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Opening Ceremony’s Carol Lim on Using Fashion as a Platform for Global Issues

4 minute read

Carol Lim and Humberto Leon met while studying at UC Berkeley in the ’90s, bonding over a shared love of travel and fashion. Today the duo is synonymous with the international Opening Ceremony boutiques, a concept they brainstormed during a trip to Hong Kong.

The premise behind the first Opening Ceremony store in New York City in 2002 was simple: scour the globe for innovative fashion for an “Olympics” of world cultures — hence the name. Now nearly 15 years later with their own label, the duo’s brand is reflecting their social consciousness on a major scale.

Their latest project? A collaboration with Google for Artworks Live Case, featuring custom art that matches their current clothing collection.

Founder and designer Lim talked to TIME about the partnership, technology, and why they’ll never shy away from political activism.

TIME: It’s been almost 15 years since you and Humberto Leon started Opening Ceremony; what can we look forward from the two of you in the future?

Carol Lim: I think the beauty of how we started Opening Ceremony is that it centers around this dialogue and community, so you can expect a lot, if not more than what we’ve done in the past 15 years. The brand and company is able to extend into so many different areas, technology being one of them.

What motivated you to do this current collaboration with Google?

I think it’s a huge opportunity, one that we’re going to continue to explore. Technology is ubiquitous in everyone’s life, in one shape or form or another. I think you need to have an imprint and so for us to explore different opportunities is really exciting. This [collaboration] is just one avenue you can go, I think you can dig deeper into the relationship.

Opening Ceremony - Runway - September 2016 - New York Fashion Week
Carrie Brownstein, Whoopi Goldberg, and Fred Armisen at the Opening Ceremony fashion on September 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)JP Yim—Getty Images

Your “Pageant of the People”-themed presentation for your Spring/Summer ’17 collection this September was heralded for encouraging people to vote in the presidential election and for championing women and people of color, as well as centering its theme around immigration. Why was covering these topics in addition to showing the clothes important to you?

The shows have always been a vehicle for us — the collection is one part of it and the story around this collection was about journey and immigration and people coming. We wanted to celebrate not only our personal histories in terms of our parents, but our experience. Our parents came and they afforded us these opportunities. This is why we can’t stay silent, because a lot of that stuff can be jeopardized. We knew that this would be timed near the election. We didn’t know, obviously, in terms of how charged it would be in the end; we just didn’t want to, nor is it in our nature, to stay quiet.

Many people don’t want to mix business and politics. Are you ever afraid that your political stances will negatively affect your brand?

It’s kind of not an option for us not to speak about issues that we think are important because it’s who we are as people. Our personal stories — they’re interwoven in what Opening Ceremony is. People are pretty vocal here, so we feel like we want to be accountable for not only our own actions and what we believe, but that it’s also something that we are proud of. Everyone is entitled to differences of opinion — in fact, we celebrate that as well. We’re not afraid of it; it can affect our business — but equally, by not saying things, we run the risk of being a ubiquitous brand and that’s not who we are.

Opening Ceremony - Runway - September 2016 - New York Fashion Week
Diane Guerrero, Aidy Bryant, Aubrey Plaza, and Sarah McBride at the Opening Ceremony fashion show on September 11, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)JP Yim—Getty Images


Opening Ceremony has an initiative called #FYouFridays where you donate 20% of all online sales on a Friday to an organization that you stand in solidarity with, whether its Planned Parenthood or the ACLU. What motivated you to start this?

Prior to the election, we spent a lot of time and resources encouraging people to vote. It was less about what candidate to vote for and more encouraging to be a participant. Post-election, for us, it’s more important now than ever to continue that dialogue and to still continue to be active. We were kind of shell-shocked for a bit and then we were like, “Let’s mobilize, what are we going to do now?” We have a platform and a way to speak about it, so we’re going to use it.

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Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com