we are... I don't know if the right word is limited, because it doesn't truly feel like a limitation, it feels like the materials guide our collections in a very organic way."
LOTI's Sonoma dress and zero-waste sun hat.
Speaking of why she chose to embrace upcycling rather than use new, eco-friendly fabrics, Bertello said it just felt like the right method for her. She said that when speaking of sustainability in fashion, there are so many aspects one can consider, and it's important for each designer to figure out what they care about most and what fits in best with their brand.
"For me, textile waste reduction has always been a big thing," she said.
She's also genuinely interested in protecting the environment, and one of the stand-out features of her sustainable packaging is the seed paper tag she includes with each item. The eco-friendly paper is embedded with wildflower, herb or vegetable seeds, so when it's planted in a pot of soil or in a garden, the seeds germinate and grow into plants or flowers.
"I didn't want trash as my packaging, even if it was beautiful trash," she said.
Production and team
All of LOTI's pieces are made to order, so the team only makes what has already been purchased and has a "happy home to go to," Bertello said. They also plan their new drops and fabric restocks based on each month's sales.
"It's tiny batches because that's just the nature of the upcycling," Bertello said. "So there will never be a lot of waste at all."
LOTI's Sonoma dress in two styles.
While at the very beginning, the LOTI "team" was just her, Bertello now has a small group of employees and collaborators in Peru, including independent seamstresses and artists whom she found through word of mouth in Lima's garment district, Gamarra.
"It's a beautiful, bizarre, chaotic space filled with fabrics and seamstresses and screen printers and everything else you can think of," Bertello said.
The designer does not work with factories, as everything is still very much on the smaller scale for her new brand, but she couldn't be happier with the group of creatives helping her run LOTI.
"There is so much creativity coming out of Peru right now it's insane," Bertello said. "Through this process I've met so many designers, artists, photographers whose talents go beyond the stereotypes of Peru and what that looks like."
LOTI's Napa top and zero-waste scrunchie.
Peruvian manufacturing, Cali style
One of the many things Bertello is battling as a new founder in the industry is the cliché that because she was born in Peru and her clothes are manufactured there, she has to constantly mirror the aesthetic of traditional Inca fashion and promote her brand as Peruvian-inspired.
"There is this cliché that when you think of Peruvian culture you think of this very specific woven textile that ties back to the Inca culture and whatnot, and that's all great, but I think Peru is so much more than that," Bertello said. "Sticking to just creating clothes that directly represent your country in an aesthetic way feels incredibly limiting for me."
Bertello is proud of her roots and very much supportive of her country, but she doesn't think that has to always be reflected in her designs themselves.
"I think I'm representing Peru and Lima by amplifying the voices of my seamstresses and the people that I work with over there and putting them at the forefront of our brand," Bertello said.
LOTI Calistoga dresses.
Apart from her upbringing in Lima and her time studying in Savannah, Georgia, one of the things that has greatly influenced Bertello's designs has been living in LA.
"Since I moved to California—I've been in LA almost five years now—I've been very inspired by the effortless dressing that exists here," she said. "Before, I would wear a lot of black and very rigid silhouettes, and I think living in California has changed my personal style a lot and influenced the brand aesthetic."
With LOTI, she tries to keep things light and girly—without being cheesy. "We try to use feminine details—for example, a puff sleeve, but make it drop so that it's a little more easy to wear," she said, referring to the elegant sleeves of her Calistoga dress.
LOTI's Sonoma dress.
A lot of the inspiration for LOTI also comes from the founder’s one true muse: her mom. "She's very elegant, easy, effortless. She reminds me a little bit of the Carolina Herrera woman," Bertello said. "And I grew up with that ... you know, that classic white shirt, a little oversized, some accessories here and there. I'm really inspired by versatile dressing and my mom has always brought that to the forefront."
The designer's personal style seems to be very much her like her mother's in that she's drawn to clean shapes, subdued but happy colors and silhouettes that can shine in different settings and be styled in many ways.
She is also the first to admit that she is LOTI's key customer: a free spirit who respects Mother Nature, pristine design and honestly just wants to wear something pretty.
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