Oak & Acorn is a new line of sustainable denim proudly made in Harlem
When I log into Zoom with Miko Underwood, she’s sitting in front of a large striped indigo fabric swatch, befitting the denim obsessive and founder of Oak & Acorn, an enduring brand made in Harlem. “It’s Mossi (or Dogon) indigo from West Africa,” says Underwood, whose unconditional love for jeans dates back to his childhood. “I have handled denim since I was a child. I was deconstructing old Levi’s and Wrangler jeans that I found in vintage stores.
Before launching her own label in 2019, she worked as a design director for brands such as Baby Phat and the Jessica Simpson collection. While she’s worked in everything from kidswear to menswear, she says she’s always had a love for denim design in particular. “What excites me most about denim is that it’s constantly evolving – you have to keep learning,” says Underwood. “There is so much technology happening in the factory space, including with vegetable dyes. It’s such a wonderful backdrop that you can do anything with it.
Underwood has traveled all over from China to Pakistan to work with different global manufacturers to develop different textiles and washes. It was when she visited a denim washing factory in Pakistan in 2007, however, that she found the inspiration to launch her own line. “I was like, The way we wash [denim] and the amount of chemicals we use on the products, we have to do it differently,” says Underwood. “That started my journey.”
Oak & Acorn officially launched in 2019, when it presented its first runway show as part of Harlem’s Fashion Row. With his label, Underwood strives to innovate on the production of denim, taking a less harmful approach. “We approach sustainability from a 360° perspective,” says Underwood. “The fabric, and who our textile partners are, is really important.” For her latest collection, Meditation Collection, she worked with artisans in Turkey. “Buldan fabric is [made from] organic cotton from Turkey,” says Underwood. “It is woven on traditional looms by a collective of women. They weave this fabric, then they wash it in the Dead Sea and use vegetable dyes for the color.